Job-seekers have enough on their plate without wondering what otherwise positive workplace attributes may cost them a job offer.
But add one of those so-called attributes to the plate they must, as more and more career experts say multi-tasking is a red flag for hiring managers.
"Employers are more interested in outcomes than efforts," notes Anne Grinols, a business instructor at Baylor University. "Multitasking refers to the latter, so I would not use the term 'multitasking' on my resume. Instead, I would indicate expertise in multiple areas, timely production and excellence in outcomes."
One reason why employers may reject applicants who tout their multitasking skills is the notion of actually doing more than one task at once really doesn't exist - and it all comes down to how or brains work.
According to Grinols, there is both conscious and unconscious approach to accomplishing tasks. "The subconscious takes care of some activity, as we go on 'automatic pilot," she explains. "When we've done something over and over again, we don't give it the same proactive attention. Unfortunately, this can happen when we do something as familiar as driving. Long-distance drivers can begin to think about other things, thus paying less attention to the road and the other drivers, and their driving suffers."
On the other hand, conscious mental activity happens one activity at a time, she says.
"For example, if a student texts during a lecture - or an employee texts during a meeting - the information being taught or discussed will be lost to the one who is texting," Grinols adds. "People going back and forth between two conscious mental activities lose some time and efficiency of brain function that robs them of effective accomplishment of one activity, or both."
In a real world example, Grinols cites a staffer who's given an assignment to accomplish a goal and also to participate in a team meeting. "Don't start thinking about the strategy as you sit in the meeting, or your active participation in the meeting - which includes listening to the input of others - will suffer," she says. "Focus on each one separately to be able to succeed at an optimal level at both. Employers expect optimal-level accomplishment."
Workplace experts agree with Grinols, and wonder why job-seekers bring up multitasking at all during job interviews.
"Studies have shown that either physically multi-tasking, or cognitive switching -- mental multitasking -- both increases the amount of time it takes to do a task, and also decreases the quality with which that task is done," says Maura Thomas, a speaker, trainer, founder of RegainYourTime, a business management consulting firm in Austin, Texas.
Thomas cites a study published by the American Psychological Association, which concludes the ability to switch between tasks, which they term "mental flexibility," generally peaks in a person's 20s and then decreases with age. "The extent to which it decreases depends upon the type of tasks being performed," she says. "However, the findings of this study indicate that mental flexibility decreases an average of 30.9% from a person in their 40s to a person in their 70s."
If multitasking causes you to take longer and perform worse, yet you find yourself routinely multitasking, this probably means that what you are putting out into the world is really only a fraction of your true talents, skills and abilities, Thomas says. "This is most likely the reason that employers are wary of hiring multitaskers," she says.
Career professionals who prioritize multitasking at a job interview may be raising a few more concerns without realizing it.
"Mental multitasking can be a turn off on the job, because you can be perceived as lacking self-discipline, prioritization and organization skills," says Jenn Dewall, a career and life coach based in Denver. "Companies want someone that can be strategic and see the big picture. When we're multi-tasking we're diminishing the energy we can invest in strategic projects which can result in oversights and mistakes, diminishing your and the companies return on investment."
Consequently, it looks like the consensus is in. If you're angling for a new job, and tell a potential employer that doing two things at once is your strong suit, don't expect to be called in for another interview.
A multitasking employee, it turns out, is more than companies want to handle.