Despite being a completely free service, a surprisingly high number of students fail to utilise their university’s career service.
- Let's talk
020 7100 8800
- Get Job Alert Emails
- CV Drop
It’s highly likely that at some point, a stressful situation will occur at work.
A potential employer will want to know then, that you can handle these kinds of situations whilst remaining productive and professional. So, alongside the more clear-cut interview questions like ‘what are your hobbies and interests?’ and ‘are you interviewing anywhere else?’, employers will often ask a question like ‘how do you handle stress?’ to gain insight into your behaviour, your personality, and how these would fit into their business.
Because it is so open-ended, this question can be a particularly difficult one to answer. So in order to work out the best approach, let’s look first of all why employers choose to ask it…
You might be surprised to know that employers don’t actually want to hear that you never feel stressed, or that you’ve never been involved in a stressful situation. Aside from the fact that it will seem like you’re being dishonest, denying that you’ve ever been stressed will leave the employer wondering how you’d react if ever you were. Realistically, everyone has experienced stress at some point in their lives. Likewise, all graduate jobs will be stressful at one time or another - so an employer will be looking for confirmation that you can handle the pressure, and have the experience to back up your statement.
Though stress is often seen as something negative, stress management is actually an incredibly valuable skill – and being able to demonstrate to an employer that you perform well under pressure will be highly impressive. By asking this question, employers are looking to see if you understand your own strengths and weaknesses, and that you’re aware of the skills the graduate job will require (i.e. if it’s a role where deadlines are essential, they’ll want validation that you can work well under pressure, manage your time effectively and turn around exceptional work to even the tightest deadlines).
In a high-pressure interview, your initial reaction when asked how you handle stressful situations might be “…you mean, like this one?”
Well… you might be on to something. Employers often use this question to gauge how you actually handle a stressful or high-pressure situation - do you remain calm and collected, or do you become flustered and try to side-step the question completely? Often, the best way for employers to find out how you act under pressure is by assessing your body language and the answer you give – so preparing your response to the question is the best thing you can do.
This may seem like an obvious statement – but drawing on past experiences is the most important thing to include in your answer. Rather than being a straightforward ‘do you’ or a ‘can you’ question, ‘how do you handle stress?’ really requires you to explain the ways you do, and provide solid evidence to back up your reply.
Think of the question, then, as ‘How have you handled stress in the past?’ – and draw on your experiences (whether at school, university, through extra-curricular activities or in previous graduate jobs) to show the employer how you have dealt with a stressful situation. You might like to use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to show them how you work in a productive and resilient way.
Saying that you don’t ever feel stressed will be a big red flag for any employer. While it might be tempting to present yourself as someone who is always calm, realistically everyone feels stressed at some point in their lives – and denying it or avoiding the question will only lead them to assume you handle it in a bad way.
Though using a situational example is important, it is possible to choose one that will be detrimental to your interview. Try to avoid anything where the stress was your fault, i.e. “I once forgot about a university deadline, and was left with one day to plan and write a 3000-word final year essay”, any example that is unprofessional, or where the outcome wasn’t a positive one. As a general rule, stick to providing evidence that happened either at school or university, or even better, in a previous job.
Though it can be a tricky one in a high-pressure graduate job interview, getting flustered will only hinder your chances of success. If the employer is looking to analyse how you actually do handle stress, getting worked up won’t indicate to them that you perform well in a demanding situation. Plus, you don’t want to throw off your performance throughout the rest of the interview – so take a deep breath and prepare to wow the employer with the answer you’ve prepared and practiced.
Generally speaking, a great way to respond to graduate job interview questions is to use situational evidence – and none more so than your answer to ‘how do you handle stress?’
So before you go into an interview, prepare your answer with an example that shows off your strengths and skill set, and confirms to the employer that you’re the best person for the job.
Read our complete guide to Interview Questions!
Get the latest industry insights straight to your inbox.