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How to Answer Interview Question: How Do You Handle Stress

Last updated by Swaminathan Iyer on May 17, 2024 at 05:18 PM | Reading time: 21 minutes

The game isn't over until the roulette wheel keeps spinning. - Wolverine

In a continually growing and developing society, it is a common occurrence among hustlers - stress

The persistent mentality to achieve the unachieved, to know more, to accomplish more - pushes mankind to its delirium. However, the burning desire can also take a heavy toll, and increasing pressure at work or home can all contribute to a disturbed state of mind, wherein you let it impede on your overall performance. 

Most corporations and organizations are burdened with work pressure, and your ability to handle strenuous situations becomes essential to your performance and that of your team and organization. This is also incidentally why many interviewees talk of a question being asked frequently in many job interviews - "How do you handle stress?"

Employers make it a point to know who they are hiring and how they can enhance his/her company's operations. The onus is on the people who can handle stress productively, plan for any possible contingency, and can be an impetus to stupendous business growth. Buckling under pressure is not something which is in the dictionary of people exhibiting such qualities. 

On the other hand, if you are someone who gets easily rattled by deadline pressure and are unable to handle stress in a productive way, you can always start learning and improving, right? 

In case you are, in fact, in the process, this blog will be a helpful guide on how to answer how do you handle stress and other stress interview questions.

Understand why the interviewer is asking the question - "How do you handle stress?"

How to answer interview questions about stress?

Tips for Giving the Best Answer to "How do You Handle Stress" interview question

How to Manage Stress during the Interview?

Tips for managing workplace stress

Understand Why the Interviewer is Asking the Question - "How do you Handle Stress?"

Jen works at a software developing company as a back-end programmer. She is usually a chirpy person, always happy to help people around, whenever she could. As any deadline approaches, she becomes focused and takes it upon herself to ensure that everything is done as per the exact client requirements. She is well accustomed to the delivery doldrums and keeps time in her schedule to double-check the work.

When you are sitting on the chair as an interviewer, it becomes almost instrumental to look for a versatile person to boost organizational growth. And this is why employers are searching for people like Jen, who can take the reins in her own hands whenever the need arises and have the capability to deliver the project on time. Stress interview questions are the perfect way to gauge such abilities.

People like Jen almost find the pressure reassuring, as it makes them plan ahead of everything which she and her team needs to do. And the kinds of people recruiters are looking to have on-board!

Which side are you on? 

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. – Mark Twain

How to Answer and How do you Handle Stress in an Interview

Kirk sees that his team member Janice is not putting any effort into finishing her task even though the deadline is approaching. This attitude annoys Kirk, and he takes it upon him to complete the task. Later, mistakes were found, and they had to do a portion of the project all over again.

The key takeaway from this example is that it is normal to get agitated when work does not go as planned, but doing it in a hurry, without proper attention, can land you in a hot soup. 

Here is a list of ways that can let you answer interview questions with ease and probably drive home with a spirited heart!

  • Make a list of your soft skills: It is only natural that you will get a how do you handle stress question and answer it in a way that will judge your ability to cope with work pressure and stress. Before you move on to answering those, it will do you a world of good if you try to make a list of your soft skills. 

These skills can include:

  1. Ability to communicate efficiently.
  2. Manage time in demanding situations. 
  3. Ability to adapt as per the circumstances. 
  4. Ability to lead whenever the need arises. 
  5. Effectively contribute to the problem-solving process. 

Add context to these skills with a relevant and impactful example. When you are looking to give examples in an interview, keep it precise and relevant to the skill you are trying to portray. The example should suffice your innate skill and how you or your team benefitted from the process. This is precisely why you are asked to describe a stressful situation and how you handled it in an interview. 

John is at an interview for a Stack Developer position, and his long wait for this field of work can finally come to an end. And, sure enough, he did not leave any stone unturned to crack the interview and went high and low to ensure he is prepared. And it paid off when his recruiter asked him how he copes with stress. He explained how he put stress to good use, communicated with people and boosted their morale before an imminent failure to meet the deadline looming up. His team ultimately managed to complete it just by the nick of time. 

