By Mike Simpson
In many workplaces and a wide variety of roles, having time management skills are essential. Since that’s the case, hiring managers frequently ask time management interview questions to find candidates that excel in that area.
But what exactly are time management skills, and how do you show the hiring manager that you shine when it comes to time management? If you want to be ready for interview questions about time management, here’s what you need to know.
What Is Time Management?
If you’re going to be ready for any interview questions about time management, you first need to understand what the phrase means.
According to the folks at Glassdoor, “time management is the ability to effectively prioritize your work. It’s essentially your aptitude for staying productive and ensuring you are meeting your overall objectives.”
While that definition is a good start, there’s more to it. According to The Balance, “time management refers to the development of processes and tools that increase efficiency and productivity.”
Basically, time management involves effective organization and the ability to estimate the time required to handle tasks, identify priorities, and remain focused during the day. Additionally, it includes the skills, processes, technologies, and tools that help you stay efficient. That way, you can meet performance goals and hit deadlines.
Technically, time management is vital in nearly any type of job. However, it’s particularly critical in faster-paced environments where employees often handle multiple responsibilities and conflicting priorities. Whether you’re working in food service, a medical profession, an IT role, or anything in between, time management matters.
Since solid time management skills allow employees to perform better overall, hiring managers ask questions specifically about time management. In most cases, time management interview questions are either behavioral or situational.
With those, you have to discuss an example from your past or how you’d approach a hypothetical scenario, allowing the hiring manager to see your time management skills in action.
How to Answer Time Management Interview Questions
Before we dive into our top ten time management interview questions, let’s take a quick moment to talk about your overall interview strategy.
While many interview questions about time management are common, there’s always a chance the hiring manager will ask you something unexpected. By honing the proper techniques, you’ll be ready for curveballs.
First, you’ll want to do some research. Spend time reviewing the job description, focusing on anything that mentions time management, shifting priorities, fast-paced work, or similar points.
Next, review the company’s website – including its mission, values statements, and careers page – for insights into the company’s culture relating to time management. You can also explore the organization’s social media pages, as those may have valuable information.
After that, spend time reflecting on your past work experience. Find instances where time management was critical or your time management skills helped you succeed. Often, those can be excellent examples to share in some of your answers.
As mentioned above, most time management questions are behavioral or situational, so you want to answer them using a particular approach. Usually, combining the STAR Method and the Tailoring Method is your best bet.
The STAR Method gives you a framework for building a solid answer. It ensures you discuss the situation, task, action, and result in regard to your example. Essentially, it lets you show the hiring manager you have time management skills instead of just telling them, making your response more effective.
The Tailoring Method is all about relevancy. It helps you identify examples or skills to highlight that relate closely to the job you want to land. By using it, you can position yourself as a stronger match, increasing the odds that you’ll impress the hiring manager with your answer.
Top 10 Time Management Interview Questions
Usually, the interview questions about time management that candidates face are highly similar, regardless of their career path or the job they’re trying to land. However, the questions might have a unique flavor based on the specific role the hiring manager wants to fill.
So, the questions might look a little different depending on the position you’re after, but what the hiring manager wants to know is typically the same. Since that’s the case, you can use the examples below to help you understand what an excellent answer looks like, making it easier to create your own compelling responses.
Here’s a look at our top ten time management interview questions and answers.
1. What tools or techniques do you use to ensure you can stay on top of your responsibilities?
While this question doesn’t explicitly mention time management, it still falls into that category. The hiring manager wants to know that you can effectively manage your workload, even with limited oversight.
In your answer, reference any tools or techniques that allow you to track your tasks and associated deadlines. If you can connect this to an example from a past job, then feel free to incorporate it into your answer.
“I use several approaches to help ensure I can stay on top of my responsibilities at work. When my workload is lighter, I’ve found that a simple to-do list is a great way to track tasks and deadlines, allowing me to order the activities based on priority and check them off as they’re completed.
If my workload is more complex, I use my calendar. That allows me to block out time for various assignments, set notifications to remind me of upcoming deadlines, and improve overall tracking.”
2. When you have multiple conflicting deadlines, how do you prioritize your work?
The ability to effectively prioritize your tasks is a crucial part of time management. Here, the hiring manager wants to know how you’d approach your work if you had two or more projects with conflicting deadlines. Ideally, you want to describe a strategy that allows you to handle everything promptly, ensuring all targets are met.
