Tough Interview Question - Are you able to multitask on several assignments at the same time?

Are you able to multitask on several assignments at the same time?

Similar interview questions:
How are your multitasking skills?
Do you prefer to work on things one at a time or several at once?
Do prefer working in a highly structured or a highly unstructured environment?
How many different tasks can you juggle concurrently?

Why the interviewer is asking this question:
Most jobs require working on multiple tasks at the same time. Even an Air Traffic Controller position, which arguably has a singular focus (keep the planes flying and landing safely) involves a large amount of multitasking to be effective. So the interviewer is asking about your ability to multitask and may push for specific examples as a follow-up question. The answer to the question will also give insights into your ability to both manage and prioritize multiple tasks.

The best approach to answering this question:
Answer by saying: “Yes, and here’s an example…” Think through your different assignments and roles and select those which would work best for showing your ability to multitask. Ideally, it will be dealing with several disparate assignments while describing the prioritization which takes place to deliver successfully. You should think of yourself as your own personal project manager, working out critical paths and planning work to optimize your output. This could also be a good whiteboard example if you want to flowchart your work and your decision criteria.

An example of how to best answer this question for experienced candidates:
"Yes, and here’s an example: In my current role, I have both a new development project as well as two maintenance projects that I’m responsible for delivering. While the new development project is important, the maintenance projects are urgent if and when something breaks and needs to be fixed. So I plan my work week to flexibly allow me to cover both needs. The result has been that I have been able to keep all severe tickets to within 48 hour resolution over the past year, while staying on the critical path for delivering my project by the end of the year…"

An example of how to best answer this question for entry level candidates:
"Yes, and here’s an example: During my recent internship, I had three different small projects that were assigned to me during my three months. I needed to effectively organize each project to make sure I understood the critical path for delivery and accounting for possible delays and roadblocks. The end result was that I was able to deliver all three projects by the completion date of my internship…"

An example of how you should not answer this question:
"No, I’m pretty much heads down on one thing at a time. Just as long as my boss doesn’t ask me to do more than one thing, I’m fine. But if another thing gets added to my plate, well, that’s when my productivity goes way down…"

Remember to answer each interview question behaviorally, whether it is a behavioral question or not. The easiest way to do this is to use an example from your background and experience. Then use the S-T-A-R approach to make the answer a STAR: talk about a Situation or Task (S-T), the Action you took (A) and the Results achieved (R). This is what makes your interview answer uniquely yours and will make your answer a star!

Further review: know the answers to these Standard Interview Questions to be fully prepared for your interview!

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