  • Focus on your positive actions, not your negative feelings: Focusing on the task and channeling the pressure to enhance work quality is your primary aim. Getting bogged down by pressure is the last thing on your list, and it is something you can never allow to hamper your work.
  • Spend some time thinking about how you approach stress: Before answering an interview question on how you handle stress, it is essential for you to prepare an example beforehand, which will include the thinking approach you adopt when you are under dreary deadlines. Invest time preparing an answer of this stature, as it can be the differential factor between you and your dream job on the given day. 
  • Focus on stories and examples that communicate a moment of personal growth: When you are at an interview and get a how do you handle stress question, ready to follow up not with examples of what you did as a preschooler or a story from The Famous Five which helped you learn, but of work experience, a moment of epiphany which hit you because of achieving certain personal growth. 

Do not hold back on flaunting your A-card through examples and your success stories.

  • Don't deny your stress: When you are asked in an interview question how you handle stress, don't be in denial. Stress is a natural response to intense mental pressure, and more importantly - unavoidable. Accepting this is something you can do for starters, and then you can relay the moments that helped you achieve personal growth and allowed you to become a better team member.
  • Be prepared for follow-up questions: Follow-up questions to describe a stressful situation at work and how you handled it are fairly common in most interviews. It will be in your best interest if you opt for technical interview preparation courses and get yourself acquainted with the tricks and tips to land yourself the dream job.

If people doubt how far you will go, go so far that you can't hear them anymore. - Michele Ruiz 

Monica is working as a cyber-security specialist and looking for a better opportunity, which is more challenging, and asks for complex executions, to rattle her brain. In the interview, when she gets the all too familiar "how do you handle stress," she was already prepared with not only an appropriate answer to that, but also successfully answered the follow-up question of her stress coping mechanisms. She briefly discussed how she overcame the stress factor at her previous job and helped deliver the project on time.

The interviewer is impressed with Monica's preparedness and realizes she is an ideal candidate who can handle severe work pressure in a positive and constructive way, which convinces him to hire her for the post. 

Being ready for the moment, no matter the circumstances, and putting in every ounce of effort required even under the face of pressure is an attribute one must strive for to achieve excellence. 


It is no unknown fact that mental health plays an anchor role in your overall performance. Some tips for maintaining mental health and deal with the hurdles of life better are:

  1. Keep yourself physically healthy.
  2. Do not let anger get the better of you. Letting go is sometimes the only sane choice.
  3. Be thankful and appreciative for the moment.
  4. Never forget to take a break from the regular once in a while.
  5. Maintain proper work-life balance.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer 

To the point: Always focus on keeping your answers to the point. Avoid beating around the bush. 

Please keep it simple: Avoid using jargon. Use simple language to ensure that you can communicate your message to the interviewer without much fuss. 

Focus on your approach: You must let the employers know how you approach strenuous situations and what an ace you are when deadlines come knocking! Stress has got nothing on you when you are on a roll! 

Be honest: Keeping an honest approach is vital to make a superb first impression that will leave a mark. Employers (especially at esteemed FAANG organizations) are not looking for people who have an excuse ready at the tip of their tongue, but for people ready to take accountability when things go south.

Background check: A thorough background research of the company and its operations are crucial to prepare specific answers which can help you bag the deal. Knowing who you are going to work for, what are the specifics of the organization, etc. are a must. Answers should always be tailored as per the job role and business details for maximum traction. 

Practice, practice, and more practice: Perfection is a direct product of consistent practice. Continued efforts to achieve a flawless touch in your answers at an interview are your primary concern. There is no substitute for this process!

The more you prepare what you need to say, the more you will know what to speak!

Composure: As the deadline approaches, George gets nervous and starts making avoidable mistakes, which he will not even dream of doing in normal circumstances. The same reflects when he is at an interview too. Coping with stress is not his best forte, which forced his frequent job changes, and he failed to make any long term impression at any of his brief stints. This kept him stranded in a position he is not particularly fond of.

