Multitasking Definition, Skills, and Examples
There are very few jobs that don’t require multitasking skills of some sort or another. Employees rarely have the luxury of focusing on one task at a time in today's work world.
Most jobs require employees to balance competing demands for their time and energy, and employers expect you to be able to handle multiple priorities. Even if you don't think you do much of it, you are most likely multitasking much of the time.
When you’re job searching, employers will want to know that you have the ability to multitask successfully. So, it’s important to be ready to share examples, during your job interviews, of how you have handled multiple tasks or projects in the past.
What is Multitasking?
Multitasking entails juggling different work activities and shifting attention from one task to another.
Ideally, an employee will be able to meet the demands of several different stakeholders without dropping the ball. The danger in multitasking is that effectiveness can be compromised if the worker tries to carry out too many tasks at the same time.
Technology and Multitasking
Modern technology complicates the situation for many workers since they are expected to handle simultaneous demands through email, text messages, phone calls, and in-person contact with constituents. It's become the norm to check your phone and your email while working on other tasks.
Jobs that require intense concentration on complex tasks and also entail frequent interaction with others can be particularly challenging. It can be hard to focus when you're trying to do too many things at once, and it's important to be able to manage your workload.
How (and How Not) to Successfully Multitask
Employees who multitask effectively must be able to rotate their concentration smoothly and entirely from one activity to another.
In order to multitask successfully, workers must be able to prioritize tasks and address the most critical and pressing demands first.
It's also important to know when multitasking is a bad idea. There are certain jobs and tasks where you need to work on one thing at a time. Be cognizant of that when you're interviewing and be sure to tailor your response to questions to the job you're being considered for.
Examples of Multitasking Skills Used in Various Professions
- Answering the phone while greeting visitors in a busy reception area
- Carrying out work on three different graphic design projects at varying stages of completion
- Completing five different meal orders at the same time
- Designing a new website while updating other sites
- Disciplining a student who is acting out while teaching a lesson
- Driving a bus while quieting a verbally abusive passenger
- Fielding calls from distressed investors while managing portfolios during a downturn in the market
- Managing several social media accounts while working on email marketing tasks
- Monitoring air traffic patterns and directing aircraft
- Polishing a press release while finalizing the details for a promotional event
- Preparing a lecture, generating a grant proposal, interacting with advisees who drop in, and providing input to a committee chair
- Preparing a sales presentation while fielding a complaint from another customer
- Prioritizing complaints in a customer service office
- Processing closing documents for a variety of real estate deals
- Processing insurance paperwork, scheduling appointments, greeting patients, and answering the phone in a dental office
- Refining computer programs while responding to the needs of in-house users
- Responding to the call button from patients while recording case notes
- Revising the performance review process while answering employee questions about benefits
- Scheduling workers while managing their job responsibilities
- Serving drinks, finalizing checks, taking orders, and delivering food while it is still hot to restaurant patrons
- Triaging patients in the emergency room
- Writing a performance appraisal while fielding a call from the boss and finding a replacement for an absent worker
- Writing a proposal for a remodeling job while scheduling subcontractors
How to Demonstrate Your Multitasking Skills
If a job announcement you are interested in specifically says that the ideal candidate for the position must have strong multitasking skills, then it’s a good idea to sit down before your interview and list instances where you have had to multitask either in your previous jobs or, if you are a recent college graduate, as part of your coursework.
Once you have two or three examples you know that you can elaborate upon, you’ll be more than prepared to show (as opposed to simply telling) your interviewers that you’re the multitasking rock star they’re seeking!
More Skills You Need to Get Hired
Multitasking is just one of the skills employers seek in candidates they hire. Review this list of the top skills employers look for, along with the job specific skills required for a variety of occupations.