Job Interview Question

How do you deal with stressful situations?

How To Answer Interview Questions Series

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If I got asked about how I deal with stressful situations, the first thing that would pop into my head is, “You mean like this one?”

As if you didn’t know, job interviews are very, very stressful. The way you calm your nerves is by recognizing that it’s going to be stressful, preparing for the interview as much as possible, and taking a few deep relaxing breaths before you start.

But now is not the time to make that joke. My philosophy is ‘never let them see you sweat.’

This ‘stressful situations’ question is a legitimate job interview question. Who doesn’t have stress? Every job is going to have some time when you are going to feel overwhelmed and stressed out. They’d like to know that you are going to react in a calm, rational fashion instead of erupting into a temper tantrum, screaming, hiding, or something else that would either alienate your co-workers or be otherwise unproductive.  Stress management is a valuable skill.

‘How do you deal with stressful situations’ is a more generalized version of ‘Tell me about a time you found yourself in a stressful situation and how you resolved it.’ Both are behavioral interview questions. If you get the ‘Tell me about a time…” version, you absolutely should have a story to tell. I always recommend using the STAR method (Situation or Task, Action, Result) to answer it—it keeps you from rambling off topic and makes sure you hit the most critical aspects of the story.

If you get the more generalized question about dealing with stressful situations, you have a little more leeway to talk about your overall approach to handling stress, but always keep in mind that you’re talking about work. Keep it professional and always bring it back to the story (and the accomplishment):

“If a situation seems overwhelming, I mentally break it up into smaller steps, or doable goals, and just focus on reaching each one on the way to accomplishing the larger task. In fact, that’s what I did with XYZ project. We had a major issue with X problem, but I broke it down into ‘what needs to happen first,’ and concentrated on one step at a time. I was able to see more solutions to the larger problem, and in fact, we got the entire project done in record time.”

Or, “I find it best do concentrate on remaining calm, maybe taking a few deep breaths. When I run into a customer who’s upset, it helps them to calm down if I’m calm and we can work together to resolve the situation.”

Above all, choose an answer that shows that you can meet a stressful situation head-on in a productive, positive manner and let nothing stop you from accomplishing your goals.


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