Answering the “How Do You Work Under Pressure?” Interview Question
Life can be stressful. In most cases, that stress isn’t fun, but it’s manageable. Your adrenaline kicks in, you push through, and you move on. When you join the professional world, you’ll encounter plenty of high-pressure situations, both familiar and foreign. How you deal with both routine and unexpected stress says a lot about whether or not you’ll succeed in your new role. That’s why interviewers love to ask, “How do you work under pressure?”
Today, we’ll show you how to prove to potential employers that you’ll hit every professional curveball out of the park. By the end, you’ll be able to survive, and even thrive, under pressure.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- The basics of a great response
- “How do you work under pressure?” sample answers
- What not to say
- In other words: “How do you work under pressure?”
- A word about managing stress
Obviously, you don’t want to tell the interviewer that work pressure causes you to curl up in a fetal position under your desk. (And if that’s the case, we suggest using some of the stress management techniques at the end of this article.) While there are many ways to handle pressure, this is your only chance to interview for this internship or job. Here’s the basic structure for a great response:
- Assure the interviewer that you can handle pressure.
- Be honest, but stay positive. If you struggle under pressure, that’s okay. Focus on how you’re working to improve and why you’re still a strong candidate.
- Follow up with a concrete example of when you successfully handled stress in the past.
- End on an affirming note: you’ll bring the same skills to this role.
Remember: your interviewer doesn’t want a five-word response. “I work well under pressure” does nothing for them—or you. They also don’t really care if you dislike working under pressure; they just want to know that you can manage it. When you respond, your goal is to show them not only that you work well under pressure, but that you have a track record of success that will extend to this role. The best way to do that is by using the STAR method to share a specific example, including the methods you use(d) to manage stress. Here’s an example for a current student seeking an internship:
If you work well under pressure, this is a great answer: it’s clear, enthusiastic, and specific. But what if you’re not so keen on high-stress situations? Check out this example for a biology major:
It’s important to be honest in your response—but you also need to prove that you can work under pressure regardless. If you don’t work well under pressure, focus your answer on how you’re improving. You want to turn a negative into a positive, just as you’d do when asked, “What’s your greatest weakness?” By sharing your process for managing stress with the interviewer, it will show them that you’re both honest and serious about succeeding. Here’s one more example that highlights growth:
By showing that you can grow and change for the better, you’re showing the interviewer more than that you work well under pressure. You’re showing them that you’re flexible, self-aware, and organized, too.
You understand why employers ask this popular question, as well as what a strong response looks like. But before you get interviewing, it’s important to know what not to say, too. Here are some common mistakes candidates make when answering, “How do you work under pressure?”
- “I never get stressed.” Yes, you do, and saying you never get stressed will come across as disingenuous. If you love working under pressure, that’s great. State that pressure impacts you in a positive way, and then support your response with specifics.
- Not tailoring your response to the job at hand. You need to keep the end game in mind at all times. If you’re interviewing for a project management role, don’t say that managing multiple projects is stressful for you. If you’re hoping to intern at Starbucks, don’t mention that you cut out caffeine when the pressure’s on. And if you’re interviewing for a manager role, don’t say, “I delegate.” Managing your own stress doesn’t mean adding to others’.
- Being too honest. Not everyone thrives under pressure—and that’s okay. But there is such a thing as being too honest. If you crumble under pressure, don’t say that. Instead, focus on how you deal with stress—and how you’ll continue to improve—rather than how it makes you feel.
- Sharing an example in which you created the pressure. When you discuss your past experiences working under pressure, the pressure itself should come from outside forces. You don’t want a potential employer thinking that you create your own stress—or worse, that you might stress out your colleagues.
- Feeling the interview pressure. Body language and eye contact are always important during an interview, but for this question, confidence and active listening are essential. If you’re stressed out during the interview, there’s no way they’ll believe that you work well under pressure!
There’s more than one way to ask “How do you work under pressure?” If your interviewer asks any of the following questions, you can use the tools above to assure them that you won’t buckle under the stress. The interviewer might also ask:
- How do you handle stress?
- What’s the most stressful situation you’ve faced at work?
- Do you work well under pressure?
- Tell me about a time when you were overwhelmed at work. How did you handle it?
- Describe a stressful situation and how you handled it.
- Is stress ever a good thing? How so?
Interview questions aside, applying to schools, internships, and/or jobs can be pretty darn stressful—and studies show that workplace stress just continues to rise. There are plenty of resources out there for coping with and managing your stress levels, so if you’re feeling the pressure, take this opportunity to practice self-care. A few tips to get you started:
- Many schools offer free counseling for students. Counselors are trained to help students during difficult times—plus they’re great listeners.
- Sweat it out. Exercise releases endorphins and forces your brain to take a break. A brisk walk might be your ticket to relieving some of that pressure.
- Be kind to yourself, whether that’s carving out time to play your favorite video game, treating yourself to a fancy latte, or just reminding yourself why you’re awesome.
- Yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, affirmations, journaling … try different relaxation techniques until you find one that works.
- Talk to friends and family. Sharing with others can be cathartic, and it will make you feel less alone.
- Get some rest. Exhaustion only makes stress worse, so aim for eight or more hours a night.
Practice your responses and reduce your stress. Before you know it, you’ll be able to honestly state, “I work well under pressure.”
Check out our other interview question articles. Learn how to answer: