Coping with stress and pressure

Are you able to multitask?

Alternative and related questions:

How good are you at multitasking?
Can you give me an example of how you multitask?

The meaning behind the question:

Multitasking is a popular business buzzword.  While I personally think this is rather a silly question, that’s not to say that it’s not a popular one!  No hidden meaning, except perhaps that the interviewer might be wanting to make sure that you actually understand what multitasking is.

Your answer:

As it happens, most people don’t really understand what multitasking is!

Many busy people will claim to ‘multitask’ so as to help them get done all the needs to be done.  However, research has shown that people just appear to be handling more than one task at the same time – and that multitasking is largely counter-productive, the lack of attention given to any one particular task resulting in (a) that task taking longer than it would otherwise have done and (b) that task being more prone to errors, errors which then consume more time (albeit perhaps later on) to be corrected.  Greater efficiency is actually achieved by being able to concentrate fully on one task at a time.

Of course, there are times when we have no choice but to multitask.  You’re busy writing up a report when an important and urgent email pops up on your computer and, simultaneously, a colleague steps up to your desk to have a ‘quick word’ about something.  But don’t delude yourself into thinking that being able to multitask all the time is in any way desirable as a form of time management!  In the above scenario, you may be able to ‘cope’ with the three different tasks demanding your attention but not very effectively!

In answering this question, make it clear to the interviewer that you are aware of this distinction but, at the same time, point out that you are of course capable of multitasking if necessary.

Example:

It does depend how you define multitasking.  I’ve read that, when multitasking, people just appear to be handling more than one task at the same time and that it’s largely counter-productive.  Sometimes, of course, I have no choice but to multitask, dealing with several different issues simultaneously, for example finishing off an urgent email while taking an important phone call.  While it’s obviously not an ideal way to work, I’m certainly more than capable of multitasking in this fashion when necessary.  It’s a matter of concentration.

Can you juggle a number of different projects simultaneously?

Alternative and related questions:

How many projects can you handle at one time?

The meaning behind the question:

If the interviewer is asking this question, you can be reasonably sure that handling multiple projects at the same time is going to be a feature of your new job.  The interviewer wants to see if you are going to be able to cope with this – and how.  They’ll be looking for sound evidence of your abilities in this respect.

Your answer:

You might think this question is very similar to the previous one – but it’s not. Simultaneously juggling numerous different projects is definitely not the same as multitasking.

There’s only one correct answer to this question and it’s a resounding ‘Yes’!  Go on to back up your ‘Yes’ with some evidence, preferably an example.  The interviewer is unlikely to be asking you this question unless you have previous experience of project management so you should be able to drawn on a decent example from your career history.  An unqualified ‘Yes’ is a worthless answer.  It has to be supported by some proof.

Example:

Yes.  I’ve had plenty of experience handling a very full workload and dealing with numerous different projects simultaneously.  When starting out in my current job, I came in to a situation where they were behind schedule on a number of projects and yet also had several new projects which needed to be started.  I certainly had my hands very full indeed; it was quite a juggling act!  I persuaded the management to allocate sufficient resources so we could complete the overdue projects without suffering further financial penalties and I simultaneously got us going on the new range of projects as quickly as possible so as to not disappoint the clients.  It was very hard going but I soon got things under control and, once the backlog had been cleared and we were up-to-date, we were able to consistently adhere to timescales and deadlines in the future.

How do you handle rejection/disappointment/failure?

Alternative and related questions:

Can you tell me about a time when you have failed to achieve a goal?
How do you handle being criticized?

The meaning behind the question:

There are really three different questions here but they’re all very closely related.  The interviewer is trying to assess how you deal with adversity – whether that adversity be in the form of rejection, failure or some other disappointment.  It’s also a question which gives them a useful opportunity to potentially pinpoint a particular occasion when you experienced such adversity.

Naturally, assessing how someone handles adversity says a lot about them a person.  The interviewer won’t want to hire someone who can’t handle it when the going gets tough.

Your answer:

When the going gets tough, the tough get going!

Rejection, disappointment, failure – everyone experiences these from time to time during the course of their careers, even renowned business superstars like Richard Branson.  But one trait which sets people like Richard Branson apart from some others is that, when they do get knocked down, they always get back up again.  Not only that but when they get back up, they become stronger, having learned as much from the experience as they can.

This is what you need to aim to communicate to the interviewer in your answer.  Try to avoid giving a specific example unless they force you to.  Just concentrate on speaking in general terms about you handle adversity.  Take what could potentially be a negative topic and turn it around so that it becomes a positive selling point.  Show them how you can benefit from adversity.

Example:

I’m certainly realistic enough to appreciate that things don’t always go the way one would hope or expect them to go and that the occasional disappointment is a fact of life.  But I feel that what’s most important is how one handles such circumstances.  I endeavor to learn as much as I can from any possible failures; they really are excellent learning opportunities and they can be a blessing in disguise in that sense.  And it’s always important to focus on the future rather than dwell on the past.  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

Word of warning:

Even if you don’t give the interviewer a specific example, you will of course have to be prepared for the possibility that they will push to get one out of you.  If you do have to cite a real-life event then try to pick something which isn’t too negative, try to pick something which is reasonably far back in your past and, most importantly, try to pick something where the blame, if any, wasn’t solely attributable to you and you alone.  For example, your company having failed to win a valuable contract would work well as an answer.  If possible, you can go on to outline what was learned from the experience and how this knowledge was put to good use in the future.