Hiring managers use job interviews to get to know who a candidate is, what their strengths are, and, perhaps most importantly, how they’d perform in the environment and role at hand.
One telling interview question that may help them figure out all of the above is: “How do you work under pressure?”
Of course, your words and actions throughout the interview itself may tell them what they need to know, but you’ll still want to have a strong, impressive response ready to go.
Here are a few dos and don’ts for answering the common (but sometimes tricky) “How do you work under pressure?” question:
Don’t give the short, easy answer.
The first thing you should know is that while the interviewer ultimately wants to figure out whether you’re the type who’ll fold or thrive in a stressful situation—they also want to hear about your process.
When asked “How do you work under pressure?” you shouldn’t just say, “Oh, pressure doesn’t get to me! I deal with it well.” Instead, offer a specific example of an instance in which you had to work under pressure, and explain the strategies you employed to successfully get through it. Essentially, you want to show, rather than tell, how you handle pressure at work.
But remember this: When giving examples, try to focus on situations in which you were under pressure from outside forces rather than your own doing. And don’t talk about a time where you felt pressured and ultimately didn’t succeed!
Don’t freeze up.
As mentioned earlier, how you act and what you say during the interview may tell the interviewer what they need to know about how you handle high pressure situations. So, it’s important to stay cool, calm, and collected during the interview, especially while answering this question.
Don’t let the pressure of a tough interview question get the best of you! Freezing up while the topic of “how you handle pressure” is top of mind wouldn’t be great—especially if you’re verbally telling them you handle it well. (They may start to question how honest your other responses were if they have reason to believe you’re fibbing your way through this one.) Do your best to let your actions prove what you’re claiming.
Always be honest.
Don’t just tell the hiring manager what you think he or she wants to hear. Most interviewers will pick up on that and it likely won’t bode well for you. Instead, figure out a way to focus on the positives. For example, if the truth is you don’t deal well with pressure, explain how you’re working on this issue. They’ll appreciate the honestly and your willingness to acknowledge a weakness or area in need of improvement.
And if the truth is that you do thrive under pressure, you still won’t want to say that you “never get stressed at all.” This simply is not a believable answer because everyone feels pressured at times.
Discuss your “relationship” with pressure.
Other things to touch on when responding to this question are your relationship with, and how you view pressure. This will help give the hiring manager a better idea of your personality, attitude, and story.
For instance, if you think of pressure as a form of motivation rather than an obstacle, tell them! They’ll likely be very happy to hear it, and it’ll show that you have a positive outlook and the confidence and drive to work through tough situations. Again, offer specific examples of scenarios in which pressure helped you achieve success.
As far as your relationship goes, discuss your history with pressure and how far you’ve come (if you’ve made progress, of course!). For example, if back in high school you didn’t perform well under pressure but you do now, explain how and when you turned that corner. Hiring managers like to hear about your journey, and this is a great opportunity to walk them through at least part of it.
Here are a few great sample answers to the “How do you work under pressure?” question. Use these sample answers to get ideas on how to prep an answer of your own.
“I actually find that I do my best work when under pressure. I enjoy undertaking challenging assignments and finding creative solutions. One time I had two projects that were due the same week. Instead of stressing out, I created a detailed schedule that allowed me to complete both assignments on time.”
“Pressure hasn’t always been my friend, to be honest, but I know it’s part of work and life, and I’ve actually figured out ways to not only deal with it, but use it as motivation rather than an excuse for throwing in the towel. Some of the effective tactics I’ve started using are A, B, and C. I’ve really noticed a great deal of improvement in how I work under pressure, and I’m now able to maintain a more positive attitude when stressful situations arise!”
“I tend to thrive under pressure because it forces me to really focus on what I’m doing, assess my priorities, and come up with a plan. Rather than quickly reacting, I try to stop and collect my thoughts, remain calm, and envision a positive outcome.
For instance, in my last job, my boss told me I had 24 hours to create a presentation that I’d have to present to our CEO. I could have easily panicked—or jumped right in without taking the time to really think my plan through, which would have caused me to panic later! But instead, I took a few hours to clear my mind and came up with a plan of attack. The next day, I presented to our CEO and felt great about the work I had done, which allowed me to remain calm during the presentation. It’s certainly not always easy to perform well under pressure, but I’m happy to say I’ve found what works for me!”