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Interview Question: "How Do You Deal With Pressure or Stressful Situations?"

Interview Question: "How Do You Deal With Pressure or Stressful Situations?"

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When you have a job interview, you need to be prepared for various key questions. Some of these will be around your general strengths and weaknesses, while others will be scenario-specific.

Whichever questions you get, you need to be aware of showcasing your skills because this self-knowledge will go a long way towards making a good impression.

If you’re applying for a role in a high-pressure or stressful environment, a potential employer needs to know how you would react in these types of particular situations. In this case, they are likely to ask for examples from your own experience to check if you have demonstrated that you can handle different kinds of stressors.

Why Would an Interviewer Ask This Question?

An interviewer wants to know how you can cope with difficult situations so that if a similar scenario occurs in their workplace, you will be well-equipped to handle it. One way they can ascertain your ability to thrive in a tough environment is to ask about certain situations in your work history.

An interviewer will also likely want to know how self-aware you are and whether you can handle your emotions, especially under pressure. A candidate who shows some clarity over their reactions to stress – and their ability to manage it – is invaluable to a prospective employer.

The best way to answer these types of questions and satisfy an interviewer is to provide a broken-down example of how you have handled pressure or a stressful situation in the past. It’s particularly relevant to show that the quality of your work, in the end, wasn’t impacted by the stress, so be prepared for follow-up questions.

If this quality is important to them, they will likely ask the question again using different words, so prepare a few different scenarios that you can use as evidence. Having a variety of examples can make you seem more credible and you won’t run out of things to talk about.

How Else Might This Question Be Asked?

There can be variations on the question asking how you deal with pressure or stressful situations. You might be asked what kind of work environment you prefer, for example. This is a type of open question which you luckily get to lead in the direction you want.

If you are applying for a role in a busy, fast-paced department, make it clear this environment is one where you would perform best.

You might also be asked what kind of challenges you like in the workplace. This again is giving you a free opportunity to talk about how you enjoy working under pressure and to tight deadlines.

Another way of asking how you deal with pressure or stressful situations is making the question more specific. For example, an interviewer might ask how you’ve dealt with a difficult colleague in the past, or how a customer or client has put pressure on you.

These are asking the same underlying question but narrowing it down so that a ‘generic’ prepared answer might not work. This is why having a few scenarios prepared is important.

You might even be asked about pressure more hypothetically, for example, “Do you think there are healthy types of stress?” Interviewers may want to see how you react to stress in reality by putting you under pressure with an unusual question.

Seeing how you act under duress might be important to prospective employers, as the way you behave if you get the role will impact the company and they need to make sure you are a good fit. The point of the interview process is partly to pressure you anyway – seeing how you respond to new scenarios, scrutiny and tough questions.

If you do feel like the interviewers are pushing you, it might be worth paying extra attention to your body language. Sometimes people get defensive in their posture when they are uncomfortable and you might need to consciously re-adjust it.

Practicing mock interviews in advance can help you to be more mindful of how you come across and build your confidence.

How to Prepare for This Question

To prepare for questions about how you deal with stress or pressured situations, you need to think through your work or educational history and come up with specific examples that demonstrate your skills. You can even use scenarios from your extracurricular life, for example, you might volunteer as a lifeguard at the weekends and be able to draw upon these experiences.

Once you have a collection of strong examples, think about the most useful anecdotes you can use. Those that show growth and self-awareness are particularly powerful. For each of the scenarios you want to talk about, be clear on which skills you are showing, and ideally find a way to link these to the type of job you want to apply for.

When you practice talking about your stressful situation and how you responded to it, be sure to build the answer in a clear, structured way, showing great communication skills. The more you get used to talking about your examples, the more confident and fluent you will be in the actual interview and the more likely you are to impress.

It's important to keep things positive, so focus on the solution you came to in the scenarios and the soft skills you were demonstrating, rather than spending most of your time describing the problem or complaining about other people. It’s more valuable for the interviewer to hear about how you fixed things, for example, the tools you used or the methods you found helpful in dealing with the difficult situation.

How to Answer: "How Do You Deal With Pressure or Stressful Situations?"

When you’re answering any interview question that requests you to remember a situation you handled, it’s best to do so in a structured way. There are several story-telling methods you can use; a popular one is the STAR technique:

  • S: Situation – Give an overview of the situation (for example, you were let down by a colleague who didn’t attend an important meeting)
  • T: Task – Briefly explain the task at hand (perhaps you were meeting clients to cement a deal)
  • A: Action – Describe the action you took (you might have had to step up and lead the pitch when you weren’t expecting to, demonstrating flexibility and commitment)
  • R: Results – What did you achieve? Always try to link this back to the specific role you are interviewing for (you might have landed the clients and received a commendation from your boss; you can then connect this to the current interview and explain how you often go the extra mile in the workplace)
Interview Question: How Do You Deal With Pressure or Stressful Situations?
Interview Question: How Do You Deal With Pressure or Stressful Situations?

When you are answering any questions in an interview, try to remain calm and unflustered. Even if you lose your way in a story, just take a breath, regroup and summarize. This way you’re demonstrating your ability to handle yourself if things go sideways.

