Some occupations involve more pressure than others, but almost every job can be stressful, at least sometimes. Your ability to handle pressure 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 want 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 deal effectively with the level of stress that comes with the position.
What hiring managers are looking for in an answer about handling stress
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 do you handle pressure?”
Explain your views on pressure
It’s important to show that you understand the 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 achieve 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
Your example of dealing with pressure should flow smoothly in your delivery and the storyline itself. Avoid describing an overly complex situation 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 discussing the negative ways stress affects you. Everyone has emotions, but a strong candidate can manage them effectively, so they don’t interfere with the ability to do their job.
Sample answers to “How do you handle pressure?”
“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 creative but risky concept. The client loved it, and we actually ended up winning an award for the campaign.”
“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 tackle 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 I have plenty of time to prepare and nothing is missed, making 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 at dealing with pressure.