Interview Tips

How to Answer: Tell Me About How You Handled a Stressful Situation

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By: Emily Totura
May 2, 2020 • 6 min read
Image Credits: Photo by kyryll ushakov on Unsplash

How to Answer:

Tell me about a time you handled a stressful situation at work.

You know the feeling of being overwhelmed and stressed out, whether in school, work, or with pretty much anything. We all have! Continuing with our How To Answer series, we’re covering ‘tell me about a time you handled a stressful situation at work.’ Your interviewer might ask you this because they want to know how you handle challenges. Since you will likely experience some sort of stress in the job you are applying for, your potential employers want to know what you do when facing this type of challenge. After all, your behavior will impact your work, your coworkers, and the company!

Reflect on Challenges

It’s time to brainstorm. There are a few things you should keep in mind when trying to answer this question. Your interviewer wants to know if you will be able to handle the position you are applying for. You need to think about two things in particular.  First, the job description. What will your role be like? Think of some challenges you might face at this new job. Second, think of a similar challenge you faced in another situation.

Your response does not have to be one where you solved a big problem or saved the day – it can be a simple situation in which there was a positive outcome as a result of your actions. Maybe you worked at a retail store and one day there weren’t enough employees scheduled, or maybe you were working on a group project for school and your partner was not contributing. Here’s an example:

Recently, I was working as a cashier at Whole Foods. A customer put in a catering order, but for some reason, the order came in late. The customer came to pick up the order but it wasn’t ready. I had to quickly figure out how to assure the customer while getting someone to prepare her order. We ended up giving her a discount on her order, and she was very satisfied with our service. Even though it was a stressful situation, I had to act quickly and make sure we didn’t lose her business. 

What (Not) To Do:

Let’s talk about some good, and not so good things to do when answering this question.

If you are not great at coping with stress, you should not say that explicitly. Instead, you can talk about how you do not view stress as something bad, but rather something that you learn from each time. As long as you are honest, you can find a way to frame your skills positively. For example, “I’ve found myself in many stressful situations in the past, but it has always been something that motivates me to get my work done, stay proactive, and productive.” This will impress your employer as they want someone who looks at problems as challenges to overcome, not roadblocks.

You should always give an example. If you simply describe your skills to an employer, they are likely not going to remember what you said. People remember stories better than facts. Also, it is much more believable when you share a story about your skills, rather than just talking about them. The best thing you can do is talk about what you learned from your experience.

Example:

I have learned a lot from previous experience in stressful situations. They motivate me to be productive and stay on task. One experience that I remember was when I ended up having 4 exams in one week. It was extremely stressful, but I knew that I had to do them, so I learned how to manage my time much more efficiently. Stressful situations help me learn new things.

Final tips

Avoid saying anything like “stress doesn’t affect me” because even though you might think this sounds great to an interviewer, it doesn’t. Stress is inevitable in the workplace, and it should motivate you to do better. If stress doesn’t affect you, an employer might see you as unmotivated! It is also a good rule to keep emotions and blame out of your response. Focus on how YOU handled this moment, and why what skills YOU gained. Finally, try to pick a situation where you weren’t the cause of the problem. For instance, don’t mention the time that you didn’t do research on your work project and ended up delivering something late to your team.

There’s no perfect way to handle stress, and everyone has different methods and techniques to overcome it. As long as you are positive and demonstrate what you learned from your stressful experience, your interviewer will be satisfied with your answer.

How have you handled stressful situations in the past? Let us know! Follow us on LinkedIn to help grow your network, and learn more about our tips!

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