George's experience can easily tell us the need for the ability to maintain composure even in the direst of circumstances and pull through the storm with a calm and controlled attitude - cornerstones of a leader in the making!  

Right words: The importance of using the correct words at an interview is something one should never undermine. Committing even the smallest of errors can cost you dearly, which, of course, you can avoid with the help of using assertive words to convey your confidence and make an impression hard to forget! 

Give examples: The whole point of constructive and well-prepared answers is to convey the efficiency you have at what you do. So, if you were the interviewer, how would you know whether the interviewee is honest or not? 

The best shot to this dilemma is to provide ample examples of your tactfulness in handling demanding situations and the results it brought. Do not shy away from beating your trumpets for your skills and the cards you pulled in adverse conditions.  

The more they know, the better.

Answer to the point directly: Answering the question with concise and relevant information should be your top priority without dragging things around. Nobody has the time to listen to unrelated data that has nothing to do with the topic in question, thus blowing your chances in the process! 

Who wants that? 

Your passion is waiting for your courage to catch up. – Isabelle Lafleche

Mistakes you should avoid when answering stress interview questions

The Polish Air Force Tu-154, with 96 passengers including the Polish president Lech Kaczynski, crashed into terrain as the pilot Captain Arkadiusz Protasiuk got stressed when cloud cover obstructed his view of the runway. As a result, the plane crashed along with the government. 

Avoid saying that you don't experience stress: The prime takeaway from the above example indicates that the pilot should have conveyed the issue to the authority and informed of the danger.

In fact, it is impossible not to experience stress, even for the calmest or the hardest working folks. However, how they deal with it and let the performance flourish make the difference. Never deny in an interview that you feel stress. Instead, talk about the ways you cope with it, even in unfavorable situations.

Try not to focus too much on the emotions: Situations need to be judged on their basis and not on the emotions they inflict on you. Thus, it becomes necessary to maintain your composure while under stress and not lose your instincts. Emotions can cloud effective critical thinking ability, which is why you always need to be on your guard and not let your emotions get ahead of you. Consider your options, and make a call on the course of action subjectively. 

Choose an example that wasn't caused by you: Choosing an example caused by you is almost signing the deal with the devil. Do not expose your shortcomings in your first interview. Using an example where you are the savior is a much safer option. 

Don't mention things that could have been avoided: Do not provide any scope to the interviewer to undermine your efforts at your previous organization. Relay only those incidents which have caused considerable headache, and you came to the rescue with innovation and style.

Try not to bring up job duties as stressors: Is your job duty stressing you out? If yes, it will be in your best interest not to share this with your interviewer. Your basic duties as an employee of the organization entail your responsibilities entrusted to you, with or without stress.

Avoid saying that you "just push through it":  Just dealing with it, or just pushing through stress are exactly the answers you are not looking for when you are rattling your brains in the interview. This shows an utter lack of accountability and sincerity towards your job. The truth is, stress is an unavoidable part of the corporate package, and you either deal with it, or you do not. 

There are no two ways about it. 

People who wonder if the glass is half empty or full miss the point. The glass is refillable. - Anonymous

How to Manage Stress During the Interview

It is almost a given that you will come across wacky questions now and then in an interview, and the onus will be on you to make it through. You need to realize that your recruiter will not expect you to adopt a completely stress-free approach by learning with others. However, it is not always the approach that can earn you dividends. Before that, you must know those mistakes, and getting worked up for it acts as the perfect breeding ground for overconfidence, which none of us is looking for. 

While you are at it, here are some tips which can help you in times of distress, in an interview, or just in the walk of life:

Catch a breath: If you think you are running out of words, do not be afraid to take a breather and get yourself together. Asking questions to clarify the question, or just maybe asking to rephrase are perfect excuses to take a moment. Taking a sip of water and getting your reply ready is a technique you can always resort to. 

Boost confidence: When you are on the brink of losing the confidence you mastered, you can always benefit your thinking process by considering one thing. Although an interview is an example where your abilities are judged and scrutinized before making the final call, the same holds for you too. If you feel you are unsatisfied with the company's policies, you can always turn the job down.

