Tackling the Multitasking Myth

Posted: May 21, 2011 12:01 AM

So many job descriptions these days feature the desire to have employees capable of multitasking. The request stems from the misperceived notion that employees can be wildly productive and highly valuable as they attempt many different tasks at the same time.

Yet the evidence is mounting that multitasking (performing two technologically demanding tasks at once) is a myth. Multitasking fits the narrative that companies value immediacy and instant response. Multitasking actually subsumes reflective thinking. It takes you away from thoughtful and logical processing as we inaccurately portray ourselves as computer-like. Alas, we are humans - not machines. 

When interviewing, we are there to convey our human strengths and talents. The goal of the interviewing process is to demonstrate how we think about a range of topics. Instead of playing to the immediacy narrative promulgated by things like extolling multitasking, you might want to try to show the prospective employer that you value being reflective. Here are six ways to stand out in a job interview by demonstrating that you can think under pressure.

            • Embrace a few seconds of pause after you get asked a question.  A few moments of silence will allow you to think and frame a coherent answer to the question. It will also show the interviewer that you are not afraid to be alone with your thoughts. It sends a powerful signal that you can listen to a question and have self-control and discipline to frame an intelligent answer. Three seconds is not a lot of time, but it is invaluable to your brain as it gathers a way to answer a question. 

            • When answering a question, don’t believe that the amount of content you convey is correlated to the value of your response. In other words, keep your responses focused and to the point of what you were asked. Once you repeat a theme in an answer you are actually diluting the power of what you are saying.  Less is more. Less wordy answers allow what was said to stand out in the interviewers mind. 

            • In between interviews, don’t check your blackberry or email. Your mind needs to be in the moment for each interview. You should use the time you are given between interviews (if any) to reflect on what you did well or not so well in the previous interaction.

            • When answering questions, give the interviewer stories that show how you and your team value time to think through problems.   All too often we focus on the outcomes and not the process of structured thinking that went into the solution. 

            • When asked if you have questions about the company, probe on how the firm structures its think time when solving big problems and designing its strategy. You can ask what habits and routines force the company to step back and question its overall assumptions about the market in which they are operating.  You can ask if there are any methods for allowing groups to think through big problems without the presence of technology and the resulting constant interruptions, like email. 

            • After the interview, don’t dash off a thank you email in haste (especially on the elevator on the way down from the meeting.)  Take the afternoon to think about what happened and craft a message (or better yet write a thank you note). It will demonstrate what you took away from the interview experience.    Hasty thank you emails always send the message that the writer values immediacy over reflection. 

The best ideas and insights come to us only when we take the time to think and reflect.  Immediacy has its place. However in the careful dance of an interview, what matters is how you think quickly, but with control, thoughtfulness and focus. The methods listed above won’t guarantee you a job, but they will convey that you are capable of allowing your mind moments to think and process. You will likely stand out in a crowd of candidates. After all, they are hiring you for your mind and your talents and not how fast you respond to a question or the thousands of emails that will surely be lobbed your way.  

Daniel Forrester is the author of Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization  (Palgrave-McMillan 2011)