What to Avoid When Explaining How You Deal With Pressure or Stressful Situations

When you’re answering questions about difficult scenarios, it’s best to focus more on actions than your feelings. While a bad situation will undoubtedly have impacted you emotionally – and you may well have been angry with colleagues – it’s best to stick with neutral and factual terms than to use heightened descriptions.

Remember this is a job interview, not a place for you to get personal. If you seem like a person who regularly gets into tricky situations or quickly gets overwhelmed, you run the risk of looking like a bad investment. After all, nobody wants to hire someone who will easily burn out.

Focus on the job you are interviewing for and make sure you have done enough research and preparation in thinking about it. If the role specifies balancing multiple projects, then don’t say you get stressed when there is lots of juggling to do on a daily basis.

You don’t want to make it seem like the basic requirements of the job are beyond your capabilities or that the role itself will make you feel under pressure the whole time.

It’s not wise to say that you never feel pressure at all though, as this will come across as if you lack self-knowledge. A little humility is required in answering how you deal with difficult situations as this builds trust and makes you seem authentic.

If you show off and say that you never get stressed, you might tempt the interviewer to push you on that point or even to create a pressured environment there and then.

Similarly, it’s best to avoid using examples of procrastination or carelessness that don’t reflect well on you. Whilst everyone has had situations where they have made mistakes that led to stress or pressure, it’s best not to use these when answering interview questions. It’s easier to shine when you’re the hero of the story rather than the cause of the problem!

Sample Answers for Dealing With Pressure or Stressful Situations

When you’re answering questions about difficult situations, remember not to get bogged down in detail. The interviewer wants to get an overview of the problem but you should keep the main focus on how you solved the issue.

Example 1

This sample answer shows teamwork and your ability to work beyond the level at which you are expected to. It’s great if you want to show you are serious and someone worth promoting quickly:

In my last job, there was a sticky situation where my manager had an unexpected family emergency, in a week when there were three deadlines to meet. As the person with the most knowledge of these particular projects, it fell to me to step up as interim manager.

It was a stressful time as I had to try and coordinate the team while getting as much information as possible from my manager, being mindful that he had other things going on. I do enjoy working under pressure and I am good at prioritization, so my time-management skills really came to the fore as the week progressed.

It all came together brilliantly. I created a detailed schedule with everyone’s input and ran through all three projects with a fine-toothed comb before submission. My manager returned to work the following week and publicly praised me for performing under pressure, so I was really glad I rose to the challenge.

Example 2

In this situation, you are showing emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills, which go a long way towards creating a strong and supportive workplace – important for every employer:

There was a tough period last year when my company was downsizing and the department was under a lot of stress. I was coping OK as I work well under pressure, but I had a colleague who was scared of losing his job and his performance was suffering as a result of his nerves. Morale was low everywhere, but I was conscious he needed extra support.

I took the time to sit with him and help him work out an action plan for getting back on track. One of the big things for him was not feeling comfortable bringing things up with our boss. I had been at the company longer and with my knowledge of how things worked, I was able to suggest some strategies and even role-played with him.

He followed my advice, and in this particular situation, a redundancy was offered with great terms and a glowing reference. While unexpected, it ended up being the best thing for my friend as he took some time out to regroup and then got a new job at a higher level.

Example 3

This sample answer demonstrates openness, a willingness to learn and to reach out to other people when necessary. Nobody has all the answers all the time, and employers want to know you are confident enough to ask for help, rather than muddle through alone and risk making a hash of things. This example also shows good problem-solving and the ability to empathize. These soft skills are very important for any prospective employee to demonstrate:

I recently had to manage a work-experience student and she was continually pushing boundaries, turning up late and showing a lack of attention in her work. I found this frustrating but I reminded myself the goal was to find a solution, so I spoke to some peers to ask if anyone had been in a similar situation. I heard some interesting stories which made me wonder if I was missing something, so I decided to try and dig a bit deeper with the student.

We went out for coffee at my suggestion and I asked her directly if she felt she needed any extra support while she was working there. She opened up and told me she was exhausted, as she had been working late into the night to finish some final coursework which was due that same week. I learned a valuable lesson that day in asking more questions before jumping to conclusions about other people’s priorities.

I showed her empathy, knowing she was new to the corporate world and suggested she take a day off to complete the work to get it out of the way. I also made the point that I needed her full attention once she’d sent in the assignment that was due, and she promptly agreed. I’m glad to say after that, her work and punctuality were exemplary and I was able to give her a great evaluation in the end.

Final Thoughts

All jobs have their pressure points and it's common for employers to ask about your stressful experiences. They want to know that you can handle yourself if or when such situations arise. They also want to know that you can reflect on these types of difficulties and grow from them. Having emotionally intelligent answers prepared will help you stand out from the crowd.

Think about past situations that show a focus on your personal development and that demonstrate you have a growth mindset. Remember, when you’re answering questions about how you deal with pressure or stressful situations, it’s really a chance for you to showcase your specific skills and strengths to impress your interviewer.

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