Chances are, you'll be asked about how you handle stress and pressure during your next job interview. Instead of, well, stressing out, these tips will help you nail your answer.

Everyone's familiar with the most common interview questions: Can you tell me about yourself? Why are you interested in this job? What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses? And, of course, how do you handle stress?

And because they are so common, you might spend less time before your interview preparing for these seemingly straightforward questions. The answers will be obvious, right? But the truth is, the interviewer or hiring manager is collecting important information from your answers. A wrong answer — or even phrase — could really turn them off.

Instead of winging the “How do you handle stress?” interview question, take some time to prepare beforehand. Follow these steps when considering your response:

1. Understand why the interviewer is asking this job interview question

Before you start thinking about how you'll answer the question, think about why the interviewer or hiring manager is asking it in the first place. The “How do you handle and deal with stress?” question is a classic behavioral interview question.

By asking behavioral interview questions, the interviewer wants to get a better idea of how you handle various stressful situations at work. That means you'll want to highlight your skills and use real-life examples. The interviewer will then use that information to help determine if you're the right candidate for the position and company.

2. Make a list of your soft skills

Before you start recounting various times you've experienced stress or pressure at work, make a list of your soft skills. Among other things, these are the interpersonal skills you use to help manage and overcome stress.

A few soft skills you might use to address stress or pressure at work include:

  • Adaptability

  • Communication

  • Time management

  • Organization

  • Leadership

  • Problem-solving

Even though the interviewer wants to see how you've handled stress and were able to stay positive, they're also interested in learning more about your soft skills, so keep these in mind.

3. Add context to these skills with a relevant, impactful example

Now that you know what soft skills you can highlight, start thinking about the times you've experienced stress or pressure at work. While you're thinking through these examples — even jotting them down on a piece of paper — make sure you remember not to focus on situations where you were at fault.

For example, avoid talking about the time you forgot you had a project due the next day. Or that time you took on way too many assignments and struggled to juggle them. These types of answers could portray job seekers as forgetful, unreliable, or overambitious. Additionally, consider coming up with two to three examples that fit the roles you're interviewing for and their required skills.

4. Focus on your positive actions, not your negative feelings

When it comes to stress, it's easy to get caught in its emotion — the frustration, the panic, the dread. It's also easy to blame others: “My manager didn't clearly communicate with me,” or “My co-worker totally dropped the ball.”

Instead of focusing on your feelings and blaming others for your stress, highlight how you overcame the situation. Think of those soft skills. Did you communicate with your team? Did you prioritize your goals?

Ultimately, you'll impress your interviewer by staying positive — not placing blame — and highlighting your skills. 

5. Don't deny your stress

If you pretend you don't experience stress in your job, your interviewer won't buy it. Or they'll think you're out of touch with your emotions or that you don't take your job seriously enough.

If for some reason you can't recall and give examples of a specific time you've experienced pressure at your job, then focus on how you manage your daily stress. Do you practice mindfulness and self awareness? Do you schedule in a 30-minute lunch break and force yourself to leave your desk? Do you run after work? This information will give interviewers and hiring managers a better glimpse into who you are and how you operate in and outside of the job.

Example answers: How do you handle stress and pressure?

Now that you've got a good idea of how to respond to the classic “How do you handle stress?” interview question, let's run through some sample answers.

Here's your first example:

I was recently assigned a last-minute project. Instead of panicking, I took a few moments to outline a schedule and map out my game plan. Then I got to work. I made sure to communicate my progress with my manager so that they could stay in the loop. If any problems came up, I looped them in so we could troubleshoot and continue to make progress. I was able to complete the project on time, and the client was thrilled.

Here's another example:

I don't like to let stress take over a situation. Instead, I like to stay focused on the task at hand. For example, if a client isn't happy with our product, instead of dwelling on it, I like to focus on proactively communicating with them. I like to get to the bottom of the issue, troubleshoot it, and then find a common ground that'll allow us to move forward. 

Here's a final example:

I've found that a healthy amount of stress motivates me to stay on track and work as efficiently and effectively as possible. For example, deadlines are important to me. If my manager doesn't give me deadlines, I set them for myself. That's how I'm able to consistently turn in assignments on time.

Of course, you can add more details to each specific stressful situation, but note how in these examples, the interviewee isn't dwelling on the negative and is instead highlighting their soft skills and the way they overcame the obstacle, not the negative emotions associated with it.

Curious about how you should answer this and other common job interview questions? Get personalized advice from one of our professional interview coaches today!

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