Corporate managers love to bury their employees under a heavy workload. They assign you yet another client, or one more project. You are working overtime already–they know. But why wouldn’t you work from home, or manage your time in work better? You are young, and you can surely handle a heavy workload. And if you cannot, they will simply chew you and squeeze you to the maximum, until you cannot stand it any longer and leave the place, or experience a complete burnout…

This isn’t the most encouraging opening to an article about an interview question–I know. But mark my words: if they ask you in an interview about managing multiple projects or working on several project simultaneously, it’s not necessarily a good sign, and you should consider twice whether to accept their offer or not. They may also structure the question differently, for example “Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and you had to prioritize your tasks“, or “How do you handle multiple tasks at once?” Regardless of the wording though, they are always looking for the same thing.

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this tricky interview question. My list includes some popular choices, options for people who lack any previous working experience, and also some rather unconventional answers that may leave your interviewers puzzled–something you may want to achieve in certain circumstances. Let’s have a look at the answers.

 

7 sample answers to “When you worked on multiple projects, how did you prioritize?”

  1. 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. In my opinion, the most important thing is to have a meaningful system in your work, something you can rely on when you aren’t sure what to do next. That’s what I always try to do.
  2. This is my first job application, so I have not yet had to handle multiple tasks at once. But I recall my school times, when we had to prepare for different exams, plus of course I had my duties outside of school. I think it is important to set your priorities clear–for me school was my first priority, and hence I prioritized my student duties to everything else. In the workplace probably my manager will set the priorities, or I will decide about them based on certain criteria. Once it is clear what has a priority, it’s easy to decide on which project I should work each day in the job.

 

  1. 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.
  2. I divided my day in work to three parts. Early morning was the most productive one. I arrived before anyone else, nobody bothered me with anything, and I could work on some tasks that demanded creativeness or a lot of thinking, or a quiet office. That’s when I worked on the most important tasks in all my projects. Later during the day when the office was buzzing with people and everyone wanted something from me, I spent time responding to emails and internal communication, and taking care of easier administrative work. Then later in the afternoon when the atmosphere calmed down again, I focused on more creative tasks again, working always on the one with the closest deadline.
  3. I’ve never worked anywhere, but I guess the entire life is about prioritization. We try to juggle our roles in life–a son, a father, a colleague, a friend, a husband and perhaps even a lover… depends on how many of them you have. The more balls you have in the air, the more difficult it gets. My personal philosophy is to try to find balance in life. I mean, you should not give all your time to work, or to your wife, totally neglecting all other bonds and relationships. And you should always try to find some time also for your own hobbies, when you do something you love. In my opinion, a similar attitude may work well in the job. Instead of prioritizing one project to another (which will certainly result in a neglect of some duties in the later), I’d prefer dividing my time in work, and give some time to each project and each manager–so we progress on all fronts… But as I said, I am new to the workforce. I’d gladly learn from more experienced managers how to prioritize my work in a most effective way, while working on multiple projects.

 

  1. To be honest, it depended on the client, or my manager–who was more demanding, or threatened to fire me, or similar stuff. I know this isn’t the right way to prioritize in work once you have too many things to do. Yet in worked that way in my last job, and I am pretty sure it works that way in many other companies. It is not easy to get over our ego, and my former managers had big egos. And since I knew it was wrong, and could not stand this model any longer, I decided to quit the company. I hope that in your corporation you have a better system in place, or a better management, and I will be able to prioritize work according to milestones and deadlines and urgency, and not the wishes and threats of the managers.
  2. I worked under an autocratic leader in my last job. It had certain disadvantages, but at the same time it was easier to prioritize, because they always told me exactly what I should do. They loved to have everything under control, completely. Hence I simply worked on the task they assigned me to at each moment, and when I was done with it, I asked what I should do next. It was as simple as that. Having said that, I feel ready to decide on my own, and if I should prioritize the work I will decide according to deadlines and importance of each task on my list.

 

It is hard to work effectively without having a good system in work

You can prioritize your work according to deadlines, importance of each task, or even according to how you feel, and what task you can realistically do at a certain time in work.

Each of that is fine, as long as you have a system, some criteria, and can decide on your own. Ensure the hiring managers that you do not rely on luck, coincidence, or a flip of a coin. You have your way of prioritizing work, and just as you followed it in your last job, you can do so in their place.

No experience? Refer to school or duties of everyday life

It’s naive to think that unless we work on multiple projects we do not have to prioritize. Even if you work on a single project, you have to make choices: whether to answer emails firstly, or go to a meeting, or work on that report you hate doing, or forget everything and have a coffee and a cigarette.

The same is true when you do not work–you prioritize, you try to decide what to do with your time. Whether to use it effectively, and with whom, or kill it sleeping in bed or watching some Netflix series that makes people more sheepish than they already are…

You can refer to these things when you lack working experience. You can either talk about prioritizing school to the rest of things (sample answer no. 2), or about balancing the roles and duties you have in life (sample answer no. 5).

* Special Tip: Question about working on multiple projects won’t be the only difficult scenario-based question you will face while interviewing for a great job. You will face questions about conflicts, dealing with pressure, dealing with ambiguity, and other tricky scenarios that happen in the workplace. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 31 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will help you streamline your interview preparation, outclass your competitors, and eventually get the job. Thank you for checking it out!

 

Failing to prioritize (not necessarily a result of your incompetence) can be the reason why you left your job

As I wrote at the beginning of this post, many managers expect too much from their employees. They will assign you more work all the time, watching you struggle or even suffer, until you break. And then they simply send you packing and employ another naive graduate. Hard to read such words? Well, welcome to the corporate world!

But it’s not like that in every company. And it can definitely be a reason why you failed to prioritize your work and reach your goals, as well as the last nail to the coffin, one after which you realized enough is enough, and left the place.

It’s completely fine talking about such things in an interview. Hiring managers like honest job applicants, and more importantly–you clearly explain what you do not want to experience anymore. So if that’s what they expected from you–to work like a horse and stay overtime each day, they won’t hire you–which is good for you, because you do not want to experience such kind of pressure again. Check sample answers no. 3 and no. 6 for some inspiration.

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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