How To Answer “How Do You Handle Stress?” (Example Answers)

By Mike Simpson

When it comes right down to it, interviews are phenomenally stressful.

You’re potentially competing with hundreds, if not thousands of other qualified applicants for the position. The question is, how do you handle stress in that situation?

You’re meeting with people you’ve never met before in, answering questions that are specifically designed to psychologically analyze you, and to make matters worse, odds are you’re wearing clothes you’re not totally comfortable in.

Sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon, right?

Hopefully you’re handling all this pressure gracefully and are answering all the questions with a smile, looking the interviewer in the eye and remembering your STAR method for answering behavioral interview questions (which, if you didn’t know, are some of the most stress-inducing questions you could be asked).

So, when an interviewer asks you “How do you handle stress,” your first response might be to laugh bitterly, open your arms up wide and respond with “You tell me! I’m here, aren’t I?”

Of course, you’re smarter than that and while the above scenario is so tempting, there are much better ways to answer this question, and I guarantee that none of them use sarcasm.

But before we get to how to answer the question, we need to look at why the interviewer is asking it in the first place.

While it might feel as though this question is an attempt by the interviewer to play on your already frazzled nerves, there’s a very good reason they’re asking you how you handle stress.

Work is stressful and regardless of what your job is, at some point in everyone’s life, a little stress (or a lot, depending) is going to come your way and an employer wants to know if you’re the kind of person who is going to be able to handle that stress professionally, or if you’re going to end up crumbling like a stale cookie.

Now before we teach you how NOT to answer this question about stress, we wanted to let you know that we’ve designed a free cheat sheet that will not only help you answer this question, but will also give you word-for-word answers for some of the toughest interview questions you are going to face in your upcoming interview.

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How NOT to Answer “How Do You Handle Stress?”

“Stress? Never experienced it.”

As we said, an interviewer wants to hire someone they know will be reliable when things get tough but playing the emotionless robot card isn’t going to win you any points.

Besides, everyone experiences stress, so saying you don’t just means you’re lying and nobody wants to hire a liar.

“Stress just motivates me to work harder.”

While this might seem like the right answer, it’s not. Hiring someone who is convinced they need to solve every problem themselves means they might not realize at some point that their problem is too big to handle alone.

A lone wolf employee might end up waiting too long to bring in additional help resulting in a problem that could have been solved much earlier and cheaper blowing up into something much bigger and much more expensive.

“I remove myself from the situation, take time to look at it from all angles, and then attack whatever is causing me stress in the most efficient way.”

Another ‘sounds like it should be right…but it’s not!’ answer.

In this case, you’re telling the hiring manager that when things get tough…you leave. And yes, we know you said you come back after you’ve formulated your plan of attack, but still…we can’t get past the part where you walk away for an unknown amount of time.

“Dude, I don’t know about you, but I like to unwind by grabbing a beer and just feeling the mellow wash over me after work.”

All we’re going to say is…there’s a thing called oversharing.

Mike's Tip: On a side note, it’s always a good idea to check out the company policy on recreational drug and alcohol use, especially if you’re working in a job that involves heavy machinery and/or company mandated drug screening before going in for an interview if you feel there might be any conflicts with what you do in your off time.

Ultimately an employer isn’t going to be interested in a potential hire who they think might react negatively in a stressful situation. Beyond just our previous examples of the robot, the lone wolf, the disappearing employee and the Dude, hiring managers are going to avoid anyone who handles stress in a negative way including:

The angry stresser: When stressed out, this employee gets angry and takes it out on everyone around them.

The sad sack: This employee is the opposite of the angry stresser. Instead of anger, they descend into depression, even to the point of full withdrawal.

The shut-down: Stress for this employee is a bit like hitting the power button. A shu