We live in a fast-paced era. Companies strive for endless growth (as if that was possible), expecting almost superhuman feats from their employees. The managers assign you one more task, one more project, one more superior, expecting you to handle the enormous workload. Add to it countless meetings (many of which are pointless), email correspondence you have to handle, and other secondary duties. No wonder the eight hours at work seem too short. And so you stay nine, or ten, or fourteen hours at work… Or don’t you?

Obviously things aren’t that bad in every corporation, and you won’t experience the same level of pressure everywhere. But it doesn’t change anything on the fact that time management skills are extremely important in the workplace of 21st century, and hiring managers will ask you some questions while trying to understand how well you can manage your time. These questions vary from pretty straightforward queries, such as “How do you manage your time?”, or “How would you rate your time management skills on a scale from 1 to 10?”, to more elaborate and tricky questions. We’ll look at seven most common interview questions about time management right now. Enjoy!


Tell us about a time when you demonstrated excellent time management

A typical behavioral question, when they simply ask about a situation from a past, in which you demonstrated some skill or ability (time management, leadership, critical thinking, teamwork, etc). Remember that you do not have to rely on examples from work only, especially when applying for your very first job. You can demonstrate excellent time management talking about an exam period at college for example, when you had to plan your time properly to prepare for every exam.

Talking about an example from the workplace, you have a few great options. One of them is simply talking about a time when the workload was extremely heavy, and you had to prioritize your work in order to reach your goals. Talking about a situation when you had to work on two conflicting priorities is another interesting example. You can also point out a situation when you had to meet a tight deadline with some work or project, and could not afford to waste any time in the process. Any situation you pick, make sure to describe it in-detail, so the hiring managers understand how you manage your time effectively, and that you are ready to sacrifice something for the job, staying overtime when the workload is extremely heavy.


How do you manage your time at work?

This one is a bit easier than the previous one. Instead of talking about a situation from the past, you simply describe the principles of your effective time management at work. Once again, you have several options for a great answer.

First one is talking about excellent planning. Maybe you prepare a to-do list for every day at work, assigning priority to every task on the list. Then you simply work according to your list, making sure that you do not waste time with unproductive tasks.

Other options include dividing your day into most productive and less productive hours, eliminating all distractions at work, or saying that you prefer to go with the flow and let your manager manage your time. We have a special article online with 7 sample answers to this question, and you can check it out here: How do you manage your time?

Tell us about a time when you missed a deadline.

Now this one is really tricky. Instead of asking about a positive example (when you met a deadline, managed your time effectively, etc), they actually inquire about a time when your time management skills proved insufficient, and you failed to meet a deadline. What to do in this case?

You can try saying that it has never happened to you, praising your time management while doing so. In my opinion though, it isn’t the best possible answer. Because in today’s workplace the workload is so heavy that some deadlines simply cannot be met. Admitting that you failed to meet one is not a sign of weakness. Actually it is strength, for almost every hiring manager, because they like employees who can admit making a mistake, and who always see some room for improvement. What to do then?

The key is to demonstrate that even though you missed the deadline, you tried your best. Let me give you a sample answer here:

It happened to me just once, in my last corporate job. They asked me on Friday morning to deliver an elaborate analysis of competitor’s pricing on next Tuesday, during a team meeting. I immediately realized the magnitude of the task, but did not get discouraged, and started to gather data and focused 100% on the task. But as I was going through it, I realized the data set was even bigger than I expected. So I took the work home, and worked for six hours on Saturday, in my free time, and then I gave the task the first priority in my Monday’s schedule. Still, I failed to complete the analysis by Tuesday morning, and was able to present only partial results in the team meeting. My manager was not happy, but I had a clear conscience. I knew I tried my best, worked from home, and did what I could to complete the work in time.

* We have an article with 7 sample answers to this question online as well, you can check it out here: Tell me about a time when you missed a deadline.


