Interview Question: "How Do You Handle Stress?"

Answering Interview Questions About Stress and Pressure

Man multitasking at work
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Many jobs are stressful, and it's important to be prepared to answer questions about on-the-job stress during interviews. One common interview question you may be asked is, “How do you handle stress?”

You'll need to be prepared to respond appropriately, because the interviewer doesn’t want to hear that you never get stressed. After all, everyone feels stress at one time or another at work. Instead, the employer wants to find out whether you understand how pressure affects you and how you manage it. As with all interview questions, it's a good idea to have examples ready to share with the interview.

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

The interviewer really wants to know whether you can handle job-related stress, and what you do in particularly stressful situations at work. This is especially important if you’re interviewing for a position where stress is an integral part of the job. That's because job stress can have a negative impact on workplace performance.

The hiring manager may also be wondering whether stressful issues outside of work can impact your job performance. Employers look for candidates who can deal with a range of stressful situations, whether these are personal or work-related.

How to Answer “How Do You Handle Stress?”

To answer this question successfully, you'll want to provide specific examples of how you've handled stress well in the past. You might also provide examples of times when pressure actually made you work more productively.

Be careful how you respond. If you say you get stressed when you're given multiple projects, and you know the job will require you to juggle many assignments at once, you’ll look like you're not a good fit for the position.

Consider mentioning how a little stress can be a helpful motivator for you. Try to provide an example of a time when the stress of a difficult project helped you be a more creative and productive worker.

Examples of the Best Answers

Review these sample answers of how candidates cope with stress, along with information on why these are strong responses.

Sample #1

Pressure is very important to me. Good pressure—such as having many assignments or an upcoming deadline—helps me to stay motivated and productive. Of course, there are times when too much pressure can lead to stress. However, I'm very skilled at balancing multiple projects and meeting deadlines; this ability prevents me from feeling overly stressed. For example, I once had three large projects due in the same week, and that was a lot of pressure. However, because I created a schedule that detailed how I would break down each project into small assignments, I managed to complete all three projects ahead of time and avoided unnecessary stress.

Why It Works: This answer shows that the candidate enjoys working under pressure and thrives in stressful situations.

Sample #2

I try to react to situations rather than to stress. That way, I can handle the situation without becoming overly stressed. For example, when I deal with an unsatisfied customer, rather than focusing on feeling stressed, I focus on the task at hand. I believe my ability to communicate effectively with customers during these moments helps reduce my own stress. I think it also reduces any stress the customer may feel.

Why It Works: With this response, the candidate shows how she turns stress into action—and into a positive instead of a negative—in order to accomplish her tasks.

Sample #3

I actually work better under pressure, and I've found that I enjoy working in a challenging environment. As a writer and editor, I thrive under tight deadlines and multiple projects. I find that when I have to work to a deadline, I can produce some of my most creative work. For example,my latest article, for which I won a regional writing award, was assigned to me only days before the due date. I used the pressure of that deadline to harness my creativity and focus.

Why It Works: This response works well because the candidate shows that he enjoys working under pressure and that he can meet deadlines.

Sample #4

I'm very sensitive to the nuances of group dynamics. If there’s an unhealthy amount of stress within the team, I can pick up on some of that stress too. So, what I do is to try to proactively listen to the concerns of the people around me, checking in frequently to see whether they, themselves, are under stress. If they are, I think about how I can help them with their workload so the collective stress of the team doesn’t escalate. When the team’s happy, I’m happy.

Why It Works: For someone interviewing for a management role, this answer shows that the candidate is concerned about the stress levels of the team and how s/he works to provide a solution.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Show the employer how you manage stress. That way, the interviewer can build up a clear picture of how well you adapt to stressful situations. For example, describe a time when you were given a difficult task or multiple assignments and how you rose to the occasion.

Focus on success. When you respond, share examples of how you succeeded despite being in a stressful situation, or of how you problem-solved to resolve the issue that caused stress.

When it’s a stressful job. Some jobs are stressful by nature. If you’re applying for a high-stress job, be sure to let the interviewer know that you’re used to working under stress and that it’s part of your normal routine.

What Not to Say

Don’t mention an issue you created. Avoid mentioning a time when you put yourself in a needlessly stressful situation. You don't want to come across as someone who causes workplace stress.

Don’t say that you were really stressed. You shouldn’t focus too much on how stressed out you felt. While you should certainly admit that stress happens, try to emphasize how you dealt with the stress rather than how much it bothered you.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

  • What type of work environment do you prefer?—Best Answers
  • Describe a time when your workload was heavy and how you handled it.—Best Answers
  • What challenges are you looking for in a position?—Best Answers
  • Describe your workstyle.—Best Answers

Managing Stress During the Interview

Remember job interviews are stressful for most people. Even if you've interviewed a lot, it can still be challenging to stay calm and collected. You're meeting new people in a new environment, and you're trying to sell your credentials to someone who might be your next boss.

There are strategies you can use to handle interview stress and to sell yourself to the hiring manager.

A big part of handling stress is preparation. Be sure to research the company in advance and practice answering common interview questions. The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll feel in the interview.

You can also reduce stress by avoiding negative thinking (“I won’t get this job”). Instead, visualize having a successful interview (for example, envision having positive interactions with the interviewer). Do this visualization in the hours right before the interview.

Use these relaxation techniques. If you start to feel stressed just before the interview, try taking a deep breath or two to relax. During the interview, feel free to take a breath or a sip of water before answering a question. This will give you some time to compose yourself and prepare your answer.

Watch your body language. Your body language during the interview can also help convey that you're relaxed. Try to avoid fidgeting too much. Stand up straight and look the interviewer in the eye (but don’t stare). By appearing calm and confident, you are more likely to feel calm and confident.

Being able to effectively handle a stressful job interview will indicate to employers that you'll also be able to handle workplace stress.

Key Takeaways

Practice Interviewing: Check out these interview questions and answers, and take some time to practice. Maybe even find a friend or colleague who’s willing to act out the part of the interviewer so you can practice out loud.

Have Questions Ready to Ask: Your interviewer will also ask whether you have any questions about the company or about the job, so it’s good to have a few ready.

Try Not to Stress: It’s tough being asked about handling stress when you’re already in a stressful situation.

Article Sources

  1. Korn Ferry Institute. "Workplace Stress Continues to Mount," Accessed Nov. 4, 2019.

  2. Anxiety Disorders Association of America. "Highlights: Workplace Stress & Anxiety Disorders Survey," Accessed Nov. 4, 2019.