How to Nail Your Answer to “Describe a Typical Workday” was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.
When you’re in a job interview, you might expect a common interview question like “Describe a typical workday,” and you might think it seems relatively straightforward to answer. And it is straightforward. But just because a question is clear and simple doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at it as another opportunity to show exactly why you’re the right hire.
When an interviewer asks you to walk them through a typical workday, your answer can tell them a few different things. First and foremost, an interviewer is looking to see what responsibilities you currently have (or had at your most recent job) and how you approach that work, says Muse career coach Lynn Berger.
Interviewers want “to compare the person’s answer with the job description requirements,” says Muse career coach Steven Davis, owner of Renaissance Solutions Inc. How often do you already do the tasks you’d have to complete in this job? How do you use the skills you’ll need? Interviewers may also ask this question to see what type of work environment you’re used to and compare it to the one that exists at their company, Davis says. For example, if you’re interviewing for a job at a startup or another fast-moving company, says Muse career coach Barb Girson, “They may want to see how you respond to changing environments and your ability to be agile during those changes.”
Finally, one of the goals of any interview is for both sides to have a chance to get to know each other better—and your interviewer might be listening to how you construct your answer so that they can pick up on what parts of your day are most important to you, Girson says.
Use these tips to help you prepare and construct your answer to “What does a typical workday look like?” and similar questions.
1. Read the Job Description
As you prepare for any interview, you should be going back to the job description often. That’s because whenever you’re wondering what a specific interviewer is looking for in response to a particular interview question, a job posting can be useful as a guide. “Describe a typical workday” is no different.
Start by carefully reading the job description and noting—either highlighting on the job description or writing out separately—any of the job duties, experiences, and skills mentioned, whether it’s as broad working with a team or as specific as using Salesforce to report interactions with a potential client. These are the qualifications your interviewer will likely be listening for in your answer.
You’ll also want to try to figure out which qualifications are most important to the job—what tasks are a core element of the position you’re applying to? What requirements or duties are listed first? Is anything mentioned more than once?
2. Lay Out Your Tasks at Your Current or Most Recent Job
Knowing what your interviewer is looking for is only half of the equation for answering this question. The other half is your own typical workday. So think through all the tasks you’re regularly responsible for at your current or most recent job. It might help to write them down so you have a list to refer to as you continue.
3. Find the Overlap
In your answer to this question, even though you’re describing your current job, you want to make sure describing it through the lens of the job description. Your answer should focus on tasks you do that “would be impactful for the role you’re being considered for,” says Muse career coach Kelly Poulson.
Look back at the qualifications you noted from the job posting, compare it to your list of current tasks, and find where there’s overlap. Are there responsibilities outlined that you already perform? Does performing any of your job duties demonstrate that you have a required skill? You should also include any task that’s similar or transferable to the qualifications for this job. For example, if the job description says the position will include uploading content to WordPress, you should note your experience uploading content to a different content management system (CMS) or if the posting mentions interacting with donors, you could mention interacting with customers.
Also note anything that’s not explicitly in the job description that could be helpful, Poulson says. Do you “do something that’s outside of your department or description that has broader impact?” For example, do you organize or participate in an employee resource group? Are you on the social committee that plans events? These activities might speak to skills that could help you in this job or show the interviewer how you’ll add to their workplace overall.
The list you end up with is all the possible things you could bring up when answering this question in order to show the interviewer how strong a candidate you are for the job. Highlight or otherwise emphasize anything on this list that matches up with the most important qualifications you identified earlier. You won’t mention everything on this list in your answer (and you may mention things not on this list), but this list will be the core of your response.
4. Go in Chronological Order
As you put together your answer to “Describe a typical workday,” you should keep in mind the structure that the question lays out for you. Though the focus is going to be on your job duties, you’re not merely listing them out in random order without explanation. You’re walking your interviewer through a typical day while emphasizing the parts of it that are most relevant to the job you’re interviewing for. So start with what you do first thing in the morning and go through your day in order.
5. Make Sure Your Answer Is Concise
Keep your response brief. “Stay high level and respond in a succinct way,” Girson says. Don’t go into the nitty-gritty of each task. Instead, give the interviewer a general overview. So for example, Poulson says, “They don’t need to know how much time you spend answering emails,” but if staying in contact with coworkers or clients via email is important to the job, you should still mention that you do it.
