How to Answer “How Do You Handle Stress” Interview Question, According to 18 Experts

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In a job interview, questions can get really tricky.

One typical question that they may ask is, “how do you handle stress?” When unprepared, this question may catch you off guard.

Before this question gets the best of you, we listed 18 experts who shared their thoughts on this matter.

Dr. J Paul Rand, MBA, CPCN

Paul Rand

Executive Director, RSolutions (Holdings)

When asked this question in an interview, it is important to understand what the interviewers are looking for from the candidate.

In the hiring realm, the standard method (simple for the candidate) is the 10/80/10 rule. Ten percent response outlining the situation/example; 80% behaviors, and 10% outcomes.

In this case, the question really is seeking to gauge your level of what is called emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (EI) is best defined by clear and confident expression of how you leveraged your EI strengths.

Consider strength-based tools

Before conducting an interview, consider very powerful strength-based tools. Tools such as the Core Value Index (CVI) which goes much deeper than just behaviors to capturing, measuring, and defining your inherent human operating process. Search TAYLOR PROTOCOLS for access.

But in an employment specific interview, consider the Improved Employee (IE) assessment. In less than 10 minutes, this gives you a great breakdown of your specific soft-skills in several categories: communication, peer support, team environments, etc.

Related: What Are Core Values and How Do They Control My Life?

Practice interview responses

With knowledge of your soft-skill, practice your interview responses (before the interview). This is where knowing your EI strengths is important because every interview is different, but your EI (individual – CVI) versus operational (workplace focused, IE).

Remember the 10/80/10. By understanding yourself and your strengths, you can answer any context-specific question. I will show an example below in a bit.

Demonstrate competency knowledge in your response

When approached with questions about stress, establish your clarity and confidence by knowing EI measurements and how those are relied on in any given situation. However, remember to identify a weakness and what you learned. This again is an emphasis on a 10% situation, but 80% application.

General Example:

When addressed with a question about handling strength, you can identify a situation in the workplace.

Highlight three soft-skills you used:

  • How did you leverage a direct communication style?
  • How did you reduce stress for teams by using this direct style to provide clarity?
  • How did you improve performance by avoiding talking around issues because you approach them head-on?

Then identify. What I have learned is that not everyone likes this approach which can increase stress on them (and yourself), so be sure to outline learning, courses, reading or technique you used to ensure you rely on your direct style well but are aware of indications it may cause friction.

Then summarize a great outcome (in this example) of how you achieved results by managing stress through clarity of direct communication. 10/80/10

Remember, clarity and confidence with a focus on the skills you use – not the details of situational specifics or overemphasis on the outcomes.

The better script you create, the less stress you will feel in an interview because when speaking of EI and supporting it with external data will cause you to advance. In fact, my labor market research candidates using this specific process outlined above were over 4x more likely to be interviewed for first and second-round interviews than candidates using just part of the procedure above.

Just as the recruiters are seeking a systematic approach to your response, you should model complete systematic preparation for interviews.

Customize your 10% situation and 10% outcomes based on the answer they provide, but speak with clarity and confidence about your EI skills backed by data. This makes a HUGE impact on the response.

Graeham Heil

Graeham Heil

Marketing Engineer, Good Jobs

Use the C.A.R.L technique

The best technique for answering any behavioral interview question is by using the C.A.R.(L.) technique.

The C.A.R. technique is executed by providing Context (where you were and what you’re role was), Action (what did you do), and Result (what was the outcome).

Additionally, for questions with a potentially negative connotation, I like to add in L for Learning. Explain how you grew and learned from the experience described.

Here is a sample response using the C.A.R.L. technique:

I was working as a {job title} at {company}, where my team had a strict weekly deadline. Since I thrive with a plan, and my team would scramble to put together our deliverables each week, I identified the point of stress.

I presented my team with an action plan for having the deliverable prepared two days ahead of schedule. Through this, I eliminated my point of stress and freed up my co-workers’ time at the end of the week.

