Fast-paced Environment: Overview & Interview Questions

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fast-paced environment

An increasingly common requirement on job descriptions is the ability to work in a “fast-paced environment.”

And while the term “fast-paced environment” comes up more and more regularly, there is still some ambiguity about what it actually means and what it’s like to work in that type of environment.

To that end, this article provides an overview of what it means to work in a fast-paced environment and goes over the pros, cons, and skills needed. If it seems like that type of environment is for you, some common interview questions and answers are provided at the end of the article.

What is a Fast-Paced Environment

A “fast-paced environment” generally means that the company and/or the job is characterized by operating at a rapid pace with high intensity and frequent change.

Employees who work in that type of environment often juggle multiple projects or tasks at once, need to take on new initiatives in short notice, and are expected to be highly adaptable. 

Synonyms for Fast-paced Environment

Some synonyms to use to describe experience in a fast-paced environment, or to look out for on a job description to describe a fast-paced environment are the following:

  • Fast-moving
  • Constantly changing
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Frenetic
  • Ever-evolving
  • Early-stage

5 Examples of Fast-paced Environments

The following types of industries are ones that may be characterized as having fast-paced work environments:

Early-stage Startups

Early-stage startups are the types of companies that are most commonly associated with a fast-paced work environment. They tend to lack process and structure, have aggressive goals, and require a lot of hours to keep up with the company growth.

Service Agencies

Any work environment that is characterized by lots of different clients and a revenue model based upon the billable hour is going to be a fast-paced environment. By the nature of the business model, companies are incentivized to take on as many clients as they can to make as much as money as they can. That creates a fast-paced environment.

Examples of service agencies are law firms, CPA firms, and creative agencies.

Bartending or Restaurant Work

Working in a bartending or restaurant environment is definitely fast-paced, but in a different type of way that a start-up. In this type of an environment, it’s not as common to see requirements for a crazy amount of total hours that you need to work, but the hours that you do work tend to be quite intense and fast-paced.

If you’re a bartender working in a busy bar on a weekend night, for example, you will be serving one patron after another, with barely any time to have a conversation or take a break between customers.

Healthcare

As I’m writing this, we’re in the early stages of coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic (hopefully!). And if you’re a healthcare worker that has been serving patients over the last couple of years, you likely feel how fast-paced the healthcare environment can be.

Healthcare can be the most brutal combination of a fast-paced environment in that it requires a lot of total hours, intense periods of work, as well as uncertainty as to when you might be working if you’re on call.

Media

Working in the media can also be characterized as fast-paced. In this context, your job can be dictated by what is happening in the news, and thus you may need to respond quickly to current events. You might also need to spend extended periods of intense work covering major stories in your area.

What Are the Benefits of a Fast-paced Work Environment?

Working in a fast-paced work environment can be challenging but, for the right type of personality, it can be a very enjoyable work context. And if you find the right type of fast-paced environment, it can also bring accelerated career opportunities, which many people will find attractive.

Here are some of the benefits of working in a fast-paced environment:

You Are Rarely Bored

Given the nature of working in a fast-paced environment, it is very unlikely that you will be bored. There will be so much activity and so much to do that you’ll be more worried about keeping your head above water than you will be about having enough to do or the days blending together.

You Learn Prioritization and Time-management Skills

Fast-paced environments can be sink or swim types of places. To survive and thrive in that environment requires the ability to priority and execute well. So working in a fast-paced context will force you to develop the skills that you need to manage your time well and put first things first.

There Can be Accelerated Opportunities for Career Growth

Particularly if you’re working in an early-stage startup type of fast-paced environment, there can be accelerated opportunities for career growth. Early-stage startups tend to want to grow and scale quickly, and if you can operate effectively in that type of an environment, you will often be rewarded with growth in team, title, and salary.

What Are the Cons of a Fast-paced Work Environment?

Despite some of the positives that a fast-paced work environment can bring, there are also very real cons to working in that type of environment that can result in you hating your job. Most specifically, that you’re likely to be working a lot of hours and dealing with lots of stress.

Here are more details on the cons of a fast-paced work environment:

Lack of Work-life Balance

Fast-paced work environments are typically associated with lots of work hours. The reason they tend to be fast paced is because there is a lot to do and, in many cases, not enough resources to do them. With that being the case, be prepared to work a lot in this type of an environment.

High-stress and High-pressure

On top of a lot of hours, the nature of the work in a fast-paced environment tends to be high stress and high pressure. In many cases, you’ll be juggling aggressive growth goals, multiple clients, a tough boss, and/or high stakes work. That means that you’ll be facing lots of stress and loss of pressure to deliver results quickly.

What Skills Do You Need for a Fast-paced Work Environment?

