Multitasking, in a true sense of the word, is a myth. Only a single thought can occupy a human mind in any instant, which has been proven by scientists countless times. How then it is possible that we can actually do two things at the same time? The answer is simple: one (or more) of the tasks we do simultaneously we do automatically. Or subconsciously if you want. Think about brushing teeth or driving a car. You do these things automatically, without thinking about them. And that’s exactly how a concept of multitasking came into existence, and found its way to the job interviews.
Obviously each employer wants to get the most out of your labor. The most out of the long hours you spend in work. Some corporations will literally squeeze you dry, and if it was possible, they’d love to see you doing ten tasks at the same time. But it’s not always so bad, and not the sole reason why they ask about your ability to multitask. For some hiring managers multitasking means simply an ability to switch from one task to another and back in a short time, without getting crazy…
One way or another, you will often get at least one or two questions that relate to your ability to multitask. In this article we will look at 7 such questions.
Do you have any experience with multitasking?
This is the most basic question, and also the easiest one to answer–regardless of your level of professional experience. Because we multitask every single day. When you were brushing your teeth this morning, you certainly thought about something else. When you were preparing your breakfast (or coffee, if you prefer to skip breakfast), you perhaps checked the news on your phone, or listened to a podcast… These are everyday examples of multitasking, and something you can refer to if you lack professional working experience.
When you have worked somewhere before, the best example is to pick one task that demanded your intellectual capacities, and one which you did almost automatically–answering phones (as a secretary, office assistant, etc), sorting our papers in your office, conducting some routine calculations in MS Excel (repeating the same clicks of the mouse you’ve been repeating for months every morning), etc.
While doing one of these things, you were still able to participate in the meeting, think about some problems you had to address, or perhaps working on some presentation or analysis, either in your mind or on your computer. Obviously the exact example depends on the roles you had before.
Another alternative is referring to your ability to multitask from school. You demonstrated this ability in each single lecture–listening to the teacher, and making notes at the same time. Also that is multitasking…
Do you prefer to work on things one at a time, or several at once?
This one is more open ended, and you can score good points with both approaches–as long as you can explain your choice. Let me give you two sample answers to this one, both of them make sense.
Honestly, I prefer to work on one thing at a time. It’s easier to focus and avoid making mistakes. What’s more, I learned by experience then I manage to get more things done when I focus on one task only at a time during the day, then when I try to work on multiple things simultaneously, and jump from one task to another.
To be honest, I didn’t have a luxury to work on one thing at a time in my last job. The phone was always ringing, guests keep coming to the reception, and I had to keep my eyes open and observe what was going on in the lobby. But in time I learned how to automate some of the processes, for example I could fill in the registration form almost without looking at it, which allowed me to work on more things at a same time. I do not necessarily prefer it, but I can definitely do it.
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In your opinion, what is a secret to successful multitasking?
Another one which allows for a variety of good answers, and even for a bit pf philosophy–if you prefer so. Automation is definitely one of the good answer, learning to do certain routine tasks subconsciously, without a need to think about them or focus on them. Once you master this skill, you can work on two things at the same time.
You can also opt for a more philosophical answer, claiming that multitasking, in a true sense of the word, does not really exist. Check the following one:
In my opinion, multitasking is just a myth. We can focus on one task at a time only, and jumping from task A to task B and back in quick succession will not yield better effectiveness at work. Hence there is no secret to successful multitasking, except of not trying to multitask, and staying focused at work…
Tell us about a time when you had to work on different projects simultaneously.
This one talks about a different level of multitasking–your ability to juggle conflicting priorities, to work on multiple projects at a same time–which will be your daily reality in many corporations. What they really try to find out here, however, is whether you can set your priorities, and won’t fall back with any of the projects (or won’t get crazy because of the heavy workload).
We have a fantastic article dedicated to this question here, so let me quote two sample answers from it:
I always try to have a to do list in work. I assign low, mid, or high priority to each task on the list–not to the entire project. And then I work accordingly–taking care of the tasks with highest priority first, regardless of the project they belong to. Of course if I got a call from a manager or a specific deadline was set for me to deliver some report or analysis, I prioritized it to other tasks to ensure I’d meet the deadline…
To be honest I actually struggled to prioritize, and that’s one of the reasons why I am here today. They assigned me to too many projects in my last job. I was getting 100+ emails daily, from different people involved in different projects. I also had to participate on several short meetings, almost daily. And to tell the truth most of them were pointless. When you sum everything up, I actually didn’t have time to do the real work–I was just attending meetings or answering emails. Prioritization was out of question. I tried to explain this to my manager but they did not get it. Hence I left them, and I am looking for work in some place with a better management.
How do you determine your priorities at work?
Another one that touches multitasking, but does not really dig deep into it. You have a few options at this case, and the right answer depends on the seniority of the job you try to get, and the level of independence.
If you apply for some manual labor, or an entry level position in a big corporation, you can simply say that you rely on the experience of your superior. They will likely tell you what to do, or what matters the most–what they need on a given day, and you prioritize your tasks accordingly.
Situation changes when you apply for a job with a higher degree of independence. Say that you always try to have clear goals and milestones, for each week, month, quarter. You know what you need to do to reach the goals, and it makes it easier for you to determine your priorities, and move secondary tasks where they belong–to the end of your to-do list.
Of course this isn’t the only way. You can refer to Gantt charts, project management tools, and other tools that help you with prioritization at work. There are many of them, and I won’t go into details in this article. If you use such tools, you will know what to say at this point…
In your opinion, what are some of the benefits of multitasking?
Just like every other concept in the workplace, multitasking has both pluses and minuses. In some instances the first outweigh the second, but it’s definitely not the rule. Anyway, when they ask about benefits, you should talk about the pluses of multitasking. To some belong:
- It increases productivity–if done correctly, if you manage to combine conscious and subconscious work.
- It saves money–they do not need to hire an extra employee for answering phone calls when you manage it, without impacting your core duties in a negative way.
- It saves time–self explanatory.
You can also mention some disadvantages of multitasking: mistakes are more common, you may find it hard to focus on important and complicated tasks (or completely lose your ability to deal with them), and it is also not uncommon to experience a burnout, or at least high level of stress, when one works in an environment which demands them to multitask constantly…
Describe your ability to multitask and remain flexible in a fast-paced environment.
In this case they inquire about “fast-paced” environment in particular. Imagine a busy restaurant, a call center, or a buzzing corporate office where one task follows another, and when you finally think you are done, next meeting awaits you, or ten customers stand in a line, waiting for your attention. The key is to ensure the hiring managers that you stay calm and flexible in any situation. You can quickly distinguish the most important task, and give it your full attention. Trying to get it done as quickly as possible, you move to the next one and so on.
You can also say that in your opinion, working manuals help a great deal in similar situations. Each good fast-paced place will have some manuals for their employees. Once you know which task has the highest priority, and which tasks is someone else’s responsibility, you should not struggle to multitask and flexibly jump from one thing to another, without doing them halfheartedly, and without getting crazy in the process.
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Thank you for checking it out, and I wish you best of luck in your interviews!
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