Life’s not always easy in the corporate environment. Expectations are always high, clients keep calling, deadlines are approaching. You feel like the more you work the more you fall behind with schedule. Everyone demands something from you, and when you finally feel like getting something done, there’s another useless team meeting, and you get a new barrage of tasks to handle. It seems like a vicious cycle–and perhaps it is one…

Hiring managers are well aware of the high expectations, of the pressure you will often face in your new fancy corporate job. You will be overwhelmed with work–everyone will be. But it is your attitude to the scenario, your ability to deal with it–at least somehow, which determines whether you will quit with a burnout after a month, or will keep going, at least for another half a year, until they squeeze you dry completely and spit you out from the Fortune 500 giant. And another young and motivated lunatic will take your place.

But I do not want to be too negative at this point. It’s just a little warning for you. If they talk about being overwhelmed with work while you just interview for a job, it’s a clear indication that you cannot expect an easy ride in the company. Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this interesting question. My list includes some conventional answers, something they’d like to hear in most corporations. But you will find there also some unorthodox and philosophical choices–just for the case that you wanted to say something different, something not many people have a courage to say in the interviews. Enjoy the list!


7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time when you were overwhelmed with work” interview question

  1. I’ve been extremely overwhelmed in my last job of a quality control manager. They assigned me three different clients, and I had to deal with six different managers. They did it because the company was understaffed, and they struggled to hire more people for quality control department. To be honest, I found it very hard to meet my deadlines. There were just too many calls and expectations from everyone. I tried my best to structure my work, to limit all distractions, to set my priorities clear. Hour after hour, day after day, I worked like this. I often stayed at work for eleven or twelve hours, just to somehow shrink the number of tasks on my to-do list. But I eventually decided to quit, because the employer wasn’t able to get new people to our team, and I could not go on like that forever. I have a life outside of work as well. Tried my best, worked hard, but since things hasn’t improved over time I just quit.
  2. I remember a release of our latest product, which was super buggy. And since I worked as a front line of customer service, the first two weeks after the release were just hell. There were so many people on the line, always waiting. You finished one call just to start another one, and I did not stop for the entire two weeks. It was almost hard to make a toilet break, and I didn’t go for a lunch on most days. But I knew that the situation was temporary, that the engineering team worked hard on addressing the bugs, and were going to release a critical update to the application. And that’s exactly what happened after two weeks. We in the call center survived the tough period, and everything returned to normal ways afterwards.
  3. In my last corporate job I was just overwhelmed with internal communication. Everyone sent emails to everyone, and it seemed that my name was always attached the the list of recipients–many times for no reason. It was not uncommon that I got 200 emails in a single day. As you can imagine, it’s hard to read and prioritize and mark all those messages, let alone replying to them, or get some other work done. I felt super overwhelmed and raised the issue with my superiors and team members, urging them to simplify the communication, and to not include me in messages that did not really demand my attention. Some of them obliged and some did not, but I eventually found a way out. I simply ignored many emails, from people who had no business bothering me with their internal problems, since it had nothing to do with my work. This allowed me to stay productive and to not waste all the day just reading and answering emails.
  4. This is my first job application, but I can definitely rely to my experience from school. I’ve been preparing for the school leaving examination, had a part time job, and also had to take care of my little sister. At some point I realized it was too much, I had too many balls in the air, and it was a question of time until one of them would fall on the ground, or, worse case, until it would fall on my head and I would collapse on the floor. I decided to quit my part time job, and also to ask my parents to hire a part-time baby sitter, so I could focus on my studies. Things eventually worked out, I graduated, and here I am applying for a job with you.
  5. I was never overwhelmed with work, because I never let my superior to bury me under a heavy load of tasks. My colleagues allowed them to do so–to assign them yet another client, yet another meeting to go to, call to make, etc. But not me. I knew my limits, I knew how much I can handle to be able to still deliver an excellent work in my existing projects, without working for 60 hours a week. Sure, some superiors did not like it, some colleagues had strange looks at their faces when I left the office at 4pm and everyone else stayed at their desk. Eventually the company decided to terminate my contract–because I did not fit the company culture, which, in their case, meant working 60+ hours a week. Good for me, I guess. But it’s a closed chapter now. I am here, looking for an opportunity in your company.
  6. What does it mean, to be overwhelmed? I am yet to find the answer to this question. To be honest, expectations were not super high in my previous employment. On some days I had the feeling that half of the people just hanged around, smoked cigarettes on the balcony, or drank coffee and chatted in the small kitchen we had on our floor. And to be honest, I did not like it. Because I am the person who likes to work while at work, and relax while not working. A corporation can hardly progress when they tolerate this attitude, such a lax management and employees who earn money for doing nothing. I decided to quit, because I knew it wasn’t the right place for me. I like heavy workload, and maybe even the feeling of being overwhelmed with work. Because such things help us to find ways of working more efficiently, of being more productive in our everyday routines. That’s the way I see it…
  7. I was overwhelmed, but not because the workload was heavy. Emotions were my problem, inability to maintain professional distance from the clients, from the sad cases we dealt with in my last job, on a daily basis. I was emotionally overwhelmed. Honestly, I could not bear it any longer, to see so much misfortune. That was also the moment when I realized that social work perhaps wasn’t the right choice for me, that I should look for another job. For some time I tried to bear with it though. I didn’t want to give up easily. Visiting psychologist regularly and trying to make my mind busy with other things, for a short period I succeeded to go on. But then the depression returned with full force, and I was just overwhelmed and had to quit. Hence I am here now, looking for a job in a different field, hoping you’ll give me a chance.

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check our Interview Success Package 2.0 for multiple great answers to all behavioral interview questions, including answers for people with no previous working experience. Because the question about being overwhelmed with work certainly won’t be the only tough question you will face…

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Matthew Chulaw
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