Talk About a Time When You Were Under a Heavy Workload. How Did You Handle It?

Nilda Melissa Diaz By Nilda Melissa Diaz, Career Advice Contributor Last Updated: May 25, 2023

More and more recruiters hire for cultural fit. They want engaged and productive employees who serve as good brand ambassadors. Just as importantly, they want to avoid the high costs of employee turnover, and the process starts early in the hiring stages—even with the type of job interview questions asked. Behavioral interview questions are a key way for recruiters, interviewers and hiring managers to glean insight into your future behavior by looking at past behavioral patterns. The answers to the questions also inform managers about your likelihood of fitting in well with the company.

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One example of such a question is, “Talk about a time when you were under a heavy workload. How did you handle it?” Another way to ask it is, “It can be stressful when you are dealing with a serious workload. How do you address such situations?” In this case, the question covers many areas, including your organizational and time management skills, how you deal with stress, and how you resolve conflict.

If such questions seem complicated, you are far from alone in thinking that way. Luckily, the STAR method will help you navigate these questions easily, and you may even prefer them to factual questions such as, “What was your GPA in college?”

How to Answer the ‘Talk About a Time When You Were Under a Heavy Workload. How Did You Handle It?’ Behavioral Interview Question

1. Explain How You View ‘Heavy’

A heavy workload probably means one thing to you and another to your interviewer. Therefore, it is important that you explain your reasoning behind the definition of “heavy,” as you do not want to give the impression that what you see as a heavy workload is, in actuality, a relatively light workload. Common ways to explain heavy workloads are in situations where a co-worker is on extended leave or has quit with no replacement; this way, you can define “heavy” as doing the work of two employees, which everyone can identify with. Alternatively, you may have been asked to take on a significant project that required you to come in at least an hour early and leave a couple of hours later.

2. Use STAR to Pattern Your Answer

With STAR, remembering how to structure behavioral interview questions becomes simple and may even be fun. Set the stage with “ST,” or the situation/task in question. “A” is the action that you took to handle the situation/task, and “R” stands for the results stemming from your actions. The “R” portion is especially crucial in this question, as you are not specifically asked about the results of your actions. Make no mistake, though, interviewers want to know what happened. They want to know how successful your way of handling the heavy workload turned out to be.

3. Avoid Talking Negatively About Other People

It can be easy to fall into the trap of bad-mouthing others when you are grappling with a heavy workload. For example, perhaps your workload was due to a slacker colleague who happened to be the son of the boss and who simply did not do his work, knowing that his father would overlook it. Bypass the tendency to put down other people, and frame your answer in terms of your capabilities. With behavioral interview questions, take responsibility for your actions when necessary. For instance, if you had taken a class in accounting, would the workload created by the slacker colleague have been much more manageable?

4. Research the Company Culture

As you prepare for interviews at each company, you should research its company culture. For example, is the company laid back or traditional? Do employees set their own hours? Knowing this information gives you insight into how the company may define “heavy workload,” and how it may prefer for such issues to be resolved. This way, you can pick applicable situations that best fit company philosophy.

Sample ‘Talk About a Time When You Were Under a Heavy Workload. How Did You Handle It?’ STAR Interview Answer

One of my co-workers was about to go on maternity leave. It would mean a heavy workload for me, as I was expected to do some of my current work as well. I asked her to outline the projects she was working on, with information such as key contact people included. I shadowed her for one day to ensure that I understood everything I needed to, and on one of her last days before leaving, we, along with our supervisor, met to review her outline, the company expectations of my work, and other details. I realized that I had yet to be fully trained on a necessary software program, so I requested that a temp come in for three days to do my regular duties while I could be trained. My request was granted. I organized my days by spending 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on my co-worker’s job, with the remainder of the day devoted to tasks from my current job. Keeping them separate allowed for much more efficiency. When my co,worker returned to work, all of the company’s clients expressed satisfaction with my work, and all said that quality levels had stayed constant.

Behavioral interview questions are a mainstay of just about any job interview. Keep the STAR method in your arsenal as you tackle such questions.