“Let the interviewer prompt you for more information,” Girson says. If they want more details about a specific job duty, they’ll ask!
6. But Don’t Forget to Mention the “Why”
Your answer should include the reasoning behind your most important tasks, Poulson says, whether that’s why you do a task when you do or why you do it at all. Going back to the email example, “It could be helpful for them to hear that you structure your day to focus on emails mid- and end-of-day as you know you’re at your best brainpower in the morning,” Poulson says, so you devote that time for higher priority tasks. Or maybe you spend time on LinkedIn each day because you know that staying on top of the latest trends is vital for you to be effective in your marketing field, Poulson says.
7. Be Strategic But Honest
Even though it’s important to focus on tasks that show how you’re qualified for the job, don’t feel the need to skip over everything that’s not mentioned in the job description. You should always be honest—plus, if there’s little overlap to mention, it’ll be very clear to the interviewer that you’re leaving things out. Even if everything you say isn’t specifically relevant, “Interviewers want to get a sense of who you are, how you show up, and what you’re capable of,” Poulson says. For example, if “you wear many hats throughout the day” or “spend huge chunks of time on focused work” that could be valuable information that helps the interviewer figure out if you’ll thrive in this role and mesh well with the company or team you’ll be joining.
If your current job changes a lot and there’s more than one schedule that could be considered your “typical” day, you can “be strategic about which type of day you’re discussing,” Poulson says. For example, if you’re in an accounting role where you work on many aspects of a company’s finances, but you’re interviewing for a payroll-specific job, you might choose to describe a typical day leading up to payday when your focus is more on the type of work you’d be doing in this next role. It might even be worth mentioning at the beginning of your response that there’s no one typical day and you’ll give an example of a day when you’re working on payroll or preparing for a big meeting or closing deals for the quarter.
8. Leave an Opening for Follow-Ups
Finally, remember that ideally job interviews are a conversation, so try to end your answer with an opportunity to continue that conversation rather than just jumping to the next question, Davis says. Particularly for a question like this one, where you’re giving a high-level overview, wrapping up with something like, “Is there anything you’d like to hear more about?” can help assuage your fears that you’re saying too little, while also keeping you from going into too much detail up front.
So what does all this advice look like in action? Here are two examples:
A sales development representative looking to move into an account executive or similar role might say something like:
“I like to start each day by going over my schedule to make sure any calls or meetings I have are top of mind and I get any prep work for those done first thing. Then, I usually answer my emails while I’m still fresh. I like to make sure I’m giving any warm leads my fullest, clearest, attention so I generally jump to those conversations first and reply right away or take the immediate actions I need to to get them the answers to any questions they have. Then I check my LinkedIn messages and voicemail and reply accordingly to cold contacts that yielded responses. After that, I usually spend any remaining free time before lunch researching prospects. In the afternoon, I find I’m more social and high energy so I channel that into cold calls and messaging. Usually I’ll have one or two scheduled calls with leads each day, and while I prefer to put those in the afternoon, I’ll defer to their preferences. I also try to listen in on a sales call two to three times a week to get a sense of how our account executives are closing deals, both to learn more about that step myself and to know what messaging will likely resonate with leads I speak with. I update Salesforce throughout the day, but before I leave, I double check to make sure I didn’t forget to record anything.
A marketing manager with a highly varied schedule may give an answer like:
“One of my favorite parts of my job—and what drew me to apply to this one—is that there is no true ‘typical’ day. Generally on a day when there are no big meetings or presentations, I try to start my morning by catching up—reading and, if necessary, responding to my email and direct messages and checking in with my direct reports. I try to do any creative work mid-morning when I can—whether that’s brainstorming new campaigns or helping someone on my team come up with content or copy ideas—since that’s when I’m most energized. Generally, my company clusters routine meetings in the middle of the day—from 11 AM to 2 PM—to account for our remote workers across the country, and I usually spend most of that time in meetings and use any breaks to grab lunch. My team knows that 2 PM is usually when I help them with anything that’s come up during the day and then respond to any requests from other departments or people outside the company. Depending on what time I’m done with that, I usually spend the remainder of my day on focused work whether that’s doing analyses of ongoing or completed campaigns or putting together presentations. Is there anything you’d like to hear more about?