When building a resume, job seekers are often quick to note their ability to multitask. But while it might seem like your ability to juggle multiple tasks would be a valuable asset, you may want to hold off on listing it as a skill.
Employers aren’t as interested in effort as they are outcome, says Anne Grinols, assistant dean for faculty development and college initiatives in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business. And multitasking is more effort-based than outcome-centric.
“I would not use the term ‘multitasking’ on my resume,” said Grinols in a statement. “Instead, I would indicate expertise in multiple areas, timely production and excellence in outcomes.”
Myths of multitasking
Grinols, who teaches in Baylor’s MBA program, has published research on multitasking, including three myths of the so-called "skill."
Myth #1: People believe they can focus on two mental activities at once.
There are two means of accomplishment, she explains: conscious and unconscious. The subconscious -- or "autopilot," as she describes it -- does take care of some activity, but it doesn’t get the same proactive attention as conscious accomplishment.
Take long-distance driving, for example. Grinols explains that long-distance drivers can begin to think about other things, paying less attention to the road than the other drivers. And as a result, their driving suffers.
Conscious mental activity, on the other hand, happens one activity at a time. A student texting during a lecture or an employee texting during a meeting are both examples of conscious mental activity, she says. In both cases, the information being taught or discussed will be lost to the one who is texting.
Grinols’ research showed that 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.”
Myth #2: People who go back and forth between mental activities can stay on top of them both.
You might think you’re accomplishing more than others by focusing on multiple things at a time, but employers may view multitasking as a negative. Grinols believes this is because efforts to multitask can yield unfortunate results, such as poor outcomes and employee burnout.
“In the real world, most of the time, results count more than the process to achieve them,” says Grinols. “A good process is more likely to result in consistent, good results; so process matters. But it matters precisely because of the results, not on its own account.”
Myth #3: People believe they can monitor themselves as they attempt to multitask.
Most of us don’t monitor ourselves as well as we think we do, says Grinols. She notes the observation of a fourth grade teacher who told her class, “Do not watch TV while you do your homework, or you will find yourself doing TV while you watch your homework.”
Similarly, if your current task is to develop a new strategy to accomplish a goal while also participating in a team meeting, don’t start thinking about the strategy as you sit in the meeting. Your active participation in the meeting will suffer, says Grinols.
“You must focus on each one separately to be able to succeed at an optimal level at both. Employers expect optimal-level accomplishment,” Grinols said.