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How Do You Handle Pressure?

Some occupations involve more pressure than others, but pretty much every job can be stressful at least some of the time. Your ability to handle that stress and thrive in the face of it will determine your ability to succeed. 

To gauge how you’ll perform under demanding circumstances, a job interviewer might ask how you handle pressure. Other common ways to phrase this question are “how do you handle stress?” or “describe how you work under pressure.”

We’ll explain what interviewers are looking to hear from candidates when they bring up this topic and share some sample answers to respond to “how do you handle pressure?”

Why do interviewers ask this question?

An interviewer wants to understand how you respond during stressful situations. Do you clam up? Look to a leader for further instructions? Go into crisis manager mode? 

Different jobs call for different strategies, and a hiring manager wants to see that a candidate is prepared to effectively deal with the level of stress that comes with the position. 

What hiring managers are looking for in an answer

Some workers excel at dealing with high-pressure situations like tight deadlines, demanding clients and high-stakes tasks. Others work better in a calmer environment and prefer to keep stress to a minimum. While neither preference is inherently right or wrong, one may be more fitting for the job. Interviewers want to understand your attitude toward pressure so they can see whether it aligns with the realities of the position. 

They also want to hear an example of how you successfully managed a stressful situation in the past. Come prepared to talk about a time when you performed well under pressure in your current or previous jobs. 

How to answer “How you deal with pressure?”

Explain your views on pressure

It’s important to show that you understand pressure is part of the job and something that must be dealt with head on, rather than something to be avoided at all costs. Use a statement like “To me, pressure is…” then explain how you view pressure as an impetus for growth or an opportunity to sharpen your skills. 

Show a successful outcome

Give an anecdote of how you worked through a high-stress situation effectively. Describe the stakes, explain how you decided what to do and walk the interviewer through the steps you took to arrive at a positive outcome. 

Acknowledge a high-pressure job

If the occupation you’re interviewing for is a particularly stressful one, like a police officer or a nurse attendant, acknowledge your understanding of the rigorous demands of the job. State that you’re prepared to deal with the pressure and explain what makes you qualified to do so.

How not to answer

Telling a chaotic story

The example you give of dealing with pressure should flow smoothly, both in your delivery and the story line itself. Avoid describing a situation that was overly complex or something that makes you appear careless, like “one time, I put off an important assignment and had to pull it together at the last minute, which created a very stressful situation.”

Talk about stress outside of work

While your tumultuous relationship or cantankerous neighbor might cause you stress in your personal life, avoid bringing them up during an interview. You don’t want to give the impression that you’ll be someone who brings drama into the workplace. 

Get too wrapped up in emotions

Don’t spend too much time talking about the negative ways stress affects you. Everyone has emotions, but a strong candidate is able to manage them effectively so they don’t interfere with the ability to do their job. 

Interview answer example #1

“I welcome pressure at work because it compels me to grow. If there were never any challenges, the job would be pretty boring. I recently had to put together an ad campaign for a client under a very tight deadline. My team and I came up with a concept that was creative, but risky. The client loved it and we actually ended up winning an award for the campaign.”

Interview answer example #2

“When I’m under pressure, I immediately begin breaking the situation down into smaller pieces or tasks. This makes things more manageable and gives me a roadmap to start tackling the challenge. When I have a big presentation coming up, for example, I create a timeline of to-do items leading up to the day of the meeting. This ensures that I have plenty of time to prepare and nothing is missed, which also makes it less stressful.”

Preparing for tricky questions ahead of time will help you stay calm and collected during your interview, which is just one more way to show that you’re a pro in dealing with pressure.

Also, be prepared for related follow-up questions like “describe your work style” and “tell me about a time you had to be creative to solve a problem.”