3 Interview Tips on How to Talk About Fast Paced Work Environments

Ryan Morris
by Ryan Morris
Get The Job - 12 months ago
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Some jobs let you skate by doing the bare minimum each day.

Others require you to work upwards of 60, 70, even 80 hours or more a week.

They might have constant deadlines or simply high-performance expectations that require a lot of work.

But these jobs don’t usually pop up out of nowhere — you’re usually given some kind of warning in how the job is first described to you.

The most common warning sign? The term “fast paced.”

Everyone has a different personality, and some people are just going to be more suited to these kinds of quick, high-performance jobs than others.

But what does “fast paced” really mean? How do you know if you’re looking for these kinds of jobs? And how do you show your hiring manager that you’re the person they’re looking for when it comes to fast paced workers?

Contents

1. What Does “Fast-Paced Work Environment” Really Mean?

Figuring out your own pace is something you can really only do after working a variety of jobs.

However, figuring out the pace of a job you’re trying to get is as easy as asking a hiring manager:

At least, if you know what you’re looking for.

Sometimes, a hiring manager will try to get this information across to you directly by describing the job using phrases like:

  • “We work hard, but we play hard too.”
  • “We have pretty high expectations here, and the work isn’t for everyone.”
  • “Time management skills are a priority here.”

The thing about figuring out which companies are fast paced and which are slow paced is that there are almost no companies on the planet that would describe themselves as slow.

That means that you need to work a little to read between the lines, noting the differences between what your interviewer is saying and what they actually mean.

If they’re just saying that their company “can get a little hectic sometimes,” well, so can every company.

But if, over and over again, the hiring manager takes pains to point out how quickly deadlines roll up or how important time management is, then it’s a pretty good indication for you that this is going to be a fast paced kind of company.

So in the event that this is the impression you get from your interviewer, there are two things left for you to decide:

  1. Whether that’s something that appeals to you, or that you’re qualified for.
  2. How you’re going to phrase your prior work experience to convince the hiring manager that you’re someone who thrives in those kinds of conditions.

2. How to Describe Your Experience Working in a Fast Paced Environment

If you decide that a fast paced environment isn’t really your speed, now’s a good time to get out — although it’s important to note that with the growth of startup and tech industries, whatever slow paced environments there are left in the workforce are starting to disappear.

On the other hand, if you’ve decided this kind of environment is for you, you have to figure out how to frame your experience so a hiring manager thinks that you’re ready for it too.

To that effect, there are a few dos and don’ts you should keep in mind during your interview:
DO:

  • Talk about your flexibility. Fast paced means that a lot gets done, and you may be called upon to wear several different hats. The more flexible your scheduling and more varied projects you can take on, the more valuable you are to your company.
  • Bring up your organization skills. Fast paced also means that there are a lot of projects you might be expected to juggle, and they might have deadlines one on top of another.
  • Ask if there’s room for you to grow. These companies are looking for people who are ambitious and self-starting — they don’t want someone who’s more interested in finding a niche and staying put because people like that are less likely to want to work fast paced jobs.

DON’T:

  • Seem too dependent on your boss. The interviewer will be looking for someone who is independent and able to find their own direction with minimal input from their boss. They want less work for themselves, not more.
  • Talk about how easily stressed you are (if you are). This signals to your interviewer that you could get overwhelmed if you’re given too many projects at once.
  • Avoid saying things like “I like to pace myself” — while not bad per se, this can come off like you work slowly.
  • Be too specific about the pace you’ve worked at before, unless that pace was very fast. There’s always the chance that the expectations of your previous job will be much more different from the new one than you expect — you might have to rise to the occasion, which you won’t have the opportunity to do if you’re shut out at the gate.

3. Examples of Working in a Busy Office Environment

Here are a few example answers to help you formulate your own.

When an interviewer tells you to “describe your experience working in a fast paced environment,” you might say:

  • “I like to set realistic priorities for myself, but I always get my work done on time or ahead of schedule.”
  • “I had a lot of rolling deadlines at my last job, so I’m used to having to juggle a lot of plates at once. Or keep them spinning. Or whatever plates do.”
  • “I’m extremely organized. All of my work is color-coded by type, amount of time it should take, the due date, the day I first got the deadline, the color of the moon, which planets are in retrograde — I guess you could say I’m a bit of a neat freak.”

Wrapping Up: Fast Paced Jobs and Careers

It’s important to remember that not all fast paced environments are alike.

Again, this sounds obvious, but after working in one kind of fast paced environment it’s easy to get to thinking that you would excel in any work environment that’s described the same way.

Maybe you work well in heavily organized, borderline-micromanaged offices where deadlines and check-ins are constant.

On the other hand, you might find that you do better when you’re given a lot of freedom, with almost no check-ins and several projects that you’re expected to juggle on your own.

It all comes down to personal preference and comfort.

Either way, you should try to figure this out as early in your life as you can — it’ll make looking for jobs a heck of a lot easier on you.

Best of luck! Here are some other links to help you on your way:

3 Tips for Answering “What Do You Do For Fun?”
How to Answer the Interview Question “Do You Work Well with Others?”
9 Illegal Interview Questions and How to Handle Them