How to answer interview question “What stresses you out?”

How to answer interview question “What stresses you out?”

When it comes to stress in the workplace, most employees would like to think that they’re more than capable of handling any demanding situation when the pressure’s on. But the fact of the matter is that interviews themselves can be a nerve-wracking experience.

Hence, when the hiring manager asks how you deal with stress, it’s good to have a professional response ready that demonstrates your self-awareness, problem-solving skills and ability to stay motivated.

Why are they asking you this in the first place? Stress is an inherent part of work life. The hiring manager wants to know how you handle these types of conditions, as well as how your reaction may potentially affect co-workers – and the company as a whole.


How to Respond

  1. Tell a story – Be specific in recalling those stressful moments that you can identify as a time of personal growth. The more genuine detail you can provide, the better it will help the hiring manager understand how you turned that respective situation into a positive.
  2. Discuss the how, not the what – Be forthcoming about how you mentally manage stress whenever it arises. Maintaining a healthy routine, practicing mindfulness or participating in physical activity (for example) are all things that can help you stay calm and balanced. Whatever that means to you, discussing it with the hiring manager is completely acceptable.
  3. Be authentic – No matter how you choose to take on this line of questioning, it’s always far better to be genuine than perfect. The hiring manager will probably be able to sense your dishonesty; and should you get the job, it might come back to bite you. No matter how you decide to craft your response, the worst thing you can do is lie.
  4. Focus on success – Most professional workplaces can be hectic from time to time. If you’re applying for a job that has the potential to carry a higher level of stress, be sure to let the hiring manager know that you’re accustomed to performing in such an environment and how you’ve succeeded despite the circumstances.
  5. Pay attention to the end result – Demonstrating your ability to focus on the ultimate objective tells the manager a lot about how you perform under pressure. For example, rather than seeing an impending deadline as a looming stressor, discuss how you see it as a motivator through which to meet the professional goal at hand. If you happen to be working in a team setting, you could even elaborate on how you use this mentality to keep everyone else motivated, as well. Please take a moment to also refer to Answering Behavioral Interview Questions using the STAR Method.


How Not to Respond

  1. Denial – Telling the hiring manager that you don’t get stressed out isn’t optimal. While on the surface this might make you seem capable of handling any workplace task, to the hiring manager it could create the impression that you simply lack self-awareness. No one wants to hire an employee who can’t see their own weaknesses. We discuss this point in-depth in the article “What is your greatest weakness?”.
  2. Being too general – i.e. “I manage the team somehow.” This response can come off as too laidback. It makes you sound unable to anticipate potential problems, and also gives the hiring manager no solid indication as to how you’d deal with them.
  3. Passing off the problem – There is certainly a time and a place to discuss your ability and willingness to delegate, but this isn’t the moment to do so. The hiring manager isn’t going to want to bring someone on who fills up their plate with too many tasks, only to alleviate stress by assigning those tasks to other team members.
  4. Refusing to acknowledge the situation – Telling the hiring manager that you don’t think about stress – or just work through it when the problem arises – generally doesn’t make you sound like a hard worker. Rather, it can pigeonhole you as a poor communicator who could burn out far too quickly.
  5. Starting with a negative – A response that begins, “I was really stressed at my last job when…” has the potential to paint an undesirable picture in the mind of the hiring manager. Even if you ultimately work it into a positive, there are far better ways to begin constructing a narrative.
  6. Using stress as a motivator – Creating the impression that you’re powered by stressful situations makes it sound like you don’t have the ability to diffuse potential problems. In this situation, you don’t want the hiring manager to think that you’d prefer to let the stress accumulate rather than find a way to fix the issue at hand.
  7. Stepping away – No matter the industry, every employee occasionally needs to take a step back and reassess the situation. However, be careful not to make it sound as if when the going gets tough, you leave.


Sample Responses to Get You Started

“Stress at work or in one’s personal life is very common in today’s world. There are several situations that can stress me out, such as: unexpected issues discovered during an audit, our core developer resigning weeks prior to implementation, my daughter’s stage performance, and so on. What is important is not what stresses me out but how I manage it. I practice meditation, mindfulness, physical exercise and sports to help me stay balanced and calm so I can bring positive solutions to stressful situations.”


“As a people manager, being tasked with handling stressful situations has taught me a lot about the value of communication. Whenever a stressful situation arises that affects the team as a whole, I seek them out individually and listen to their respective concerns. Last year, a project had been divided up amongst several team members, but it was soon brought to my attention that productivity had slowed to a crawl and people were beginning to worry about making their deadline. Only after discussing the issue with individual team members did I discover that one employee had simply been overloaded with responsibility and didn’t want to tell anyone. With some help, we got the project back on track. Especially when things get tough, having an open line of communication is of the utmost importance.”


Next Steps?

Do you feel prepared to answer tough interview questions? ProViso Consulting is a professional staffing agency, here to support your career success! Our expert team can help guide you through commonly asked interview questions. View IT jobs in Toronto now.

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