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During this episode, I show you how to convincingly answer the question, “How do you handle stress?” and prepare an example that demonstrates your ability to stay calm under pressure.
Hi, and welcome to today’s episode, which is about answering the interview question, “How do you handle stress?” With this question, the interviewer wants to assess if you stay calm and perform well when under pressure, and they also want to determine if you will thrive in a high-paced environment. Your answer should cover how you cope with work-related stress in general and also include a specific example that demonstrates your ability to deliver great results in stressful situations. I will now show you 4 simple steps to help formulate a convincing answer to help you stick out from the other candidates.
Step 1: Choose your perspective
Many have mainly negative associations with stress, like feeling overwhelmed or not being in control, making it difficult to answer this question positively. Choosing a more optimistic perspective may enable you to formulate a better answer and literally allow you not to appear stressed when asked how you handle stress. So, try to identify a couple of positive aspects instead; perhaps it motivates you to work in a high-paced environment and have several balls in the air. Or maybe tight deadlines help you be more focused, better prioritize your tasks and get things done quicker. Or, working under pressure may have improved team building in one of your previous projects.
Step 2: Identify your stress-management skills
Think about the last couple of years of your career and make a list of stressful situations you managed successfully. If you are a student, focus on stressful coursework, internships or other projects you have handled well. Then, review your list and identify 2-3 skills or strengths that enabled you to succeed in these situations. This might, for example, be prioritization or time-management skills, a capacity to stay calm and positive under pressure or an ability to focus on the task at hand without being distracted by stress. Think also about what you do to handle pressure mentally, like exercise, meditation or other stress-reducing activities.
Step 3: Examples
Combine the results of the previous two steps into a compelling answer and finish by offering to give an example of a situation where you successfully handled stress. For instance, “I am used to working under pressure and regularly going to the gym is a great stress reducer. Also, a healthy amount of pressure, like tight deadlines, help me be more focused, prioritize my tasks better and get things done faster. And my strong organizational and problem-solving skills, paired with my ability to keep myself and the people around me calm and motivated, have proven to be great assets in stressful situations. May I give you an example of how I handled these kinds of situations in the past?”
Step 4: Prepare your example
Pick an example of a stressful situation that you successfully handled and which ideally led to quantifiable business results. Don’t choose one where the stress factor was caused by you; for instance, because you realized too late that you had to deliver something. Describe the situation and your task in 1-2 sentences. Stick to the facts without being judgmental. Don’t blame others for having caused the stressful circumstances and, instead, objectively explain what happened. Then, focus on the actions you took to handle the situation. Cover, for instance, how you prioritized your tasks, analyzed the problem, identified the best solutions, and communicated with concerned stakeholders. Finally, describe the results and quantify them if possible.
For instance, a good example could be, “Last summer, when I worked as a sales specialist at company X, one of our account teams pitched to one of our strategic clients the largest regional project we have ever done. My colleague, who was responsible for presenting the pitch, became sick the day before meeting with the client, and the account manager asked me to step in. First, I went through my to-do list and re-prioritized my tasks to ensure I wouldn’t fall behind with my other commitments. I re-scheduled the meetings I already had on my calendar and asked one of my colleagues to help me finish a report I had to submit. Then, I spent the day catching up with the other people on the bid team and finalizing the presentation, which I presented to the customer on the next day. The client accepted our proposal, and I got a lot of praise from the account manager for stepping in at very short notice and keeping calm despite the extremely high stakes. And even with the 2 days of work that came unexpectedly, I still managed to finish my other tasks without causing any delays.”
These were the 4 steps to answering the question, “How do you handle stress?” Thanks for listening, and I hope this was helpful to you.