I learned that I have strength in identifying stress points and making plans to reduce them.

Deana Criess

Deana Criess

Associate Director for Recruitment and Admissions, Career Launch @ Perkins

There are a few things at play when an interviewer asks this question. They want to know not only how you handle stress at the moment, but they also are allowing you to talk about your work style.

So how do you answer?

Be proactive and be realistic

Think about how you handle your workflow and be ready to talk about that process. Then think about how you handle stressful situations that are out of your control.

Something like:

I use project management tools to track what’s in the pipeline, my progress, and the progress of everyone on the project so I can be ahead of any potential issues [this tells them you are on top of things].

When we are working collaboratively across the team, we can help each other as things come up. [this tells them you are a team player] And when something unexpected happens, I triage what I can do at the moment, reach out to folks around me who can help get the job done, and once the fire is out, figure out how we can avoid that same problem going forward [this tells them you are a problem solver and ready to learn from mistakes].

There are going to be days when stress is unavoidable. I like to take a walk with a colleague and talk through ways to push through the current problem [this tells them you focus on the positive and are well-versed in dealing with stress].

Spencer Smith

Spencer Smith

CEO, IRC Sales Solutions

Mention mindfulness

Far and away, the best way to answer the “How do you handle stress?” question is by telling the interviewer that, not only do you use it your advantage, but you welcome it. You should also get bonus points for mentioning mindfulness in your answer.

Give a personal experience

There are many different ways to craft a response, but you should try to sprinkle in something about your past that’s molded you into this individual who’s able to use stress positively. This could be previous high-stress roles you’ve been in or even something as simple as childhood athletics, which is a little tougher, but I’ll use it for my example below.

So, how do you handle stress?

I think of stress as a good thing. I’ve always found a way to stay mindful and use it to my advantage. Even as a kid, I always kind of had that “clutch gene,” where I was the one my teammates trusted to take the last shot as time expired.

With stress, I’ve found that if you’re able to stay mindful and realize that stress is coming your way on a daily basis whether you want it to or not, it allows you to deal with it in a more reasonable way, and, in my experience at least, it helps concentrate me on overcoming whatever it is that’s causing the stress.

Damian Birkel

Damian Birkel

Founder & Executive Director, Professionals In Transition

Give a proactive, well-polished response

You might say something like:

Stress is a part of any job. It keeps you sharp and on your toes. But, when stress becomes extreme, I:

  • Review my TODO list to make sure that high-priority tasks are being done in the correct order.
  • Increase my exercise.
  • Make sure I am eating healthy.
  • Check my delegation of projects and ask myself, “What other things can I effectively delegate to others?”
  • Meet with my boss to see if the main issue causing the stress can be reviewed, reworked, and if chunks of the issue could be handled differently and perhaps by a co-worker.

Sometimes, if you and a co-worker or boss can both adjust your expectations a little, you’ll be able to find a happy middle ground that reduces the stress levels for everyone.

Still, the best answer is the answer that reflects how you handle stress.

Sue Andrews

Sue Andrews

HR & Business Consultant, KIS Finance

Don’t claim you never get stressed

Stress is part of life, so it’s no good claiming that you never get stressed, as an interviewer will see this as you simply avoiding the question. It’s all about balance, as we all need a degree of stress to keep us motivated and productive. However, too much stress can reduce your effectiveness in your job and damage your health in the longer term.

It’s all about balance

The best way to answer the question is to acknowledge the need for balance and focus on how you achieve it in practice.

Recruiters want to see that you are aware of how stress affects you and that you have effective coping strategies in place for when things get pressurized.

Use real-life examples

Using real-life examples of how you’ve handled stress is the best way to illustrate how you recognize the signs and have successfully dealt with stressful situations. But avoid speaking about the emotions that you felt and focus on practical steps you took to manage the situation and achieve a successful outcome.

