How Would You Address Conflicting Priorities?


Job Interview Question & Answer: Describe a Time When You Had to Deal with Conflicting Demands

What’s the Point of the Question?

Hiring managers may ask about a time a candidate dealt with conflicting responsibilities to get a sense of how they stay organized and remain cool under pressure. Almost every job requires multitasking, so this question may appear in interviews for any position. It’s a simple prompt, but that doesn’t mean job hopefuls should ignore it when preparing for the interview process.

The Key to Responding to “How Would You Address Conflicting Priorities?”

Applicants should have two parts to their answer. First, workers need to outline the steps they take to prevent duties from falling through the cracks. These will be different for each person. While keeping detailed to-do lists might help one job seeker stay on top of tasks, communication could be the key to another’s success.

Next, candidates should prepare an example. Some employers may phrase the question as “Describe a time when you had to deal with conflicting demands,” so crafting a response may be required. In either case, giving hiring staff concrete details from past work, school, or volunteer experience shows that potential hires have results to back up their claims.

What Not to Do

There’s only one way to answer “How would you address conflicting priorities?” poorly. Job seekers who don’t describe a specific situation for interviewers will lose credibility. Employers might assume that applicants who can’t share a time when they handled multiple tasks successfully don’t have this vital skill.

Example Responses

Job hopefuls can use these sample answers as a guide to help them prepare their own, personalized answer. It’s important, though, that they not just memorize and repeat these examples. All replies to job interview questions need to be unique to candidates’ lives.

Sample Answer 1 – Pizza Shop Delivery Driver

“I make a lot of mental lists to keep conflicting priorities straight. Setting benchmark goals for myself helps me finish projects ahead of time. I think this method of organization would work well if I had many pizzas to deliver at once.”

“In fact, when I was working as a sandwich maker, my system helped me set records for the fastest customer service. I had to balance prepping salads, cooking meat on the grill, and assembling sandwiches as the orders rolled in. I did this successfully by having a clear checklist of things I needed to do in my head.”

Sample Answer 2 – Retail Customer Service Rep

“For me, constant communication is the key to handling conflicting deadlines. Updating my managers on my progress and when I think I’ll have projects completed shows them I’m following through. This opens the door for compromise if I see I’m not going to finish in time.”

“During my freshman year of college, finals week was rough. I had several papers and a group project to complete. Regularly updating my project partners helped us agree on dates that worked within everyone’s schedule. We even finished everything a day before it was due and received a good grade for our hard work.”

Sample Answer 3 – Hotel Front Desk Agent

“As a hotel desk clerk, I’m confident that I could help guests, coordinate with staff, and keep records. In the past, an important/urgent scale has helped me stay on top of multiple tasks at once. If a duty is important and urgent, it needs attention now. If it’s important but not urgent, I take care of it next. Urgent but not important things come next, and tasks that aren’t urgent or important are last.”

“I started using this system during my summer internship for a day camp, which required planning and setup for overlapping events. I split each event into a list of tasks, then ranked them in order of how important and urgent they were. By tackling the most pressing items first, I was able to regularly organize several events at once and earn the camp’s Most Valuable Intern award.”

Core Concepts

Keeping three points in mind while preparing for the interview process will help candidates nail the answer to this job interview question:

  • Clearly state a plan for addressing conflicting demands.
  • Highlight a real-world example
  • Relate the response back to the job

Potential employees who stick to this formula will likely respond more effectively and get positive marks for their answer from hiring staff.

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