Tell Me About a Time When You Had Too Much on Your Plate and What You Did to Prioritize


Potential employers ask different kinds of questions during face-to-face meetings to help gather pertinent information about you as a professional. Traditional inquiries give them concrete information about your education- experience and goals. Behavioral interview questions- such as ‘tell me about a time when you had too much on your plate and what you did to prioritize-‘ delve into your past behaviors to give insight into how you might act in the future. If you really want to do well during the interview- you need to practice answers to both kinds of queries.

Some job seekers find behavioral inquiries are hard to answer because of the storytelling required. You can make the response flow more smoothly if you practice your answers to often-asked behavior-related queries. You also need to consider why a hiring manager is asking the question. For this specific behavioral inquiry- the interviewer may be trying to learn about how you solve problems- prioritize work and communicate. Some employers may say ‘tell me about a time when you had to prioritize work because you had too much on your plate’ instead. Replying to this type of inquiry may seem daunting- but with a little preparation and a look at the STAR method- you will be able to wow the hiring manager.

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How to Answer the ‘Tell Me About a Time When You Had Too Much on Your Plate and What You Did to Prioritize’ Behavioral Interview Question

Emphasize Problem-Solving Strategies. When you are too busy to properly complete projects- it is a problem. This means you need to expound on what you do to solve problems if you really want to give an outstanding answer to this inquiry. There are many different strategies available for problem solving- and the strategy you choose may depend entirely on the issue at hand. The main steps of solving a problem typically include defining the problem- looking at potential solutions- selecting the solution that is best and taking the steps needed to implement said solution. If you want to give a solid response- you may want to include these aspects in your reply.

Focus on the Positives. When you talk about a time you felt overwhelmed- it might be tempting to focus on the negative part of being overworked. You may want to talk about the incompetent boss who was unable to properly schedule and dole out work- but this is not a great tactic. Instead- you should focus on the positive aspects. In other words- focus on what you did to make the situation better. You can talk about how you thought on your feet- analyzed the situation and eventually implemented a solution. Throughout your response- you should focus on what you did well rather than on what someone else did poorly because the hiring manager is only interested in learning more about you.

Construct Your Story. Behavioral interview questions are supposed to examine your past to predict your future. This means you need to have a story from your past that can highlight a time you had too much on your plate and were able to make the situation better. Not only do you have to pick the right example- but you also have to know how to tell your story. The STAR method is a way you can organize your response to ensure you hit the key points the interviewer wants to hear about. This method requires you talk about a few distinct components:

  • • Situation/Task: Give the background of your situation or the task you were expected to achieve.
  • • Action: Describe the steps you took to change the situation or complete the task.
  • • Results: Highlight the results you were able to achieve thanks to the steps you took.

In this particular situation, you are going to want to briefly highlight the problem, but you will want to give more details about your thought process as you tried to prioritize your work in order to solve the issue of feeling overwhelmed.

Sample ‘Tell Me About a Time When You Had Too Much on Your Plate and What You Did to Prioritize’ STAR Interview Answer

One of my colleagues was leaving for maternity leave, but her temporary replacement ended up falling through. It fell to me to take on the majority of her assignments while still doing my work. At first everything was going smoothly, but then one of her assignments and one of my projects started to really overlap, and I couldn’t give the proper attention to either. I was feeling overwhelmed, and it was showing in the work I was doing. Rather than continue doing both projects less efficiently, I decided to re-examine my project schedule. I compared the two assignments I was working on in order to understand which one had a higher priority. Once I had that figured out, I set a timetable for each project, but the work was still going to overlap. I talked to my boss to see if someone else in the office could help with these two projects. With the new schedule and a better formulated plan, I was able to reduce my stress and complete the projects in the right way.

Behavioral interview questions do not have to stump you. Use the STAR method to create outstanding responses to these potentially challenging queries.