I recently came up with a job interview exercise to explore how engineering team candidates approach juggling priorities. This can be especially helpful for junior candidates who don’t have as much experience to draw upon to answer a question like “Tell me about a time when your team faced multiple conflicting priorities, and how you approached deciding how to spend your time.” It’s definitely meant to be a no-right-answer Kobayashi Maru type question, so make sure to get them to elaborate on their thinking behind their choices.

Hypothetic priority juggling interview exercise

You are nearing the end of your workday and need to decide what to work on next. You have four possible next tasks. Each will take approximately the same amount of time to complete:

A. Investigate and reply to a question from your boss who is currently incommunicado on a plane that will land after you go home.

B. Finish a medium priority task that you started this morning and committed to competing by end of day.

C. Help another team member who is struggling with a high priority project due this week.

D. Begin designing a solution for a vaguely defined high priority project that absolutely must be done next week.

What do you do, and why?

If it’s not obvious already, each choice is meant to emphasize a different set of core values:

A: managing up, plus they can’t cop out and ask for the boss to choose
B: commitment, throughput, getting things done
C: team collaboration, shared vs. individual goals, not blocking others
D: reducing risk, short vs. long term planning

How would you answer the question? Any thoughts or feedback? Ping me on Twitter @bawbgale.