Answering 'How do you handle stress?'
When searching for a new job, it's important to realize that most positions come with some level of stress. Employers looking to fill positions that can be stressful want to ensure they find a candidate who can handle the pressure. Throughout your interview, they may ask you to describe ways in which you manage your stress. Here we discuss how to answer, 'How do you handle stress?' and provide sample answers you can use as inspiration.
Why employers ask 'How do you handle stress?'
Employers ask, ‘How do you handle stress?’ to assess your stress management skills. They want to know if you have the ability to stay calm in tense situations. Answering this question effectively is especially important when interviewing for a high-stress position. In such roles, you need to demonstrate that you can overcome stress and do your job well. For example, an ER doctor needs stress management skills in order to stay focused and treat their patients properly.
Learn more: 6 Ways to Manage Stress at Work
How to answer 'How do you handle stress?'
Follow these steps to successfully answer, ‘How do you handle stress?’:
1. Reflect on how you address stress
Think about how you handle stress and which strategies help you remain calm. Common stress management strategies include:
- Staying positive.
- Using stress as a motivator.
- Accepting what you can’t control.
- Practicing relaxation methods, like yoga or meditation.
- Choosing healthy habits.
- Learning how to manage time better.
- Making time for your personal life.
- Talking to a mental health professional you trust.
2. Share examples of how you manage stress
In your answer, share a time when you overcame stress in a professional setting. Discuss which specific strategies you used and how they led to a positive end result. Although you can discuss overcoming an obstacle, make sure to show you were always in control of your stress levels. Showing that you shut down under stress isn’t a good sign for many employers. Instead, explain that you can handle anything that comes your way.
3. Show you can handle multiple tasks at once
High-stress jobs often require you to manage multiple projects or tasks at once. Make sure to show you have the ability to juggle such responsibilities. When answering this question, expect the interviewer to ask follow-up questions to get a better gauge on how you handle stress. They may include the following:
- Are there any benefits to stress?
- Does stress ever cloud your judgment?
- How do you handle stress when you need to make tough decisions?
- How do you manage stress when it involves other people?
What to avoid when answering 'How do you handle stress?'
When answering, ‘How do you handle stress?’ avoid the following things:
- The emotions you feel during stress: While you’re stressed, you may experience feelings of panic or dread. Although these feelings are quite common, there is no need to share them with your interviewer. Instead, focus on how you’re level-headed and can remain focused despite how you’re feeling.
- Situations that were your fault: When sharing your example, avoid sharing a stressful situation that you caused. This can make it appear that you make easily avoidable mistakes. For instance, ‘One time I forgot an important deadline and had to scramble to finish.’ doesn’t make you look like a responsible candidate.
- Denying your stress: Saying, ‘I never really get stressed.’ is an inauthentic answer, and the employer won’t believe you. Instead, you can say something like, ‘When I start feeling stressed, I use meditation to recenter myself and focus on finding solutions.’
- Body language that indicates you’re nervous: Fidgeting and rocking back and forth can show that you have a hard time managing your body language under stressful situations. During your interview, make an effort to sit up straight, make eye contact, and keep your body still. This can show that you are comfortable and confident in stressful situations.
Example answers to 'How do you handle stress?'
Use these sample answers to help you form your own response to, ‘How do you handle stress?’:
As someone who has spent the past five years in a management role, I understand that stressful situations are just a part of the job. To overcome such situations, I have stress management strategies to stay calm and focused. For example, when my team member unexpectedly quit, I used my prioritizing skills to handle this situation.
I found that by reorganizing my tasks, I had more time to actively look for a new hire. I didn’t want stress to cloud my judgment, so I kept reminding myself it was important to be patient in finding the right candidate. I’ve seen too many other managers hire someone fast to alleviate their stress but then hiring the wrong candidate simply led to more stress. By keeping my focus and knowing there is a finish line in the future, I can stay calm and make smart decisions.
A little bit of stress can actually be a motivator for me. I use the pressure to stay focused on my tasks and produce work more efficiently. When I’m under a tight deadline, I use my time management skills to stay on top of my tasks and get the most important ones done first. I find that communicating with my team regularly also helps me manage my stress and keeps situations under control.
I use morning meditation to handle my stress levels. When I know I have a big day ahead of me, I make sure to get up a little early and do a session. This gives me a chance to clear my mind and begin the day with a fresh slate. When a stressful situation suddenly happens, I use my meditation skills to recenter my focus and avoid feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes simply taking a few deep breaths and looking at a situation objectively is the trick. I find that it’s better to direct my attention to finding solutions rather than dwelling on the problem.