It’s extremely common to get asked “How do you handle stress?” during a job interview because stress in the workplace is common as well. Employers know if you’re unable to deal with stress effectively, your performance will suffer.
That means it’s very important to come up with a great answer to this question if you’re serious about getting the job. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know.
Table of contents
Why This Question Gets Asked
Whether you’re interviewing for a high-level executive position or an entry-level job, expect “How do you handle stress?” to come up. While some jobs have more pressure than others, stress is common across all industries and positions. That means learning how to manage it is crucial.
Interviewers ask this question for a few reasons. The top reason is that they want to know how you handle stress-inducing situations in the workplace. It’s pretty straightforward, but it’s an important detail to learn about candidates.
Everyone handles stress differently. Some learn to cope, allowing them to stay calm and level-headed no matter how bad things get. But others may let stress affect their work performance (something no hiring manager wants to bring into the organization).
Ultimately, this question gives insight into your stress management techniques. It helps interviewers uncover more about your past work experiences, allowing them to gauge whether you’re “tested” enough to succeed in this particular role. They want to see that you’ve dealt with work stress before and know how to manage it effectively.
Another thing interviewers want to know is how stress outside of the office affects your work. Happenings in your personal life can easily impact your performance and success when you’re on the clock. But good stress management will prevent that, allowing you to remain productive regardless of what’s going on outside of work.
How to Answer “How Do You Handle Stress?”
With stress being prevalent in the workplace, “How do you handle stress?” is a question you can almost expect to hear. This is a quintessential behavioral interview question that can hold more weight in the hiring decision than most realize.
Here are a few tips to help you answer it effectively.
1. Be Aware of the Role Requirements
The important thing to remember when developing an answer to this question is that you need to reassure interviewers that you’re capable of handling the stress of the role. Do your research! Understand what this job entails and consider the types of pressure you’ll encounter.
Examine the job description and learn more about the common duties of the position. Understand what would be required from you if given the role, and the stresses you’ll face daily. Also, be on the lookout for clues like fast-paced and tight deadlines that suggest stress is part of the job.
When answering, avoid mentioning aspects of the job that cause you stress. For example, don’t use an example when public speaking was a big source of stress for you if the role requires regular interaction with customers and clients. That’s a quick way to get yourself pulled from the running.
2. Acknowledge That You Do Get Stressed On Occasion
Be realistic when creating a response, and acknowledge that you sometimes do get stressed. No one lives a stress-free life, and interviewers understand that workplace pressure exists.
If you try to deny that you feel stress at all, your response will likely come off as inauthentic. Furthermore, saying you don’t have stress to handle doesn’t provide any useful information for hiring managers.
Remember that this interview question helps interviewers learn more about your stress management skills. Failing to acknowledge that you feel pressure either means you are not telling the truth or you are in denial.
You’re human. Don’t be afraid to say that stress does affect you to some degree.
3. Share Your Favorite Methods to Deal with Pressure
Here’s where you can go into detail about how you handle stress in your day-to-day work life. Talk about the specific methods you use.
Of course, avoid anything that could negatively impact work performance. There are plenty of unhealthy ways to deal with stress, but you should always leave those out of the conversation. Instead, focus on more ideal techniques.
For example, you can talk about mindful meditation, steps you take to buckle down on your work without distractions, and more.
“How do you handle stress?” also offers a great opportunity to discuss how stress motivates you to do better. In many cases, stress can be a driving factor in pushing you to improve certain soft skills.
For instance, you might adopt better time management techniques to avoid creeping deadlines and mounting stress. Or, you may learn to prioritize your tasks better to ensure you’re not feeling the pressure. Incorporating those little details can add a lot to your response. Not only do they answer the question, but they also provide a glimpse into your work style and dedication to improving.
4. Give an Example of Them in Action
Always provide examples. Anyone can talk about general strategies that work for most people. It’s real-world examples that will make your answer stand out.
Think about the most stressful situations you’ve had in your past jobs. What did you do to overcome the challenges, and what positive results came after?
Tell a brief story and provide enough details to illustrate your stress management techniques in action. Frame the story in a way that emphasizes your ability to overcome the pressure and accomplish everything you need to do to succeed.
5. Keep It Positive
Finally, keep your answer positive.
Stress is a common hurdle that everyone has to overcome at work from time to time. While reflecting on that can bring up feelings of negativity, don’t let it creep into your response.
Avoid shifting the blame onto others or highlighting any negative outcomes of stressful situations. Instead, lean into the positive aspects.
