Job Interview Question

Describe a time when your workload was heavy and how you handled it.

How To Answer Interview Questions Series

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Asking you to describe difficult situations (and your reactions to them) is a favorite tactic of interviewers.  It’s called behavioral interviewing.  Behavioral interview questions get way past your basic skills and qualifications and get to the heart of “how will you act once you’re hired?”  Past behavior predicts future behavior better than anything else.

The reason you have to be able to speak to this issue in an interview is that they want to know if you’re going to freak out when they have a rough time.  And everyone eventually has a rough time.  Accountants tend to get swamped in March, and retailers do at Christmas.  Those are both big stress times for those professions.  But even jobs without a seasonal aspect to it like those can have times when the workload is particularly stressful.

Describing a time when your workload was particularly heavy and how you handled it is a great view into how you approach day-to-day problems.

They want to know that you can handle your workload changing.  Can you adapt?  Basically, they want you to show them the tools or the process you’d use to handle that situation.  So, you walk them through it.

You should say something like, “We all have times when our workloads become heavier than they normally are.  I’ve found that the best thing to do is to take a look at what I have to do and prioritize tasks.    What I’ve found is that not everything has to be done immediately.  Some things are more mission-critical than others, and in times of stress you have to be able to prioritize.”

And then you tell a short story that reflects your experience in prioritizing tasks in high-stress situations. (Use the STAR technique.)

Or you’d say something like, “In those situations, I take a look at what the workload is and prioritize critical tasks.  I speak with my supervisor to see if there’s a need for help in prioritizing from his point of view and execute.  Just taking that look at it helps me feel less stressed and more in control.”

And then you can tell a story about providing assistance to your boss on a critical task.

I think that either one of those are a much better answer than, “I stayed until the work was done.”  Many people give an answer that focuses on the long hours they worked on a project because they want that employer to know they work hard, but I think it’s even more important for that employer to know that you can work smart.

I’m not saying don’t talk about getting things done.   Of course, talk about your follow-through and your dedication.  But take them through your thought process of how you approach a problem and think critically about it and make great decisions that will benefit the company.  It will make you stand out from other candidates and be very impressive to your future boss.


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