Wondering how to answer, “How do you handle stress?” We have the tips you need!

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? 

Still, it's important to remember that employers have a reason for every question they ask – no matter how common that query might seem. The interviewer is always collecting important information from your answers. A wrong answer could really turn them off.

That's why it's so important to learn how to answer “How do you handle stress” questions. In this post, we'll explain why employers ask questions about your stress management ability, offer tips to help you develop a compelling response, and provide some example responses you can customize to fit your personality and career goals.

Why do employers ask you about your ability to handle stress?

Before you start thinking about how to answer the “How do you handle stress” question, think about why the interviewer or hiring manager is asking it in the first place. The first thing to understand is that this type of query is a great example of a behavioral interview question.

Interviewers use behavioral interview questions to help them better understand how your mindset, experiences, and skills influence how you respond to challenges. In this case, 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.

It's important to recognize what employers want to hear when they ask some variation of this question. Since you know that employers are looking for candidates who can deal with challenges and stress, it's vital that your response highlights your ability to react to stress in a positive way. 

To do that, you need to understand your own stress management strategy so that you can convey that during the interview.

Related post: Crafting a Compelling Response to Why This Position Appeals to You

Tips to help you learn how to answer “How do you handle stress” questions

To learn how to answer “How do you handle stress” questions, you need a concrete strategy. It's always better to plan for these types of questions in advance so that you don't find yourself at a loss for an answer during an important interview. 

The following tips can provide the guidance you need to formulate an effective response to this query.

1.     Think of a time when you faced a stressful work situation

To properly answer this type of behavioral question, you're going to need to provide an example that demonstrates your stress management skills. You should always begin with a specific stressful event that you experienced at work. This experience will serve as the foundation for your answer.

2.     Write down a list of questions – and answers

Once you've selected your example experience, you should create a list of questions that will help you flesh out your story. 

For example:

  • What led to the situation that caused you stress?

  • How were you tempted to react to that stress?

  • What mindset did you adopt to deal with the situation?

  • Are there things that you would do differently today if you could go back in time and address the event again?

  • Did you learn any lessons from the experience?

Related post: 20 Hard Interview Questions and Answers

3.     Think about the skills you've used to overcome stress

As you answer those questions, you must consider how you used various soft skills to deal with your stress. As a bonus, you can consider how the experience may have strengthened those skills or taught you the value of new stress management skills. 

Below are some vital skills that can help you with stressful situations:

  • Resilience

  • Positive mindset

  • Creative thinking

  • Mindfulness

  • Visualization

  • Self-awareness

  • Time management

  • Analytical thinking

  • Emotional intelligence

  • Problem-solving

  • Communication

  • Organization

  • Teamwork

4.     Put yourself in storytelling mode

The next step is to start to explain your experience in story form. This will help to ensure that your answer covers everything that you need to address to demonstrate your ability to manage stress. 

You can use the STAR method to craft your story:

  • Situation. Briefly describe the situation that you faced and how it was causing stress for you and others.

  • Task. Explain your assigned role in addressing the challenge.

  • Action.  Provide details describing the steps you took to overcome the challenge. Include any notable skills that you used to resolve the situation.

  • Result. Detail the results that you achieved, including lessons learned.

Using the STAR method, or a similar system, can help to provide structure for your interview answers. That can ensure that your stories always provide the key details interviewers need to properly understand how you work and the types of results that you can achieve. In addition, this same structure can help you to create more powerful achievement examples for your resume!

Related post: Using the STAR Method in Job Interviews: A Strategy Guide

5.     Always end your story with a lesson learned

As you may have noticed, we also suggested that you end your story with some mention of the types of lessons that you learned from your experience. That can help demonstrate your ability to learn from experiences and continually grow as a valued employee. At the same time, focusing on lessons learned can provide a direct connection between your previous experiences with stress and your ability to handle future stress that may encounter in your new role.

6.     Don't focus on stressful situations where you caused the stress

While you're thinking through these examples and writing them down, make sure that you don't focus on situations where you were at fault. Employers are typically not interested in candidates who create their own stress at work!

For example

  • Avoid talking about the time you forgot you had a project due the next day

  • Or the time that you took on way too many assignments and struggled to juggle them

These types of answers could portray you 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.

Related post: Interview Question: "How Do You Work Under Pressure?"

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

When it comes to stress, it's easy to get caught up in the emotions – 

  • Frustration

  • Panic

  • Dread

It's also easy to blame others: 

  • “My manager didn't clearly communicate with me” 

  • “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 rather than placing blame – and highlighting your skills. 

8.     Don't deny your stress

If you pretend you don't experience stress in your job, your interviewer won't buy it. They may 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 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.

Related post: How to Answer “What Motivates You?” - With Examples

9.     Tailor your answer to the job

Make sure that you create answers that align with the job you're seeking. Whenever possible, try to tell stories or describe reactions to the types of stress you're most likely to experience in your desired role. That will help the interviewer better understand how you'll fit within their organization. Try to avoid examples that could cause the interviewer to lose interest due to a lack of relevance.

Examples: how to handle stress and pressure interview question and answer

Now that you've got a good idea of how to answer the “How do you handle stress” interview question let's examine some sample answers.

Example #1:

“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 a day ahead of schedule, and the client was thrilled.”

Example #2:

“I don't like to let stress dominate any situation. Instead, I stay focused on the task at hand. For example, if a client isn't happy with our product, I redirect focus on proactively communicating with them. I'll contact them to get to the bottom of the issue, troubleshoot the underlying problem, and then find a common ground that'll allow us to move forward.”

Example #3:

“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'll set them for myself to ensure that I always have goals to meet each day, week, and month. That's how I'm able to consistently turn in assignments on time.”

Example #4:

“I'm reminded of a project that I led a couple of years ago. The client experienced some internal reorganization midway through the campaign, and the new contact team determined that our previous schedule wasn't tight enough to meet their needs. They told us that the entire project needed to be completed one week earlier than previously agreed. That obviously put our team in a stressful position since we needed to completely revamp our work plans if we were going to keep the account.

As team leader, I organized a brainstorming session to troubleshoot the problem and find a resolution that would expedite our process without sacrificing quality. That led to my idea to reorganize our team assignment groupings to enable increased collaboration on crossover aspects of the assignment. Ultimately, that decision enabled us to minimize friction between the project's components, enjoy increased synergy, and shave eight days off the project's total completion time.”

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

Learning how to answer “How do you handle stress” questions is vital for success!

Employers are always interested in knowing that their new hires can manage stressful situations. By learning how to answer the “How do you handle stress” question, you can help convince employers that you're the type of steady hand they need on their team. Just take the time to plan your responses to these difficult behavioral questions before you go to the interview, and you'll be well-positioned to ace the meeting and increase your odds of securing a job offer.

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

This article was originally written by Carson Kohler and has been updated by Ken Chase.

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