What did you learn? How did your preferred methods ultimately help you handle the stress and anxiety?
Focus on the positive aspects to reassure interviewers that stress is not something that will stop you from succeeding in the role.
What to Avoid When Giving Your Answer
Many creative ways exist to explain how you handle stress and make a great impression. However, there are just as many ways to answer this question poorly!
Avoid these mistakes to ensure that your response works in your favor rather than against you.
Don’t Bring Up Stressful Situations You Created
No hiring manager wants to bring on someone who can’t handle stress effectively, and they definitely don’t want to hire people who are a constant source of stress! You may have experiences in the past where you accidentally caused a stressful situation for yourself (and others) at work.
Don’t bring those up.
Avoid talking about anything that could have been avoided had you done things differently. Interviewers will take note, and it could be a cause for concern when considering you for the role.
Avoid Empty Answers With Unhealthy Strategies
What does this mean? An example of an answer that doesn’t provide any real value or indicates unhealthy stress management would be, “I just push through it.”
A response like that won’t do anything to help you. It’s just as bad as saying you never feel stressed. Interviewers don’t learn what they were looking for when they asked the question, and it may reflect negatively on you.
Don’t Overemphasize the Negative Impacts of Stress
Finally, try not to overemphasize how stress affects you. While stress is a common emotion to feel in every job, some experience it more than others. If you constantly feel stressed, you’ll want to soften this a bit in your answer.
Your goal is to reassure interviewers that you know how to manage stress and can succeed in your job. Saying that you’re frequently on edge will force them to reevaluate your standing.
Need some inspiration? Everyone’s response should be unique, but we have a few examples to guide you as you create an answer that works for you.
In the first example, the candidate talks candidly about the stress they experience. However, this response is memorable because it addresses the effective methods they use to cope and how they make them a solid employee.
“In my experience, I’ve found that workplace stress often comes from having too many tasks to handle at once. When those situations occur, I take a step back and prioritize what needs to be done first. I identify the highest priority work and use my time management skills to get everything done without feeling unnecessary pressure.
In my last position, I had to take on a last-minute client for one of my colleagues when they experienced emergency health issues. I had to do another person’s work on top of my existing priorities.
Instead of letting that stress me out, I looked at what work I had to do, examined deadlines, and created a prioritized to-do list. I then communicated with my team lead to inform them of my planned work schedule. While there was a lot on my plate, I finished everything on time.
I believe that stress happens in every job, but staying calm and taking steps to reduce the pressure can help improve productivity.”
The second example focuses more on the end product. The ways they handle stress are simple but effective. The response works because they provide a real-world example and reassure interviewers that they can manage whatever the job throws at them.
“When stressful situations arise, I like to set my sights on the goal I’m working towards. I believe that stress can sometimes be the best motivator. Instead of crumbling under pressure, I take a step back, reminding myself of what end goal I’m working to achieve and how much I’ve accomplished thus far to get there.
A few years ago, we had a manager who quit without notice. That left my team scrambling to keep a significant project on task. Because I had the most experience and a deep understanding of the project, I naturally fit into the new leadership role.
While our team was juggling so many things at one time, I made a concerted effort to remind everyone of what we were working for and how much progress we’d already made. I gave regular updates and communicated the positive work we did every day.
It was a stressful few weeks, but we accomplished more than we thought we could. We delivered the project on time, and our client was very happy with our work and praised our adaptability.”
The final example comes from a candidate seeking a customer service job. The response provides a unique view of stress and how it motivates the candidate to do better. It offers food for thought while reassuring the interviewer that stress is no major obstacle for this candidate.
“Whenever I feel stress creeping up, I try to focus on the situation instead of the emotion. I believe that a small amount of stress can be a healthy motivator. But when you let it take over, that’s when problems arise.
Instead of allowing that to happen, I focus on the task in front of me and what I can do to resolve it. For example, I often interacted with unhappy customers in my last job. It was a high-stress position.
However, I always focused on being proactive and openly communicating with customers. I didn’t take things personally or let stress affect my thought processes. I focused on troubleshooting, finding effective resolutions, and moving forward.
I never had any interactions escalate, and I attribute that fact to my ability to focus on the tasks at hand rather than the emotional side of stress.”
It’s important to have a strong answer ready for when you get asked “How do you handle stress?” in a job interview. Being able to deal with pressure in an effective and professional manner is a valuable skill to have, so you want to demonstrate that in your response.
Familiarize yourself with the job, think about how you like to handle stress, and practice your answer before the job interview. If you follow our recommendations, you’ll do great!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.