How To Answer “How Do You Handle Stress?” (With Examples)

By Maddie Lloyd - Apr. 28, 2022
Articles In Guide

Every job (and job interview) comes with at least a bit of stress. From important deadlines to impatient customers, employers want to make sure that their employees won’t fold when a stressful situation arises at work.

That’s why questions like “how do you handle stress” rank among the most common interview questions around. There are loads of red flags that interviewers are watching out for in a response, chief among them being an answer like “I never get stressed.”

We’ll cover why hiring managers ask this question, tips for how to answer (and how not to), and provide sample answers to “how do you handle stress?”

How Do You Handle Stress Interview Question

How to Answer “How Do You Handle Stress?” Interview Question

Employers want people who work well in stressful situations and solve problems instead of avoiding them. They want to know that you won’t crumble emotionally under the weight of your responsibilities or pass off your duties onto everyone else. No one wants to be responsible for your nervous breakdown.

When you’re answering this common interview question, keep the following steps in mind:

  1. Give an example. Interviewers love stories — but before you grab your beloved copy of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, remember that they want to hear stories about your work experience.

    “How do you handle stress” is a behavioral interview question, which are some of the most common interview questions you should be prepared for. To answer this and other behavioral interview questions, use the STAR method to shine a light on your qualifications and accomplishments in the past.

    Give an example of how you’ve handled a stressful situation at a previous job and show them how well you work under pressure.

  2. Describe your coping technique(s). Try not to mention that your favorite way to deal with stress is to curl into a fetal position and cry under your desk. Talk about some of the healthier methods you use to deal with stress instead of the ways that stress can get to you.

    Some ways of dealing with stress to consider are mindfulness or meditation, getting rid of interruptions or distractions, prioritizing and balancing your work, and using stress as a motivator, among others.

    At all stages of the interview process, remember that hiring managers and recruiters are looking to see how you’ve handled situations in the past to gauge how you’d perform in this position.

  3. Talk about how pressure motivates you. Tell the interviewer about how pressure or stress can motivate you to really buckle down, focus, and work diligently to get assignments done.

    A lot of times, the stress of a deadline can motivate people to prioritize and organize their work to meet those due dates. If this is true for you, make sure to show this to the interviewer in your story.

  4. Mention skills you’ve learned from working under pressure. Dealing with stressful situations can teach you valuable skills like:

    These are all soft skills that employers look for in potential employees. Using your response to this question to talk about your work-related skills and how you deal with stress will make your answer twice as good.

  5. Mention goals and end results. A good motivator to get through a stressful situation can often be to remind yourself of your ultimate goals and what you hope to accomplish with a project.

    Taking a step back and remembering what you’re working towards can help you get through the pressure of a difficult project.

Example Answers to “How You Handle Stress?”

When giving your answer to questions about how you handle stress and pressure, don’t make the mistake of forgetting to give examples. Remember to talk about situations where you successfully handled stress and came out on the other side as a better and wiser employee.

For behavioral interview questions like this, use the STAR (situation, task, action, result) method to keep your answer coherent.

  1. Talk about how dealing with a stressful situation taught you valuable skills.

    I feel that sometimes pressure can be a good thing, working under pressure has taught me how to prioritize and balance my workload. I once had three very important assignments due the same week, but I completed each assignment on time because I meticulously organized and planned how I would tackle each project.

    Because of my planning and prioritization, I was able to avoid stress altogether.

  2. Give an example that shows that you’re motivated by stress and work well under pressure

    I often find that stress is a great motivator for me and I work well under the pressure of a deadline for several projects at once. As an artist, I often find that I produce my most creative work when working with deadlines in place.

    I recently had projects in the works for multiple clients, but the stress of the situation just motivated me to work smarter and more efficiently. I was able to deliver great finished products for each of the clients, and they were all happy with the final result.

  3. Mention the reward of a successful end result

    When I get stressed, I’ve found that the best motivator is to remember the end result I’m working towards. When I’m working on a challenging project, I sometimes will take a step back and remind myself of my goals. This helps me stay positive and work to my fullest potential.

    At my last job, my manager quit without much notice, so our team had to scramble together to make sure our projects stayed on task. I was charged with managing the efforts of the team since I had the most intimate knowledge of all facets of the project.

    While it was a stressful week, the end result was better than anyone expected, and my team and I felt proud of what we had accomplished.

  4. Deadline driven

    Stress and pressure are an essential part of my work. Working as a writer and editor at my current job, there are always numerous deadlines and projects to keep track of.

    Recently, I had the deadlines moved up on an article series I was working on. I had to write five articles in just two days while continuing to copyedit other projects.

    By creating a schedule and communicating with the graphics team early to have images ready for each article, I was able to stay on top of everything.

    I managed to finish all five articles, and one of them became the most popular one on our company website for the week with over 50,000 views.

Why Interviewers Ask “How Do You Handle Stress?”

