Are you able to multitask?

  | James Innes

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.


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.

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