“If I have multiple conflicting deadlines, the first step I take is to determine if any of the responsibilities are a higher priority than others. This can include general importance in a business sense or if other tasks – including those assigned to me or others on the team – are dependent on the completion of any of the activities. If so, I begin with those, working diligently to wrap them up so I can transition to the other remaining responsibilities and hit the deadlines.
If the projects are all equal in regard to importance and dependencies aren’t a factor, I begin with the task that’s the shortest to complete. By focusing there and working efficiently, I can clear my to-do list, simplifying the rest of the planning. Plus, any activities that require more time or attention will be my sole focus at the end, reducing the odds of disruptions relating to the other tasks.”
3. How do you organize a large project to ensure you meet the deadline?
With this time management interview question, the hiring manager wants to learn more about how you break down assignments to make them manageable. In most cases, you want to talk about how you organize the individual tasks involved. That way, the hiring manager knows you can effectively allocate time to each activity.
“When I’m given a large project, I first break it down into smaller tasks. That helps me fully understand what’s needed, allowing me to create a framework for project completion.
Next, I estimate the time required to handle each activity. Once I’ve done that, I can create a formal schedule that outlines what I’ll complete and when I’ll handle it. Whenever possible, I aim to complete the project a bit ahead of schedule. That way, I also have time to review my work before submitting the deliverables.”
4. In your opinion, why is time management important?
As one of the more straightforward time management interview questions, the hiring manager simply wants to know your views on time management. As you discuss why it’s important, make a direct connection to how it impacts your ability to work efficiently. That keeps the answer a bit personal, making it a better approach.
“I believe that time management is important because it directly impacts efficiency, productivity, and the achievement of goals. By harnessing time management skills like organization, planning, and scheduling, I’m able to remain on top of my responsibilities and meet key deadlines. Plus, effective time management keeps my stress levels low, as I know I have a strategy to help me succeed.”
5. If you were given a new, challenging assignment with a short deadline, how would you approach it?
Here’s a time management interview question that hiring managers ask to see how you’d tackle a new responsibility under tight time constraints. Since it’s a hypothetical, you can simply discuss your strategy for handling the situation. However, if you have relevant experience, you can also talk about it.
“If I’m given a new, challenging assignment with a short deadline, my first step is gathering as much information as possible, particularly if I’m unfamiliar with handling some of the tasks. Along with doing independent research, I’d ask my manager clarifying questions or tap the expertise of my teammates should I need guidance. That way, I have a strong foundation, increasing my odds of success.
After that, I’d focus on organization. I’d break down each step I need to handle and estimate the time requirements, giving me a functional roadmap. Then, I’d attempt to build in a time buffer, just in case I needed to do more research along the way.
That’s the approach I used in my last job when a similar situation occurred. Ultimately, it allowed me to remain on target, avoid getting overwhelmed, and meet the tight deadline with a little room to spare.”
6. Tell me about a time when you were overtasked, and your manager wanted to give you another task to manage. How did you handle it?
This is one of the interview questions about time management that’s a bit indirect. The hiring manager wants to know either what you did to take on the new tasks or how you discussed the situation with your supervisor.
Even if you didn’t take on the additional work, your approach shows that you’re aware of your capabilities and limitations. As a result, even answers that don’t result in expanding your responsibilities can position you as a strong candidate.
“In my last job, my manager wanted to hand me a new project during a period where I was already a bit overloaded. When presented with the task, I was open and honest with my manager about my workload. I discussed the time requirements for my existing responsibilities, upcoming deadlines I was handling, and how bringing more work into the mix would potentially impact my performance regarding the new project and my current duties.
After that, we worked together to find an arrangement that made sense. Since the new project was in my wheelhouse, we found other responsibilities that could be shifted to another team member with space in their schedule. Ultimately, it was a mutually beneficial solution, as I could use skills I love, meet all of the needed deadlines, and exceed expectations while keeping my workload manageable.”
7. Imagine being out of the office for a week and returning to an email box with 100 new messages. How would you figure out which to focus on first?
In many office jobs, receiving 100 emails a week (or even more) isn’t uncommon. This question helps the hiring manager see how you’d handle a potentially daunting task that would test your time management and organizational skills.
In your answer, outline your strategy for sifting through the messages to find high-priority emails. Then, discuss the steps you would take to wrap them up quickly.
