Interview Question: “How Do You Handle Stress?”
If you’ve ever held a job, or even if you’re new to workforce, you’re probably familiar with feelings of stress at work. Potential employers may sometimes ask about stress in a job interview, and a common way to phrase this question is, “How do you handle stress?”. When they ask this question, interviewers are looking for information on how you will react in stressful moments, and how your reaction may affect your teammates and the company overall.
To prepare for this question, consider how you’ve dealt with stressful work experiences in the past. Then, think about how those moments may have helped you better understand your strengths and weaknesses. Here are helpful tips to guide your answer:
Why employers ask about how you handle stress
Interviewers want to make the best hire for each role. If they know that a certain role sometimes involves stressful situations, they may want to verify that a candidate can react to that environment in a constructive rather than destructive manner. Employers may not want to hire candidates who:
- Outwardly express stress in the form of anger or sadness
- Are reactive to stress in a disruptive way
- Allow stress to impede or degrade the quality of work
- Become overwhelmed or shut down as a result of stress
- Put themselves and/or others in unnecessary and stressful situations (as a result of procrastination or poor attention to detail, for example)
On the other hand, employees who understand their reaction to stress are an asset to hiring managers. They will appreciate a candidate who:
- Is motivated by healthy pressure and uses it to produce quality, efficient work
- Avoids stress by planning ahead and prioritizing work
- Keeps open lines of transparent, constructive communication with managers and colleagues
- Has healthy boundaries
- Takes note of their stressors and reactive tendencies to work on areas of improvement
How to answer interview questions about stress
As you start to prepare your answer to this question, think of a time you experienced stress in the workplace. Consider the following questions to help you plan a positive, interviewer-focused answer that shows you’ve thought about your relationship to stress:
- What were the causes of the stressful situation?
- If you contributed to creating a stressful situation, what could you have done differently to avoid it?
- What was your reaction like?
- How did you reduce or mitigate the stress?
- If you could react to that situation again, what would you have done differently?
- In what ways did stress help or hurt your work?
From the stressful work situations you can recall, focus on the stories and examples where you can identify a moment of personal growth. This will help any potential employer understand how you turn stress into a positive—especially if you give examples where stress has actually helped your work in some way.
Here are a few examples of a good response to this question, for reference:
“Planning is an important tool in handling stress for me. Drawing up detailed plans for projects and even my daily work helps me to get ahead of stressful situations. When stress does inevitably arise, planning helps me to tackle the situation one step at a time to prioritize what needs to be done in an efficient way for myself and my colleagues. In fact, some of my best work in streamlining processes has come from a stressful situation. I’ve been able to design simpler, more efficient workflows with less room for error.”“Stress can be a big motivator for me. A healthy amount of pressure helps me produce efficient, quality work by giving me a picture of what my colleagues need from me and when. I’ve experienced stressful situations that bring my team together, and have seen some of our best work come from pressure.”“For me, communication is key in stressful situations, if even over-communicating to ensure everyone is on the same page. For example, I was working on a project with another team and we found there was a lot of duplicate work being done. By scheduling a weekly standup and keeping open lines of honest communication with our teams and managers, we pushed the project forward and ended up moving the needle on a company goal in a big way.”
What to avoid when you answer questions about stress
There are a few things you’ll want to avoid if this question comes up in your next interview. For example:
- Avoid saying that you don’t experience stress. While it may seem attractive to position yourself as someone who is always calm, the interviewer clearly wants to know about your reactions to stress. Avoiding a substantive answer or making yourself seem stress-resistant might seem unrealistic or off-putting.
- If you provide an example, try not to focus on the emotions of the situation. Give a high-level overview of the situation, explain how you handled it, and how that will benefit their team and the company.
- Additionally, choose an example that wasn’t caused by you or could have been easily avoided—for example, you’d want to avoid saying, “I was in a stressful situation because I forgot about an assignment with a strict due date…”.
Everyone has different ways of handling stress, so taking time to consider how stress has appeared in your own work life and providing a thoughtful response will help your interviewer understand you better. As with all interview questions, remember to stay positive and use your answer to explain the value you’ll bring to their company. Being self-aware about how you handle stress in the workplace is sure to set you apart during the interview process.