Tell me about a time when you had to prioritize your work

Another behavioral question, and not an easy one either. One thing I want to point out here is that you should avoid excessive negativity while talking about these situations. Maybe they really buried you with workload in your last job. They assigned you work that two people would not handle. You eventually experienced a burnout and quit, and it is one of the reason why you are looking for a new job. This is a pretty common situation, believe me, but you should avoid talking about it in an interview…Back to the question though.

Tell them about a time when you had to work on conflicting priorities. Maybe you had two deadlines to meet on the same day, or two superiors demanded something from you simultaneously. Instead of getting crazy, however, and jumping from one task to another, you simply locked in, eliminated all distractions, and worked on a task with the highest priority. Maybe your boss set the priorities, and maybe you did. It isn’t the most important thing here. The key is to demonstrate that you do not crack under such pressure, and don’t start panicking. You simply assign priorities to tasks, and work on them, one after another.


How would you rate your time management skills on a scale from 1 to 10?

Finally an easier one, but you should still think about it for a while. You may be tempted to give yourself a perfect ten, but I would not suggest it. First of all, best employees know that there is always some room for improvement. And secondly, while it is important to show some confidence in the interviews, sounding over-confident will rarely win you a job contract…

Give yourself seven, eight, or nine, and explain that you still see room for improvement. You handled most deadlines in your past job and didn’t get crazy when the workload became heavy, but you still know you could do more, and hope to improve your time management skills down the road. That’s the attitude hiring managers seek in the best job candidates.


Tell us about a time when you delegated your work effectively

You may face this one especially when applying for managerial roles, or for any job in which you’ll have one or more assistants. In such a job effective time management isn’t only about managing your time well, and prioritizing your tasks. It is also about delegating work to your subordinates, making sure that once the deadline approaches, you have everything ready. We have an excellent article online for this question as well, with seven sample answers. Here is one that pretty much sums up what you should focus on:

This happened to me in my last managerial job. I want to emphasize that it was never easy for me to delegate my work. Partially because I was a workaholic, and partially because I didn’t trust anyone to do the job as well as I’d do it. But I paid the price. The workload grew incredibly heavy and suddenly I was spending 70 hours at work each week. My body could not sustain it any longer, and I knew I had to get over my ego. And so I did it. I delegated one big project to my assistant. I made sure to have a short meeting with them each morning, to make sure they are on the right track, and know how to progress. But I let them enough freedom. I knew they were capable of seeing it through. And they did it. At the end I found it a great experience. It was empowering for the assistant, good for my work-life balance, and eventually also good for the company.

Ensure the hiring managers that you enjoy empowering your subordinates, and aren’t one of those people who think that they are the only one capable of handling the job…


Tell me about a time when you had to leave a task unfinished

We can look at time management skills (and prioritization) from different angles–meeting a deadline, failing to meet it, delegating the work, finishing tasks, or even leaving tasks unfinished. Because the best managers (and employees in general) know that sometimes, for the sake of greater good, they have to leave some task or project unfinished, and work on another one instead. And that’s exactly what you should focus on while answering this one–regardless of whether you talk about situation from work, or from school.

Tell them about a situation when you had to let go of something–a task, a project, a goal–even though you didn’t like the idea, because you are a responsible employee and do not like to leave things half-finished. But something happened, and it was the right thing to do. Perhaps they announced a last-minute audit, or you were called for an important emergency meeting, or had a sudden chance to close a great deal for your employer. In such a situation you didn’t hesitate for a second. You left a task unfinished, and focused on the one with immediate priority.


Final thoughts

Time management is an extremely important skill for almost every employee, simply because of the nature of a typical corporate workplace today. Workload is heave and expectations run high, and unless you manage your time effectively, you will struggle to meet the deadlines and reach your goals.

As you can see on my short selection, hiring managers can test your time management skills with a variety of questions, ranging from relatively simple and direct to tricky behavioral questions that initially may not even seem time-management related. Anyway, practice makes perfect. Go through the questions once again, think about them, and try to get ready for each one. I hope you will succeed and wish you best of luck!


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Matthew Chulaw
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