Answering the “How Do You Work Under Pressure?” Interview Question

Dana Guterman
Updated: June 16, 2023

After reading this article, you’ll:

  • Understand why interviewers ask the question, “How do you work under pressure?”, and recognize its importance in demonstrating your potential to manage stress in a professional setting.
  • Learn how to construct a strong, credible, and positive response that not only acknowledges the reality of workplace stress, but also showcases your strategies for handling it effectively.
  • Be equipped with examples of what to say and what not to say, allowing you to avoid common pitfalls and increase your chances of making a favorable impression on your potential employer.

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

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.


“How do you work under pressure?” sample answers

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:

Honestly, I’m someone who thrives under pressure. At the end of last semester, I had four papers due on the same day. It was a lot to get through. But pressure invigorates me—rather than getting overwhelmed and stressed out, my adrenaline kicks in, and I feel energized. During that hectic week, I busted out my time-management skills, broke each day into three-hour working blocks, and was laser-focused on those four papers. I knew I had to get them done, and done well, so nothing else mattered. I got them all in on time, and I got three A’s and a B. When I’m under pressure, I take control, stay positive, and move forward. I’ll do the same as your intern.

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:

Working in a high-pressure environment can be stressful, but I’ve learned to cope with stress in a healthy, productive way. Last year, I took an organic chemistry that was notoriously high-pressure. It was tons of reading and work, and it was hard. My whole class was overwhelmed. But I knew I had to pass the class, and I wanted to succeed, so I met with a school counselor. He gave me some great stress-management techniques. I started doing yoga three times a week. This really focused me and allowed me to put everything in perspective. Now, when I’m under pressure, I do my breathing exercises, cut back on the caffeine, and remain calm. I passed organic chemistry with an A-. If I’m under pressure at work, I know how to make it work.

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:

Back in high school, working under pressure was really hard for me. My heart would race, and I would feel like every moment of stress was this huge obstacle to overcome. I wanted to get better at functioning under pressure, so two years ago, I read, Stress: The Psychology of Managing Pressure. It was a great book, and it taught me a ton about adjusting my mindset and coping with stress. Now, pressure motivates instead of impedes me. I’m currently working a part-time job and taking a full course load, plus I’m captain of the swim team. That’s a lot of pressure, but I break each day into doable tasks, tackle them one at a time, and think of it as a fun challenge. No matter what happens, I’m ready for it.

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.


What not to say

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?”

  1. “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.
  2. 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’.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!


In other words: “How do you work 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?


A word about managing stress

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: