Home > Careers, Employment, Enterprise, Owner, Uncategorized > What counts as ‘conflicting priorities’ and how do I answer that question?

What counts as ‘conflicting priorities’ and how do I answer that question?

Often, in applications and at interview you get asked this question – ‘How have you dealt with conflicting priorities?’ or a variation of this question. But what does the employer want to hear?

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The question is designed to test your organisational and prioritising abilities – how do you problem solve or deal with demanding deadlines? The employer seeks for you to demonstrate strategic thinking and your ability to understand business objectives, in relation to your own, which should inform how you organise yourself.

Before you can answer this question – think of an example. An easy one is you’re working part time whilst studying. Your manager asks you to come in and do extra work but you also have an important upcoming assessment deadline. You want to facilitate a positive relationships with your manager but simultaneously your degree is extremely  important too.How do you deal with such conflicting priorities?

The answer will of course be your own. You could walk the employer through your thinking and logic when making decisions. It could be that you explain that education is important but your work ethic means a lot to you so you come in to do the extra hours but you then time manage effectively and spend time in the library to complete your assessment to a high standard. I sadly can’t answer the question for you – you’d have to think of an example for yourself.

The key in answering this question is explaining effectively your thinking process behind your actions. For example, some people refer to The Eisenhower Decision Matrix, as below

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Overall, there is no right or wrong answer. All the employer wants to hear from you is a clear explanation of how you deal with pressure/a deadline. As a student, there will be countless examples of conflicting deadlines you’ve faced. Always make sure you walk them through your rationale and thinking of dealing with such situations. The end result for them is to be satisfied that you will be able to withstand pressure and it’s something you’ve dealt with before. The employer wants to be confident that you can work independently and self-manage – so simply assure them of it, using excellent communication skills (whether in an interview or an application) and an appropriate example.

Finally, always talk about the result. So if we come back to my work vs university example – a good way to finish that answer is ‘I achieved a good grade for that assignment, whilst submitting it on time. I also did 6 hours extra work that weekend and my manager was very pleased with the service I delivered’. You therefore demonstrate that your excellent strategic logical thinking lead to a positive outcome. How can an employer resist such a high calibre candidate?

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Kristina Tamane is the Careers Adviser for the School of Life and Medical Sciences and the Joint Honours Programme. You’re welcome to follow her on Twitter or Pinterest for varied job posts and general advice and updates.

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