It is a two-way street, and he who wins is who knows to drive better. 

In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity. – Albert Einstein

Offense is the best defense: It is a proverb from the days of yore - and it stands true today as well. How?

Prepare yourself for every kind of situation which may arise, depending on the job role. Ensure that you leave no stone unturned while preparing for the interview and be ready for whatever questions your recruiter throws at you. Being ready with the correct answer is a quality that never goes unnoticed. Coupling the right answer with relevant examples will go a long way in your career's learning curve. 

How high are you ready to climb?

Feel comfortable: If you are someone who tends to sweat it out at an interview, figuratively or literally, it is in your best interest to come in comfortable clothes. Do not cause unnecessary stress by clothing uncomfortably, making it all the more difficult for you. 

Remember to breathe, relax, and let the prepared ace in you soar without a bother! 

Not the end of the world: It is an undeniable fact that the expectation of cracking the interview overweighs the burden of stress to clear it. However, you should also remember that it is not the end of the road, and you have many miles left to go! Put every ounce of effort to count!

Don't be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart. – Roy T. Bennett

Tips for Managing Workplace Stress 

Identify your stressors: The first step to reducing stress at the workplace is identifying the stressors and the reason behind them. Once you have identified them, you can move on to discussing it with a professional or even read a self-help book to guide you on this front. 

After all, it is all about making the weakness our strength, right? 

Develop a constructive coping mechanism: Developing a healthy coping mechanism to deal with stress is instrumental to your performance. A susceptible person who immediately loses his composure under stress is not someone any recruiter is looking forward to hiring. A constructive coping mechanism, which enhances your performance as well as that of your team, is what the employers are hunting for, right?

Do you have it in you? 

Boundary management: Establishing boundaries at the workplace is integral to a healthy workplace experience. Setting work boundaries, like not getting involved in any unnecessary or unsavory discussion with no intrinsic value, should be inculcated in your system. Working with dedication and unrelenting efforts is your only aim if you plan to be successful at what you do. 

Take time off: While it is important to work hard, it is equally essential to give yourself a break now and then to refresh your coding brain cells, which have worked meticulously throughout the week. Talking to friends, planning a weekend trip, etc. are all great examples of stress-busters, which can enhance your work performance in the bigger picture. 

Eliminate interruptions: Social media is the way of life in the 21st century. Simultaneously, it is also the source of interruptions at your workplace. Constant urge to check notifications or socialize with a friend online contribute heavily to an effective workflow. Eliminating these distractions will always be instrumental to improved performance. 

Schedule your day beforehand: Scheduling your day ahead is one of the most preferred techniques to negate workplace stress. Knowing early on what you need to do and managing the day's time and activities accordingly is an irrefutable factor of a peaceful work environment and experience.  

Nothing will work unless you do. - Maya Angelou

Be proactive: Being proactive, rather than being reactive, is one of the few things which can help you ease your stress at the workplace. Instead of waiting to be told what to do, take action to know your task, and be on it right away. Time pressure is one of the prime reasons for stress in any workplace. 

Healthy lifestyle: Healthy lifestyle is integral to maintaining a healthy mental approach and effective critical thinking. A sound sleep, a nutritious diet, and adequate time away from work are crucial to keeping yourself in optimum condition for superlative work performance.  

Prioritize activities: Prioritize your daily activities and the order you want to maintain while completing the tasks and stick to it. Do not overburden yourself with a hectic schedule which you will have trouble meeting yourself.

Self-imposed stress: Avoid self-imposed stress as much as you can. Try to work on yourself and where you think you are lacking. Do not pay too much heed to what others have to say when criticizing you for no apparent reason. 

In the end, it is all about maintaining your mental health at its best, one of the prerequisites to consistent performance. Stress at the workplace has an undeniable presence, which you must handle in a way beneficial for both yourself and your organization. This makes it a common interest among recruiters to gauge your ability to perform when you are running out of favors and options. 

And that makes all the difference.


Swaminathan Iyer

Product @ Interview Kickstart | Ex | Business Management - XLRI Jamshedpur. Loves building things and burning pizzas!

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