If an interviewer asked you how you work under pressure, would you know how to answer?

How do you handle pressure in the workplace? If that's something that you've never really thought about, because you just deal with stressful situations as they arise, there's a good chance you may struggle to answer this question if it comes up during a job interview. After all, these types of questions can be tricky to answer if you're not expecting them. Fortunately, this tough question can be easy to answer if you prepare your response ahead of your interview.

In this post, we'll explain why employers ask this type of working under pressure interview question and offer some helpful tips you can use to create a convincing response. We'll also provide some examples of working under pressure answers you can modify and use in your next interview.

Why do employers want to know how well you work under pressure?

The first thing you need to understand is that employers who ask the question, “how do you work under pressure?” are not just asking you whether you can deal with stress and pressure. What they really want to hear are some examples of how your ability to handle pressure has helped you to overcome obstacles and provide value for your previous employers. In addition, they're interested in learning about your overall approach to managing pressure at work.

Tips to help you create your “how do you work under pressure?” answer

To prepare your response to this type of question prior to your interview, you first need to spend some time thinking about all the ways you manage pressure and stress. How do you maintain focus during those moments and keep your priorities in order? The following tips can guide you as you think through your pressure management process and create your response.

Focus on a specific example of working under pressure

Try to remember a time when you successfully dealt with pressure in the workplace. Take a few moments and write down everything that you remember about that event and your response. Identify the problem you faced, the decisions you made, and the skills you used to deal with the pressure. These details, along with the results you achieved by managing that pressure, will be used to create your response to the interviewer's question.

 Use the STAR method to tell a story

The STAR method is a great way to formulate responses to interview questions, so we recommend employing it whenever possible. It's a simple and straightforward storytelling technique that you can use to answer almost any interview question – including those unexpected questions you'll sometimes face. To use STAR, simply create a narrative that follows this outline:

  • Situation: begin by describing the situation, including the type of pressure that you were facing

  • Task: detail the challenge that you needed to overcome

  • Action: talk about the specific steps you took to deal with that challenge, while navigating the pressure

  • Result: explain how your actions not only dealt with the challenge and pressure, but also produced measurable benefits for your employer.

Include mention of your stress management skills

You should also take the opportunity to describe some of your favorite and most reliable stress management skills. Every job can be stressful at times, and that stress can increase workplace pressure if you're not adept at managing it properly. By explaining how you deal with stress, you can help to ensure that the interviewer recognizes that you're an employee who can be relied upon to navigate even the most pressure-filled workplace situations.

Maintain a confident body posture and tone of voice

Finally, don't neglect your body language and vocal presentation. Unless you look and sound confident, your example of working under pressure is likely to fall flat with the interviewer. You should practice your answer as many times as it takes to ensure that you:

  • Maintain good posture, without any nervous fidgeting

  • Look the interviewer in the eye when you're delivering your narrative

  • Speak directly and convincingly

  • Remain calm throughout your presentation

Remember, if you can answer this question in a confident way, the interviewer is more likely to believe that you can handle pressure. That will add credibility to your response and invite the interviewer to trust you as a job candidate.

“How do you work under pressure?” example answers

To further illustrate some of the best ways to answer the question, “how do you work under pressure?” we've compiled several example answers. Each of these sample answers can be modified to fit your own specific work history, stress management abilities, and personality traits. You'll note too that every one of these responses includes use of the STAR method by presenting a real-life example of how the candidate successfully managed to achieve real results despite workplace pressure.

Example of working under pressure interview response #1

“Over the course of my career, I've had to learn to recognize the difference between good and bad pressure and how to deal with each in an effective way. For me, positive pressure can be motivational, since it usually involves tough deadlines that force me to focus on goals, or external factors that require me to reorient my priorities. Negative pressures usually involve various stressors that need to be managed to ensure that they don't distract from my goals and priorities.

I'm reminded of a time earlier in my career, when we had a client who repeatedly changed his project parameters, including just days before our final deadline. That chaos was extremely disruptive to the team and several of our colleagues were urging our team leader to cancel the project and fire the client. I was fortunate enough to have been through several similar situations with other clients and was able to use the lessons learned from that experience to calm my team and get us refocused on completing the work. That client ended up so satisfied with our results that he signed a long-term contract with the company.”