Fit your answers to the role

Think about the role you’re applying for and the likely causes of stress that you might encounter, to ensure your answer fits. For example, if the job requests you to meet tight deadlines, then don’t say that working under time pressures causes you to feel stressed. Or if the role involves a wide range of responsibilities, don’t say that juggling multiple tasks makes you anxious.

If you’re applying for a management role, talk about how you monitor the working environment to ensure others are not under inappropriate levels of stress. Focus on the mechanisms you would put in place to support the whole team to maintain a happy and productive workplace.

Demonstrate that you know how to protect yourself from stress

Focus on how you utilize the positive aspects of stress to boost your productivity but are also careful to take care of your well being to mitigate the negative effects through things such as exercise, a good diet, and generally taking care of yourself.

Employers like to see applicants who take responsibility for their own well being as they usually turn out to be productive, low maintenance employees.

Dawson Whitfield

Dawson Whitfield

Co-Founder and CEO, Looka

A lot of people struggle with this question for the same reason they struggle with the “what is your biggest weakness” question. They’re worried that any kind of vulnerability will be used against them.

Why we ask this question

As a leader, when I ask interviewees this or similar questions, I’m not looking to trick people into making themselves look bad. I’m also not trying to see how interviewees can spin a weakness into a strength.

What I am looking for are two things:

  1. The self-awareness to admit that they (like everyone else) will occasionally get stressed at work
  2. They’ve spent time crafting the right skills (for them) to tackle that stress

If someone says they don’t get stressed or thrive on stress, they’re missing that self-awareness, which can lead to some unpleasant (and stressful) situations in the long run.

James Bargeron

James Bargeron

High Performance Coach

Focus away from the negative

I would encourage people to answer something along the lines of:

It’s not what it’s cracked up to be. I prefer to focus on the flip side, what’s working. There are so many things working out really well.

Our minds are negatively biased, which means we tend to focus on what’s not working and look for the reasons behind it, rather than focusing on possibilities. If we deflect the focus of the answer away from negative ie, stress, we teach the mind to not focus on what we don’t want ie, stress and break the habit.

Adam Cole

Adam Cole

Musician & Author, Adam Cole Works

It’s important to remember why this question is asked in a job interview. It’s a loaded question. The interviewer wants to know the answer, but also wants to know how you’ll handle a question like that, and whether you’ll inadvertently reveal anything about yourself that you weren’t planning to disclose.

Answer truthfully

It’s like a “greatest weakness” question. It should be answered truthfully. However, it’s best only to give that part of the truth that presents you at your best, and especially one that suggests that you are the best candidate for the position.

Frame the answer in terms of your best response in a stressful situation, either how you did it well, or how you think about it so you can always do it well, or both.

Don’t admit personal flaws

Do not admit personal flaws or weakness around this question to appear more honest or to forge a bond of sympathy or empathy with the interviewer. They already know you’re human and flawed (everyone is), and admitting it or discussing it may flag your weakness as a dominant personality trait in their estimation of you.

Dana Case

Dana Case

Director of Operations, MyCorporation

Share a story

One of the best ways to answer ‘how do you handle stress?’ during a job interview is to share a story that illustrates a stressful situation in the workplace and your role in reducing stress and getting on track to accomplishing the task at hand or resolving the conflict.

Share the steps

Focus on the initial steps you were able to take to make the situation less difficult for yourself and your team members (if they were involved). Then, highlight the strategy you used to face the situation while maintaining and keeping your cool.

Stressful things are bound to happen in any line of work, and job interviewers are aware of this and understand. What they ultimately look for solutions you were able to come up with to fix the problem and your overall attitude for handling stress.

Scott Crabtree

Scott Crabtree

Chief Happiness Officer, Happy Brain Science

Start by saying that you view stress as a useful source of energy

Research done at Harvard shows that those taught to re-think stress as useful energy feel better, perform better, and suffer less ill-health effects from stress.

