Answering the “How Do You Handle Stress?” Interview Question

Dana Guterman
Updated: July 24, 2020

Plenty of things in life are stressful, from studying for finals to running late to an appointment. And unfortunately, when you join the workforce, it doesn’t end. Sure, there will be plenty of exciting new experiences in the professional world, but there will also be new sources of stress. To determine if you’re a bundle of nerves or a model of composure, interviewers love to ask, “How do you handle stress?”

Successful candidates know how deal with stress productively and proactively. In this article, you’ll learn to show that you can stay calm, cool, and collected—no matter what the job (or the interviewer) throws at you.

How to answer “How do you handle stress?”

Your mission: Prove to the interviewer that you can hit any professional curveball out of the park. Support your response with a real-life example. And be honest, but keep things positive. If you have a hard time dealing with stress, that’s okay. Instead, focus on how you’re working to improve and why you’re still an amazing applicant. Follow these steps and you’ll be known as a master of stress management.

1. Assure the interviewer that you can handle stress.

First things first: Put the interviewer’s fears at ease by assuring them that you can handle stress with aplomb.

As a junior taking a full course load while working 20 hours a week at Coffee Time, I’m used to juggling competing priorities and dealing with shifting deadlines.

2. Follow up with a concrete example.

The STAR method is your fool-proof way to share impactful stories about your past successes. For this question, keep in mind that you should use an example where the stress came from external forces. You don’t want to talk about that time you were really stressed out because you’d forgotten you had an essay due the next day. For example:

I’ve been a part-time barista for the past three years, and my usual shift coincides with the morning rush four days a week.  A year ago, our lines had gotten so long that people were leaving before placing their orders. Everyone was upset and impatient. It was stressful.

3. Focus on the actions you took—not your emotions.

You want to focus on what you did, not how you felt. The interviewer doesn’t actually care if you get stressed out or not. Instead, they want to know that you can manage your stress, as well as stressful situations, in a productive way. After sharing your actions, be sure to state your positive impact.

After working there for two years, I knew why the line was slow: because everyone waited until they got to the front to make a decision! So, I met with our manager and suggested we reassign a team member to take orders while people wait. That way, the waiting feels more productive, and when they get to the front, they only have to pay. We’ve been doing that for 10 months now, and sales are up by six percent—and the customers are smiling.

4. End on an affirming note: you’ll bring the same skills to this role.

Spell it out: You have a track record of success when it comes to handling stress. It will extend to this role, too.

When faced with stress, I focus my efforts on constructive problem solving and communication. And that’s what I’ll do as your intern, too.


“How do you handle stress?”: Example answers


Example 1: Entry-level mechanical engineer

I don’t love stress, but it’s a part of life, so I’ve learned that the best way to handle it is by being proactive. At my last engineering internship, we were working on a huge project, and it required a lot of overtime from multiple teams. Half-way through the project, we scheduled a check-in with the other teams and realized there was a lot of overlap. I offered to put together a spreadsheet defining the various asks and their respective deadlines. Then, I assigned each one to the most-qualified person. Going forward, we agreed to schedule a weekly meeting to stay on track. It was still a big project, but by communicating and improving efficiencies, everything got done on schedule. Plus, the company decided to subscribe to a project management software going forward.

Example 2: Administrative intern

I love a challenge, so I look at stress as a healthy motivator—at least in small amounts. The second semester of my junior year, I had three finals on the same day. But rather than try to get one rescheduled, I looked at is an opportunity to really put my multitasking skills to work. It was invigorating, rather than overwhelming. During that week, I used the time-management skills I’d honed throughout high school and my first two years of college. I broke each day into three-hour studying blocks, and scheduled in an hour for yoga and an hour for each meal. I got eight hours of sleep every night. When you’re studying, you can’t waste time, so I was laser-focused. In the end, I got two A’s and a B+. When I’m faced with stress, I take control and stay focused on the outcome. I’ll do the same as your intern.


Whether it’s “How do you work under pressure?” or “How do you handle stress?”, remember that stress is a part of life—but it doesn’t have to ruin your day. By showing that you can survive and thrive under stress, you can show that you’re the best candidate for the job.