In order to thrive in a fast-paced work environment, there are some key skills that you’ll need to be successful:

  • Flexibility
  • Time management
  • Prioritization
  • Grit
  • Resiliency

You’ll notice that most of the skills have to do with the ability to manage time and prioritize. Additionally, even if you generally are a fairly adaptable person that manages your time well, you will also need a level of grit and resiliency to deal with the pressure that comes with a fast-paced working environment.

How to Handle and Adapt to Working in a Fast-paced Environment

The biggest recommendation that I would offer for dealing with with a fast-paced working environment is to try and develop a state of emotional detachment from your work. Practicing mindfulness in the form of meditation, journaling, and other skills can help you step outside of the emotional stresses of the work environment and look at it in more of a detached manner.

Emotional detachment can help you prioritize the work that you need to do and not feel so overwhelmed by all that is asked from your demanding job.

Should You Work in a Fast-paced Environment

After all of that context about working in a fast-paced environment, the question still remains about whether or not you should work in one.

To assess whether or not working in a fast-paced environment is for you, there are a couple of key questions that you need to answer:

What Role Do You Want Your Work to Play in Your Life?

To me, I’ve always felt that the way to find your best fit work is to think about the life that you want to build for yourself and then find a work context that fits within that. However, in American culture, we tend to look at that in reverse. We pick our career first and then build our life around that. 

So, when thinking about if a fast-paced work environment is for you, you’ll need to decide if you want your work to take up a large portion of your time, energy, and thought, as that is typically what is demanded in that type of an environment.

What Do You Want Out of Your Career?

If you’re someone that is motivated to climb the corporate ladder and grow as quickly as you can in your salary and title, then a fast-paced working environment may be for you. Success in a fast-paced environment can be one of the fastest ways to get promoted and grow in your career.

Can You Handle the Stress?

The last major consideration on if a fast-paced environment is for you is whether or not you can handle the stress. You tend to get a lot thrown at you very quickly in these types of environments so you need to be sure that you have the wherewithal to handle it. 

How to Answer Common Interview Questions About a Fast-paced Environment

If you’re considering working in a fast-paced environment, and have a job interview coming up, I’ve included some questions that you’re likely to receive below, and best practices on how to answer them.

Describe Your Ability to Multitask and Remain Flexible

What The Interviewer is Listening For

When you’re asked this question, the interviewer is generally looking for your ability to adapt to ever changing environments that often lack structure and process. They want to know that you can work quickly and juggle changing processes and priorities as they establish more consistent processes and scale.

Best Practices for Answering

With this question, the biggest thing that you need to show is how you’ve juggled multiple or changing priorities. In this case, the multitasking aspect isn’t super important to touch on. The bigger picture thing that you need to show is that you have the ability to handle changing tasks and priorities, however you’ve found best to manage that.

Describe Your Experience Working in Fast-paced Environments

What They Interviewer is Listening For

It’s less risky for a hiring manager to fill a job requisition that someone that has proven and tangible experience for the role. That way, the candidate has true experience with what it’s really like in that type of a role, and has proven they can succeed in that environment. For this question, the interviewer just wants some evidence that you can handle a fast-paced working environment, like their work context.

Best Practices for Answering

Ideally, you have some real experience working in a fast-paced environment that you can speak to. If you don’t, then you’ll need to find stories that you can share that demonstrate your ability to handle a fast-paced working environment. Again, the interviewer is generally looking for evidence and stories about your ability to thrive in this environment so the more tangible you can make your examples, the better, even if they’re not from a direct work context.

Tell Me How You Prioritize

What The Interviewer is Listening For

In a fast-paced environment, you’re going to get lots of different things thrown at you from lots of different people. Ultimately, you’ll need to decide what should get your attention and what you need to put first in order to hit your key objectives. The interviewer will want to know that you have a method to deciding what you should prioritize with your attention.

Best Practices for Answering

Hopefully, you have a process that you use for prioritizing your tasks and managing your time. If so, share what that is. If not, it’s likely that you do have some sort of method in your mind for what you give your attention to. Jot that down on paper prior to the interview and come ready to talk about your process.

Conclusion

A fast-paced work environment is never boring, and also can provide opportunity for rapid career growth. However, it brings with it stresses and challenges that you’ll need to be prepared for. Before entering into a fast-paced working environment, make sure that’s truly in line with what you want out of your life and your career and that you’re ready for the challenges that it will bring.

About the author

Dan Slocum

Dan is the founder of Best Fit Work and is a business professional with over 10 years of experience. He has been a hiring and people manager on multiple occasions, and has also gone through the hiring process himself at a variety of different companies. Dan serves as a career counselor on the side. He writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

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