Share how you coped with it

Round-out your answer by sharing how you effectively cope with stress. Re-thinking stress works and is helpful, but studies suggest how we cope is still critical. Those that cope effectively with life’s inevitable hardships feel better and perform better.

So share how you cope effectively. Science suggests that physical exercise, talking with friends, and mindfulness meditation are all healthy ways to manage stress.

Kristen Fescoe

Kristen Fescoe
Clinical Program Manager, Resility Health

Regardless of how prepared you are to answer every typical interview question, there are always a couple of questions that seem extra challenging to answer the “right” way. One such question is the ever-popular “How Do You Handle Stress” question?

Give truthful answers

The best way to answer this seemingly loaded question is by being truthful. Be open about the fact that none of us can truly manage or handle their stress any better than anyone else. We can’t change the stressors in our life or minimize them. What we can do is to manage the way we react to stress.

This is why one of the best responses to the interview question “how do you handle stress” is by outlining that instead of trying to exert control over the uncontrollable, you instead manage the way you react to stress. That when you experience stress, you take a minute to reframe the way you react.

Things like slow controlled breathing, micro-breaks, and stretching are simple ways you can manage your reaction to stress.

Danielle Dellos

Danielle Dellos

Digital Marketing Manager, Dellos Marketing

I’ve had many interview questions around stress, and I’ve provided my response below:

I treat stress as a double-edged sword. Stress can be used to your advantage for the extra push needed to meet deadlines and to rise to the occasion for important events. Stress can also work against you by impacting your health when you can’t turn it off. My approach to stress is to utilize the benefits it provides while lessening the health impacts through meditation and spending time outdoors.

James Pollard

James Pollard

Host | Founder, The Advisor Coach

Accept its necessity

The best way I’ve found to answer the “How Do You Handle Stress” interview question is to say that you embrace it in the sense that you embrace muscle fatigue when working out. The only way your muscles will grow is if they are stressed. It is impossible to grow your muscles otherwise.

In the same way, you achieve growth through stress. When stress happens in your life, you know that you are growing. You experience the stress; you rest, and then growth happens.

So, while you understand that stress isn’t pleasant when it happens, it’s necessary for growth.

Darko Jacimovic

Darko Jacimovic

Co-Founder, What To Become

To answer “how do you handle stress” on a job interview, we have to understand why interviewers ask this question.

First of all, they want to make sure they’re finding the best employee for each role. And if they know some position involves a fair amount of stress, they would like to see someone who reacts to stress constructively.

If that is the case, they might avoid hiring someone who has strong reactions to stress, such as anger and sadness, but rather someone who uses pressure to deliver quality tasks or has excellent planning skills.

That’s why I would advise candidates to share a story about how they excelled in a stressful situation at work and saved the day. This will be enough for the interviewers to see they can move to pass their distress and manage it accordingly.

Reuben Yonatan

Reuben Yonatan

Founder & CEO, GetVOIP

Straightforward

Tell your interviewer exactly what you do, and be honest about it. Do you go out for a drink, smoke, or make a phone call to a loved one? Do you take a walk, meditate, or hit a racquetball against a wall for 30 minutes?

These types of questions are about cultural fit, and they are as much for your own good as they are for the company. Therefore, it behooves you to answer honestly and see if you and the interviewer think one another is a good fit.

Nate Masterson

Nate Masterson
HR Manager, Maple Holistics

Focus on your preemptive techniques

Telling the interviewer that you preemptively deal with stress and actively prevent stress by having a healthy lifestyle is the best answer. A potential employer needs to hear that you don’t wait for stress to hit and cause a negative impact on your life but simply live in a way that your mental health and physical health allow you to easily handle stress when it comes.

Prevention is a much better way of dealing with any issue than trying to come up with solutions to a problem after it has occurred. Taking time every day to meditate and doing activities that are prescribed to people who are dealing with stress will increase your ability to handle stress when it does appear.