How to answer "How do you handle competing demands on your time and attention?" (with sample answers)

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This post is part of our series on behavioral interview questions.

Why employers ask this

Employers ask this question because they want to know how you prioritize your work and handle multiple tasks simultaneously. In most jobs, you will be required to manage multiple projects and activities at the same time, and they want to see how you handle it.

The goal of this question is to test your ability to manage your time effectively and work efficiently, even when you have multiple tasks to complete. They are looking for self-awareness and accountability as you describe your approach to managing and organizing your work.

This is an opportunity to demonstrate that you are comfortable working under pressure and tight deadlines and that you can maintain focus and deliver quality results.

How to answer the question

When answering this question, it's essential to show that you have a systematic approach for managing multiple demands on your time and attention. Here are some tips on how to answer this question effectively:

  1. Describe your approach: Start by discussing your overall approach to managing your workload. You can highlight your system of prioritization and how you determine which tasks are most important. This will allow your interviewer to understand your thought process and organization skills.
  2. Give an example: It's essential to provide an example of how you effectively managed competing demands. Be specific about the project or tasks you were working on and the deadlines you had to meet. Describe the steps you took to ensure you met each deadline effectively and efficiently.
  3. Discuss your communication skills: In many jobs, working on specific tasks requires collaboration with others in the team. Be sure to emphasize how you communicate your priorities to your team or manager if you need help with something or will require more time to complete a task.
  4. Highlight the result: As you describe your approach and give an example, provide details of the outcome. The result should highlight your ability to multitask effectively, meet deadlines, and produce high-quality work.
  5. End with a positive note: Finally, conclude by expressing your comfort and capability to manage multiple projects and competing demands on your time. Let the interviewer know that you are open to learning new strategies and techniques to help you handle this challenge more efficiently.

Remember to be honest and authentic in your response. The interviewer can often tell if you are trying to make up an answer or exaggerate your abilities to handle multiple demands on your time and attention. Identify your strengths and areas of development and communicate your ability to learn and grow as a professional.

Sample answers

  1. Bad answer:

    Well, I usually try to multitask as much as possible to get things done quickly.

    Explanation: This answer is not ideal because it suggests the interviewee may not understand the importance of focus or the negative effects of multitasking. It's important to communicate that you understand the value of prioritizing and communicating effectively with stakeholders.

  2. Good answer:

    I like to start each day by reviewing my priorities and setting realistic deadlines. I communicate any potential conflicts or delays with stakeholders and offer solutions, such as delegating tasks to team members or adjusting timelines. I also make sure to schedule breaks throughout the day to rest my mind and avoid burnout.

    Explanation: This answer demonstrates an organized and proactive approach to managing competing demands. The interviewee shows they understand the importance of communication, collaboration, and self-care in achieving success.

  3. Bad answer:

    I just try to power through and get everything done as quickly as possible.

    Explanation: This answer may indicate that the interviewee prioritizes speed over quality or may not be willing to ask for help or support when needed. It's important to communicate a demonstrated ability to work efficiently and effectively while maintaining attention to detail and quality.

  4. Good answer:

    I've found that breaking larger projects into smaller tasks with clear deadlines helps me stay on track when there are multiple demands on my time. I also try to limit distractions by turning off notifications and dedicating specific blocks of time to each task. If I'm feeling overwhelmed, I'll take a short break to regain focus and come back to the task with fresh eyes.

    Explanation: This answer demonstrates an adaptive and goal-oriented approach to managing competing demands. The interviewee shows they understand the importance of focus, efficiency, and productivity, while maintaining balance and self-awareness.

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