Interviewers ask “how do you handle stress” to learn how you deal with particularly stressful workplace situations. It’s an especially useful behavioral interview question for jobs that involve tight deadlines and a fast-paced work environment.

The recruiter or hiring manager might also be wondering how you cope with stressful situations outside of work as well since these can affect your performance on the job.

Employers are listening for examples of how you are motivated by stressful situations or how you can minimize stressful situations with careful planning and excellent communication skills.

If a hiring manager hears a story of when you let stress overwhelm you to the point where it compromised the quality of your work, that might affect your chances of getting a job offer.

Also, since interviews are inherently stressful, it helps to keep a calm demeanor when answering this question. If you need help relaxing before or during the interview, we’ve got more on that here.

Mistakes to Avoid When Answering “How Do You Handle Stress”

Giving a bad answer to this question can have a negative effect on your chances of getting a job offer. Let’s not let that happen.

It stands to reason that the most common interview questions also have some common mistakes to avoid. This is how you can avoid making a fool of yourself:

  • Avoid saying that you don’t get stressed. This seems like a good answer, but let’s be realistic — everyone gets stressed at one point or another. Giving this answer could make the interviewer think that you lack self-awareness or don’t take your work seriously.

    No one wants to hire an employee who doesn’t even know how they act under pressure or care about their job.

  • Don’t mention things that could have been avoided. When talking about how you’ve dealt with stress in the past, try not to bring up times when you put yourself in situations that could have been prevented. That’s a weakness, not an accomplishment.

    For instance, don’t talk about a time that you were stressed out because you procrastinated on a project and started it the day before it was due. Try to focus on times when you had a difficult project and how you were proactive in getting them done.

  • Try not to bring up job duties as stressors. Do your best to avoid saying that you were stressed by a situation that you’ll regularly run into at the job you’re interviewing for. The hiring manager will worry if you can’t handle the basic responsibilities of the job.

    For example, if part of the job description is working on multiple projects at once, saying that you have panic attacks when you have to juggle several projects at the same time is a good way to make yourself look bad.

  • Avoid saying that you “just push through it”. Giving a response like this could make the recruiter think that you won’t reach out to your boss, even if there’s a problem you need help with.

    Even if you could handle these situations on your own, they could be avoided with better communication skills.

  • If you’re interviewing for a management role, avoid saying that you “delegate”. In an interview for a management position, you’re probably going to talk about delegating at some point — but managing stress is not the time to bring this up.

    No one wants to work for a boss who assigns them their own personal workload when they feel overwhelmed.

    You jerk. Instead, try to bring up communication and teamwork.

  • Don’t say that you don’t handle pressure well. This is a terrible answer to any behavioral interview question. Don’t say that you don’t work well in stressful situations or mention a time when you couldn’t perform your job successfully because you were stressed out.

    Pressure can be a good thing — try to portray it as a motivator instead of something that prevents you from getting work done.

Tips to Answer “How Do You Handle Stress?”

  • Stick to successful stories. Behavioral interview questions are all about telling stories of past accomplishments, not failures (save that for the “what’s your greatest weakness” question).

  • Focus on actions, not emotions. From a mental health perspective, it’s very good to take stock of your emotions in scenarios that stress you out. But the interviewer is more concerned with your actual behavior rather than how you felt about the situation.

    Plus, by focusing on actions, you’re subtlety communicating that you’re a solution-oriented professional.

  • Customize your answer for the job. It’s perfectly fine to handle stress with a 10-minute break and a cup of green tea if you’re an accountant, but if you’re a heart surgeon, that’s probably not going to fly.

    Read the job description carefully to figure out what responsibilities are most likely to be stress-inducing (working with new clients, meeting tight deadlines, managing a big budget, etc.) and then think of stories from your past that match up with these new responsibilities.

    A strong answer will show that you’ve not only dealt with stress effectively in the past, but you have the tools and job-specific know-how to deal with any stressful situation that might come your way.

  • Be extra-prepared for this question if you’re interviewing for a high-stress job. Some jobs are notoriously stressful and interviewers for these professions will be much more critical of your answer.

    If you have a tough time articulating exactly how you cope in these extremely intense situations, look back on past examples of your success. Examining multiple stories will help you notice a theme or pattern in your techniques, even if you don’t tell the hiring manager the specifics of each story.

Final Thoughts

A good employee isn’t someone who doesn’t get stressed out — a good employee is someone who can work efficiently even when there’s a deadline weighing you down and killing you on the inside. Use this question to your advantage to show your dedication to getting your work done to the best of your abilities.

Job interviews are stressful enough on their own. If you can be composed and give examples of how you handle stress, you’re pretty much guaranteed to give a successful answer.

Again, try not to mention anything that will make you seem unprofessional.

Just wait until after the interview to curl into a fetal position to deal with stress in your favorite way.

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Author

Maddie Lloyd

Maddie Lloyd was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog focused on researching tips for interview, resume, and cover letter preparation. She's currently a graduate student at North Carolina State University's department of English concentrating in Film and Media Studies.

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