“If I returned from a week out of the office and had 100 new unread emails, my first step would be to organize them by priority. I’d create several folders or use features like color-coded flags, allowing me to mark high-priority messages, important messages, and not-so-important messages. Then, I’d move or mark each email after quickly skimming it.
After organizing the emails, I’d send quick messages out on all of the high-priority messages letting them know I was back in the office after an absence and would handle their needs promptly, providing a time estimate for the next message if possible. Then, I’d begin working on the high-priority ones based on the order they were received or their importance level, depending on their overall nature.
After handling the high-priority emails, I’d move onto the next priority level and tackle those, followed by the least urgent ones. Overall, that approach keeps me organized and allows me to focus my energies effectively, ensuring critical messages are addressed before those that can wait.”
8. How do you get ready for the day ahead?
This time management question focuses more on your day-to-day organizational activities. It helps the hiring manager see how you set yourself up for success, making it easier for you to stay on target.
“Generally, I like to plan my workdays a day in advance. Before I leave the office, I review the tasks I’ve completed, comparing them to my to-do list or calendar. That allows me to ensure I didn’t miss anything and, if I did, lets me establish the tasks as a top priority for the following day.
Next, I create a simple to-do list that outlines what I want to accomplish the next day. That gives me a roadmap I can use right when I arrive, allowing me to begin the day as productively as possible.
When possible, I’ll also gather any needed materials for the next day if I have time. If not, I begin my day by securing any needed files or information, ensuring that I can focus on the task without having to pause to get more details. Overall, I’ve found this approach to be highly effective, as it makes the start of every workday far less stressful.”
9. Tell me about a time when you missed a deadline. What happened, and were you able to recover?
Technically, this is a question about when your time management skills may have failed you. Ultimately, the hiring manager is only partially interested in what went wrong; they’re more concerned about what you learned from the experience and how you made it right.
Ideally, you want to choose an example that meets the criteria but where you were also able to succeed. Additionally, discuss a few lessons learned as you wrap up, showing that you used the experience to avoid a similar situation in the future.
“In my second to last, I was given a large project to oversee. It was the first time I had taken on a project of that size, and while I had the needed skills, I underestimated how long it would take to handle some of the involved tasks.
About midway through the project, I was working on a deliverable that the stakeholders needed to review before I could move forward. As the deadline for it drew near, I realized I wouldn’t hit the target. I immediately contacted my manager, explained that I would fall short, and outlined what I was doing to get it completed as soon as possible. Additionally, I let the stakeholders know that I’d miss the deadline, and provided an estimated completion date.
Ultimately, I wasn’t able to get the deliverable wrapped up by the original deadline, which impacted how the stakeholder’s viewed the company and me. However, I remained focused and finished one day before the date I’d given as a new target. The deliverable ultimately exceeded their expectations, which helped reestablish some rapport. After that, I dedicated some additional time to the project, allowing me to make up for lost time and finish the project by its original wrap-up date.
Overall, the experience was enlightening for me. Due to that project, I learned how to better estimate the time requirements for my tasks and adopted some new organizational practices that help me stay on target. Since that project, I haven’t missed a deadline, and that’s something I intend to continue throughout the remainder of my career.”
10. What steps do you take to limit distractions at work?
While this doesn’t look like a time management question, it is. Limiting distractions makes you more efficient and productive, giving you more time to focus on your responsibilities.
Usually, you’ll want to outline any tools and techniques that help you concentrate on the task at hand. This can include technologies, as well as any other strategy that assists you with staying on target.
“I use several techniques to limit distractions at work. First, I silence all unnecessary notifications, as popups can draw attention away from what I’m handling. Second, I’ll block out time on my shared calendar for the tasks, showing others that I’m unavailable during those periods.
Sometimes, I’ll also put a sign or signal at my desk if I’m in the office, preventing any casual drop-ins. Changing my status on any collaboration software is another step I take, largely for a similar reason.
Finally, I clean and organize my work area regularly. Along with eliminating visual clutter, that ensures everything I may need is in an easy-to-locate, predictable place. As a result, I don’t have to waste time digging through piles of paperwork to find what I need.”
Putting It All Together
At this point, you should feel pretty confident about answering time management interview questions. Use the information and insights above to help you prepare your own standout answers, and spend time practicing your responses to increase your comfort level. That way, you can easily deliver your answers, making it more likely that you’ll impress the hiring manager and, hopefully, secure a job offer.