How to answer "How do you handle conflicting priorities or deadlines?" (with sample answers)

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

Why Employers Ask This?

Employers often ask this question during a job interview to understand how a candidate can prioritize and manage their workload effectively. The hiring manager wants to know if a candidate systematically handles multiple tasks at once or if they become overwhelmed and unproductive when managing conflicting priorities.

Employers also want to see if the candidate can keep calm under pressure and if they can identify and address competing priorities. This question is a crucial part of a job interview since it helps the employer to assess the candidate's time management and decision-making skills.

How to Answer the Question

The best way to answer this question is by providing a specific example. When answering, you want to demonstrate your ability to prioritize tasks effectively. The following tips will help you to answer the question:

  • Explain How You Prioritize Tasks: Start by describing how you prioritize tasks based on their urgency and importance.
  • Be Clear About Your Process: Explain how you break down larger projects into smaller tasks and set deadlines for each.
  • Illustrate Your Organizational Skills: Describe how you keep track of competing deadlines and projects such as using digital tools or a to-do list.
  • Provide An Example: Give a specific example of a time when you handled competing priorities effectively. Explain what you did, the outcome, and how you would handle the situation if it arises again in the future.

When answering this question remember to avoid negative language or phrases. Avoid statements that show you feel overwhelmed by competing priorities, and instead focus on how your organizational skills and process allow you to manage and prioritize multiple tasks effectively.

Sample answers

Listed below are some examples of how to respond to this interview question.

Good answer #1:

When faced with conflicting priorities or deadlines, I start by assessing the scope of each task and determine which is more urgent. I then prioritize my task list based on these urgent tasks. Additionally, I communicate with my team and supervisor to ensure that everyone is aware of my task list and the timelines involved. I then delegate tasks where possible and break down larger projects into smaller, manageable tasks. This approach has helped me to manage my workload effectively without sacrificing quality or productivity.

Good answer #2:

By nature, I am a very organized and detail-oriented person. I start by making a list of all the tasks I need to complete and prioritize them based on their level of urgency and importance. I make sure to allocate enough time and resources for each task and give myself some buffer time in case unforeseen circumstances arise. If I find that I'm not able to complete everything by the deadline, I communicate this to my supervisor and their assistance to prioritize tasks. I have found that this approach helps me manage conflicting goals and deadlines without creating any unnecessary stress.

Bad answer #1:

When I'm faced with conflicting deadlines or priorities, I just try to work as fast as possible to get everything done. I don't really have a plan other than trying to multitask and working long hours if necessary. I find that this approach often leads to subpar work, but I do get everything done on time.

This answer is bad because it promotes poor work quality and burnout.

Bad answer #2:

When given multiple tasks, I usually focus on the easiest ones or those I enjoy more. I find that doing tasks that are less intensive or engaging can take my mind off more pressing tasks, and that helps me stay productive. I usually start working on critical projects last minute and try to complete them as fast as possible.

This answer is bad because it showcases a lack of prioritization and poor time management skills.
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