Interview Question: How Do You Handle Stress?

Man multitasking at work
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One common interview question you may be asked is, “How do you handle stress?” You'll need to be prepared to respond 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 see if you know how pressure affects you, and how you manage it.

To answer this question successfully, you will want to provide specific examples of how you have handled stress well in the past. You might also provide examples of times when pressure actually made you a more productive employee.

Tips for Answering Interview Questions About Stress

The best way to answer this question is to give an example of how you have handled stress in a previous job. That way, the interviewer can get a clear picture of how well you work in stressful situations.

Avoid mentioning a time when you put yourself in a needlessly stressful situation. For example, do not share a story about a time when you were stressed because you procrastinated and had to finish a project quickly. Rather, describe a time when you were given a difficult task or multiple assignments, and you rose to the occasion.

You also should not focus too much on how stressed out you felt. While you should certainly admit that stress happens, emphasize how you dealt with the stress, rather than how it bothered you. If possible, avoid saying you are stressed by a situation that will be common in the job for which you are applying.

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.

You might even consider mentioning how a little stress can be a helpful motivator for you. You can provide an example of a time the stress of a difficult project helped you be a more creative and productive worker.

Examples of the Best Answers

  • Pressure is very important to me. Good pressure, such as having a lot of assignments to work on, 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 am very skilled at balancing multiple projects and meeting deadlines, which prevents me from feeling stressed often. For example, I once had three large projects due in the same week, which was a lot of pressure. However, because I created a schedule that detailed how I would break down each project into small assignments, I completed all three projects ahead of time and avoided unnecessary stress.
  •  I try to react to situations, rather than to stress. That way, the situation is handled and doesn't become stressful. 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 in these situations and also reduces any stress the customer may feel.
  •  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 quick deadlines and multiple projects. I find that when I'm under the pressure of a deadline, I can do 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.
  •  I am very sensitive to the nuances of group dynamics. If there’s an unhealthy amount of stress within the team, I can feel some stress as well. And so what I do is to try to proactively listen to the concerns of the people around me, checking in frequently to see if 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.

Managing Stress During the Interview

Job interviews are stressful for most people. Even if you've interviewed a lot, it can 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”), and instead visualizing having a successful interview (for example, envision having positive interactions with the interviewer). Do this visualization in the hours right before the interview.

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

Your body language during the interview can also help convey that you are 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 will feel confident.

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

Related Interview Questions

Your interviewer will ask several questions about you such as, “Tell me about your strongest personal skill,” or “Why do you want this job?” Review these interview questions about you so you’ll be ready with the best answers.

There are many different types of questions the interviewer may ask, so it’s good to be ready. 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 the part of the interviewer so you can practice out loud.

Finally, your interviewer will also ask if you have any questions about the company or about the job, so it’s good to have a few ready so you don’t come up blank. Read up on the company and the people who work there and also look at these interview questions to ask