Interview Question: "How Do You Handle Stress?"

This illustration lists for answering the question, How Do You Handle Stress? This includes "Demonstrate how stress spurs action," Showcase instances of thriving and meeting deadlines under pressure," and "Focus on success."
Photo:

Evan Polenghi / The Balance

Are you prepared to answer interview questions about stress? 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 stressed at one time or another at work.

As with all interview questions, it's a good idea to have examples ready to share with the hiring manager.

Key Takeaways

  • Come to the job interview prepared with stories to share of times when you handled stress well on the job—or even used a high-pressure situation to boost your performance. 
  • Avoid answers that make it seem like you’ll be unable to perform the most essential functions of the job. 
  • Reduce interview stress by doing practice interviews with a friend or colleague acting out the part of the interviewer.

What the Interviewer 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 made you work more productively.

Note

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.

Example Answer #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.

Example Answer #2

I try to respond to situations rather than to stress. That way, I can handle the situation without becoming too 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 they turn stress into action—and into a positive instead of a negative—in order to accomplish their tasks.

Example Answer #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 they enjoy working under pressure and that they can meet deadlines.

Example Answer #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. So, what I do is try to listen proactively to the concerns of the people around me, checking in frequently to see whether they 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 they work to provide a solution.

Tips for Giving the Best Response

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 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?
  • Describe a time when your workload was heavy and how you handled it.
  • What challenges are you looking for in a position?
  • Describe your work style.

Managing Stress During the Interview

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: 

Prepare. 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.

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

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How should I answer job interview questions about weaknesses?

Choose your answers carefully—never talk about weaknesses that would make you a bad candidate for the job. Ideally, talk about weaknesses that you’ve overcome. 

What are the toughest interview questions?

While every job seeker will find different questions tricky to answer, some of the most difficult aren’t questions at all. Open-ended requests such as, “Tell me about yourself” can be hard to answer because it’s easy to ramble. Preparing for the job interview will help you field tough questions.

Was this page helpful?
Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Anxiety Disorders Association of America. "Highlights: Workplace Stress & Anxiety Disorders Survey."

Related Articles