If you’re looking for interview answers to, “How do you stay organized at work?” then this article is for you.
This is one of the most common interview questions, and hiring managers ask about your organizational skills and how you stay organized on the job for a few reasons.
As a former recruiter, I’m going to share with you:
- Why employers ask “how do you stay organized?”
- How to respond to satisfy them
- Word-for-word example answers you can use
- 3 common mistakes to avoid when you describe your organizational skills
Let’s get started…
Why Employers Ask “How Do You Stay Organized?”
Most jobs involve quite a few tasks these days, so employers want to check your organizational skills and see if you’ll be able to prioritize and stay on top of everything.
If you can’t stay organized, they’ll worry you’ll:
- Get stressed/overwhelmed
- Be behind in your work and struggle to keep yourself productive
- Be late in completing an urgent task
A hiring manager may not feel comfortable offering you the role if they aren’t sure you’ll be able to organize your work and your time.
So your goal any time you hear this question in your job search is to demonstrate a past track record of strong organizational skills.
Also, try to sound like you have a positive attitude toward the topic and don’t struggle with organization in general.
In the next section, I’ll share more about how to craft the perfect answer…
Steps to Answer “How Do You Stay Organized at Work?”
When you answer questions about organization, you should show the interviewer that you have a defined, proven system, and then follow up with specific examples if appropriate.
You want to answer confidently and make it sound like time management, task management, and the ability to stay organized are easy for you.
Confidence is one of the key areas that employers look for in a job interview.
When describing how you keep yourself organized, you can mention specific tools and technologies, general strategies, task management software, teamwork/communication, and more.
If you have prior work experience, describe the tactics, tools, and methods you used to remain consistent and organized in those prior jobs. Consider sharing a past example of how you used one of your methods/tactics to successfully stay organized in a tough or chaotic time.
If you’re a recent graduate, you can discuss organization and time management strategies used during your education. When you have no work experience, your academic experience is your work experience. So look back to your education to find past examples of staying organized.
Answer structure: Start with the “how” and then share an example if possible
I recommend you begin your answer by describing the “how.” How did you use your organizational abilities, tools, and habits to keep yourself on task?
For example, you could answer by saying:
In my current role, I use our company’s internal project management software to track weekly priorities and deadlines. I also create a to-do list each morning to organize the individual day…
Then, consider sharing a specific example if possible. Sharing an example at the end of your answer is a good way to impress the hiring manager and stand out.
For example, you could end your interview answer by saying:
…For example, last month I had three urgent projects due the same week. By breaking down the week into smaller chunks and prioritizing each day, I was able to stay organized and deliver all projects on time.
Coming up next, we’ll look at more word-for-word sample interview answers to “how do you stay organized at work?” or “how do you keep yourself organized?”
How Do You Stay Organized? Sample Interview Answers
Example Answer for Experienced Job Seekers:
When I was hired in my last role, I quickly saw that I was going to be handling a high number of tasks, and that I’d need to use my resources efficiently if I wanted to succeed. I used an online calendar and to-do list to track priorities and plan out my day and week. I broke down each major project into smaller pieces, which I found helpful for time management and deciding which tasks are most critical each day.
Example Answer #2 for Experienced Job Seekers:
I use an online calendar and to-do list to keep myself organized. I also like to complete my most critical task right away each morning. That way, if I face unforeseen challenges later in the day, I still accomplished my main task. I’ve also found that communication skills go hand-in-hand with organizational skills, at least in my last few roles. So I’ve learned to communicate clearly and promptly with my team and project manager regarding progress, setbacks, deadlines, any unanticipated tasks that I need to address, and more. I’ve been able to stay organized and handle a heavy workload including some tight deadlines by following this approach.
Example Answer #3 for Experienced Job Seekers:
My managers in my two past roles both had a very hands-off approach and I was left to develop my own organizational skills and systems. I enjoyed the challenge and created some great systems to save time, prioritize my most critical tasks, and also make sure the other tasks that aren’t top priority don’t fall through the cracks and get forgotten. In terms of specific tools, I used a combination of email and Google Calendar, plus automated reminders, email tags, and email folders to organize all of my projects. I can share some past examples of how this looked for specific projects if you’d like.
Note that in sample answer #3 above, instead of ending with an example, you’re ending by asking the interviewer if they’d like you to share more detailed examples of how you used these organizational skills and time management abilities. But you’re leaving it up to the interviewer to decide.
This is a good route to take if you feel your answer is already getting a bit long and you haven’t shared specific examples yet.
Coming up, I’ll share exactly how long your answer should be.
First, let’s look at one example answer for entry-level job candidates…
Example Answer for Entry-Level Candidates:
In my final year of college, I had a number of difficult projects all assigned within a few weeks of each other, and all due the same week. I broke each project down into weekly segments to identify what I’d need to accomplish each week to finish on time. I also used an online calendar to coordinate tasks with team members for all of my team projects. I ended up finishing the semester with a 4.0 GPA, and my time management and organization were big reasons why. I’d like to try using that same approach when I’m hired for my first full-time role, since it worked well for me in college. I’m open to learning new methods and using additional tools, as well.
Keep Your Answer to a Minute or Less
When answering straightforward interview questions like “How do you stay organized?” you should avoid being too long-winded in your response.
I recommend spending about 30 seconds describing your approach to organizing your work, and then around 20-30 more seconds giving a brief example.
If you don’t share an example, then just spend 30-45 seconds describing your general approach and tools you use in staying organized at work.
If the interviewer or hiring manager wants more detail at that point, they can ask for more. But don’t talk for two to three minutes in response to a simple question like this. Less is more sometimes, and you’ll frustrate an interviewer if you give long responses to each question.
Answering “What Tools and Techniques Do You Use to Stay Organized?”
Your interviewer may also ask, “What tools and techniques do you use to keep yourself organized?”
This is similar to the question, “How do you stay organized?” but your answer needs to mention one specific detail first.
While similar to the question above, you should make sure to name at least one tool or technology when answering this question, before any general strategies.
Since the interviewer is leading their question with the word “tools,” that’s likely to be what they’re most interested in.
The interviewer will still appreciate if you follow up by sharing some general organizational skills, time management strategies, etc., but start with the tools and tech you use.
For example, you could say:
I use Google Calendar and Asana to coordinate and track projects with my team. That’s what we use across the department. I also use Asana to track my individual tasks and to-do lists. As far as general techniques that I use to stay organized, I’m big on communication to ensure sure I’m on the same page as other team members. I also like to plan far ahead and break big projects down into smaller chunks, to help me prioritize tasks each week.
You don’t need to share a million tiny details about the tools (unless the hiring manager asks further questions) but show that you are proficient with some tools that you use for specific purposes.
Mistakes to Avoid When Answering
If you read the tips and sample responses above, you have a good idea of how to describe your organizational system and ace this interview question.
Next, here are a few mistakes that you should always avoid.
First, never sound like you’re hesitant to discuss the topic, or that you struggle when it comes to staying organized.
If a hiring manager is asking about your organizational abilities, it’s likely they care a lot and/or think it’s critical for the job.
So they want to see enthusiasm for the topic, not hesitation or fear.
Second, don’t go into the interview without practicing your answer and refreshing your memory on your processes, tools and software you have used recently, and your general approach to keeping organized.
Sometimes, you follow a routine at work each day and do it well, but you haven’t described it in a long time, so you struggle to find the right words.
This can leave you sounding unsure of yourself in the interview if you haven’t practiced.
Fortunately, you can solve this by simply practicing your answer and ensuring you’ve got a general idea of what to say.
Job seekers who can sound confident and sure of their response will be more likely to impress a hiring manager, so practice answering questions like this before your interview.
Third, don’t give an answer that doesn’t relate to the job you’re interviewing for now.
Employers are thinking about their specific job duties when they ask you interview questions. When the employer asks questions related to your past work, try to “tailor” your answer to relate to this employer’s needs.
Here are some examples of tailoring your answer:
If a job is going to have you thinking on your feet and fielding the occasional unanticipated task, show flexibility and an ability to stay calm and organized under pressure.
If you expect to work under a tight deadline or two, talk about how you’ve tracked deadlines in the past. Describe a quick system, any habits, or of course tools and tech.
If you’re going to be in a role where you keep your head down and often perform one task for hours on end, show how you use your organization methods to have fewer distractions and stay focused for longer periods.
Hiring managers and interviewers often ask “How do you stay organized?” to make sure you won’t struggle in their job, miss deadlines, or need a high amount of “hand-holding” with every project.
Your goal is to sound confident and “battle-tested” when describing your organizational skills.
Be ready to talk about the tools and systems you use.
And share examples if possible, detailing how you stayed organized through past challenges and assignments.
It’s okay if you don’t use any high-tech resources in your organization process. Google Calendar and handwritten notes are fine in some jobs.
Simply describe the skills and methods you did use.
Show a level of comfort and confidence in your organization skills overall, and you’ll perform well with this interview question.
By preparing to talk confidently and clearly about your experience in organizing your work and managing tasks successfully, you’ll show the hiring manager that you’ll be successful in their company, too.