Interview Q&A: How To Answer "How Do You Handle Stress?"

By Jennifer Herrity

Updated August 30, 2022 | Published May 18, 2018

Updated August 30, 2022

Published May 18, 2018

Jennifer Herrity is a career coach at Indeed who has worked with job seekers from various industries over the last 12 years. She creates resources to help people navigate career challenges with tools and techniques she has refined through practical experience.

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If you’ve ever held a job—or even if you’re new to the workforce—you’re probably familiar with feelings of stress at work. Potential employers may sometimes ask about how you handle stress in a job interview. When they ask this question, interviewers are looking for information on how you'll react in stressful moments, and how your reaction may affect your team and the company overall.

In this article, we share tips to help guide your answer and provide some example answers.

Key takeaways:

  • Employers ask this question to determine how you might handle challenging situations that come with the job.

  • Explain the tools, methods and techniques you use to work under pressure.

  • Use the STAR response technique to offer a specific example of a time you handled stress well.

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Why employers ask about 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.

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Employees who understand their stress reactions 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 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

Related: Job Interview Tips: How To Make a Great First Impression

How to answer questions about stress

As you start to prepare your answer to this question, think of a time you experienced stress in the workplace.

1. Spend some time thinking about how you approach stress

Start by considering the following questions to help you plan a positive, interviewer-focused answer that shows you’ve thought about your relationship with 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?

Related: 5 Questions To Ask Yourself Before an Interview

2. Focus on stories and examples that communicate 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 helped your work in some way.

For reference, here are a few examples of a good response to this question:

Example 1

"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 efficiently for myself and my colleagues.

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.”

Example 2

"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."

Example 3

"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.”

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3. Be prepared for follow-up questions

Depending on your answer and the employer, your interviewer may ask you follow-up questions. Be prepared to expand on or explain your answer if they want to know more details or understand the context of how you handle stress as related to the position. Here are a few examples of follow-up questions you might be asked:

  • This position requires the ability to deal with ambiguity. How do you handle stress when there are no clear answers?

  • How do you handle stress when you must make difficult decisions?

  • How do you handle stress when it involves others?

  • Do you think there are healthy forms of stress?

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What to avoid

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.

  • 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.

  • 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… ”

  • 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.

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