In this example, the job candidate first provides their perspective on pressure and stress, along with a brief explanation of how they try to focus on their goals and priorities. Then, they recall a particular example of working under pressure, describing the situation, task, action, and results – using every element of the STAR method. They also highlighted their use of specific interpersonal skills to solve the challenge.

Example of working under pressure interview response #2

“As a Project Manager with eleven years of experience leading teams and missions, pressure and stress have become like old friends to me. Whether it's conflict in the team, managing our leadership's expectations, or dealing with pressure from our clients, the challenge of managing stress is something that we live with every day. That experience has helped me to develop important skills that I use to balance my emotions, keep my team focused on the task at hand, and maintain workplace harmony.

My communication and organizational skills are key to my effectiveness in dealing with pressure, something that I learned several years ago. At that time, I was working as a Project Coordinator for another firm. One of our projects involved a customer who received a lower project bid three weeks after he retained our services and just two weeks before our work was scheduled to be completed. We had already put in a tremendous amount of work on his project, so I was asked to take the lead in getting him to change his mind about dropping us.

Fortunately, my organizational skills had helped to ensure that the team was well ahead of our deadline and I had a solid body of initial draft work to show him when he agreed to meet with me. It took three meetings over several days, but I was able to convince him that the amount of money and time he already had invested in our work would ultimately offer even more cost and time savings than he would get from breaking his contract and working with our competitor.”

The job candidate in this example begins by acknowledging that pressure is a major part of their job and describes the type of stressors that they routinely encounter. They then offer a brief overview of the strategy used to deal with those high-pressure situations, including vital skills like organization and communication. Finally, they provide an example that shows how they have managed pressure in the past.

Example of working under pressure interview response #3

“My management duties have always included some level of stress and pressure. Most of that pressure comes from balancing the needs of all the different stakeholders who have a vested interest in my team's success – including our leadership team, clients, customers, and employees. Whenever something goes off the rails, pressure can come from any of those directions. I've always relied on my ability to separate the situation from the people, to minimize stress and control my emotional response.

For example, when I was managing the production team at XYZ, leadership was continually increasing production goals while tightening deadlines. At one point, the goals had become so unrealistic that we were tracking a 23% decline in morale and a 19% increase in absenteeism. The pressure had gotten so bad that the entire department was starting to see a decline in productivity.

After spending some time evaluating the situation, I decided to seek a meeting with our leadership team, to discuss the numbers and the general state of the production floor. I committed to total transparency, so that we could have a frank and honest discussion, and went into the process focused on resolving the pressure rather than blaming the people involved. Once they could see the direct correlation between their quota expectations and our declining production, they reversed course.”

With this answer, the job seeker focuses on key management skills, including emotional intelligence and the ability to manage people and resources. The candidate also provides a descriptive example of a time when they needed to use powerful communication and other interpersonal abilities to resolve a serious problem that was causing undue pressure in the workplace.

Things you should never say in response to this question

Of course, it's also important to recognize that there are some things that you should never say when you're asked to describe how you work under pressure. Make sure that you avoid including any of these responses in your prepared answer.

“I've never felt stress or pressure in my job.”

The problem with this answer is that it's so unlikely that the interviewer will probably feel that you're hiding something. Alternatively, they could decide that you're just not serious about your work since everyone feels pressure at some point or another. If you've somehow managed to avoid that experience, chances are that you're not really engaged in your job.

“I try to delegate responsibilities to avoid pressure.”

The reason why this answer is so bad is that the average interviewer may just assume that your response to stress or pressure is to pass the problem off to other people. If you were the employer, would you want to hire someone whose entire approach to pressure is to let someone else deal with it?

“I'm still struggling to deal with pressure.”

To a certain extent, everyone is always struggling to learn how to cope with pressure. Few people have truly mastered stress to the point where it's no longer a concern. However, you never want to even suggest that you have no way of dealing with pressure. Instead, talk about all the things you've learned about stress management, your efforts to excel under pressure, and how it's made you a better person and employee. Then pivot right into your example of working under pressure, using the STAR method to create a compelling story.

Even difficult questions can have simple answers if you take time to prepare

While it may not always be easy to come up with your own example of working under pressure, it's something that you need to do if you want to be able to answer this tricky question. By taking the time to conduct a self-assessment and focusing on creating a compelling narrative,  you should be able to provide a response that convinces employers that you're capable of handling any pressure that comes your way.

Are you looking for strategies that can push your job interview success to the next level? Contact our expert interview coaches today!

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