Job Hunting
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Interview Question: How Do You Handle Stress?

January 24, 2022

We all feel stressed at some point in our professional careers and interviewers want to know how you handle it on the job. Perhaps you even feel stressed when asked “How do you handle stress?” in an interview and you’re handling it in real-time. This is one of the most common questions asked by interviewers so be prepared to answer it.

Why interviewers ask about how you handle stress

If the interviewer knows that the job you’re applying for is particularly stressful, they will want to know that you can at least handle the stress but also get more information on how you handle it. They want to make sure that stress won’t bog you down, decreasing your performance on the job.

Interviewers are looking for people who can productively manage their stress by knowing the difference between good stress and bad stress. Good stress is stress that motivates you while bad stress is stress that hinders you. Candidates who can’t strike a balance between the two or get overwhelmed because they can’t manage bad stress raise red flags for interviewers.

How to answer this question

Tell the interviewer a story detailing how you have successfully handled stress. The goal is to show that you are self-aware and have had significant personal growth. Use the following steps to formulate your answer to “How do you handle stress?”

1. Start by giving context

Think of a story in which you were faced with a stressful situation. Make sure that this situation was not an avoidable one that you put yourself in! Instead, choose a story that wasn’t caused by you. Begin your response to the interviewer by giving a background story, providing context to the situation you’ll explain.

2. Show action

Don’t dwell on your past feelings of anger, sadness, or other emotions. The interviewer already knows that you were stressed so there is no need to bring it up that you felt negatively again. Instead, tell the interviewer the actionable steps you took to handle the situation and your stress. This is your opportunity to let your soft skills shine through such as your organizational, interpersonal, communication skills, etc. Make sure to say that you used your skills to remedy the issue at hand.

3. The results

End your story by detailing how the situation had a positive outcome due to your stress-management skills. By focusing on success, you turn a negative into a positive which supports you being a prepared, top candidate.

What not to say: 

  • Leave your feelings behind. Instead of saying that you were stressed, distraught, or other negative words, focus on the actionable steps you took to manage your feelings.
  • Don’t say you don’t get stressed. Everyone gets stressed so this answer won’t impress the interviewer. It’s a cop-out response and doesn’t really answer the question.
  • Don’t speak negatively about anyone. Though you’re telling a story about how someone or some people put you in a stressful situation, be careful not to slip up and speak badly about them. Though they may have messed up, you need to show that you are a positive person.

Want more interview prep? Check out our posts on: 

Interview prep for Founding Engineers

How to answer the interview question, what do you bring to the company

How to talk about a career change

How to talk about your long-term career goals

For other interview tips, check out our other posts on interviewing on the blog.

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