How do you handle pressure and stress?

  | James Innes

How do you handle pressure and stress?

Alternative and related questions:

Can you tell me about a time when you were under significant pressure and how you handled that?
Do you thrive under pressure?
How do you cope with the numerous conflicting demands on your time?
What causes you stress at work and why?

The meaning behind the question:

The ability to cope with pressure and stress is essential in almost all walks of life, whether you’re working checkout at the supermarket or heading up a major corporation. Pressure and stress are unavoidable aspects of the world we live in. The interviewer will be looking to identify:

  • That you recognise that pressure and stress are facts of life
  • That you understand the effect pressure and stress has on you
  • That you are sufficiently robust to be able to take them in your stride

Your answer:

Because of the variety of ways in which an interviewer can question you on this topic, it’s important that you fully understand what the difference is between pressure and stress – because many people use the two terms interchangeably.

Being under pressure is a matter of having significant demands made of you – being challenged to achieve something which is either difficult to achieve in and of itself or difficult to achieve within the timeframe that has been set. Pressure is largely a positive force and a motivating factor for many people.

Stress, on the other hand, is not so positive. Stress occurs when the pressure you are under exceeds your ability to effectively meet the demands being made of you. Stress is essentially what an individual experiences when exposed to excessive pressure – and long-term stress can cause all sorts of problems.

I am sure that everyone reading this book will, at some stage in their lives, have experienced pressure and stress and know exactly what it’s like.

The key to formulating your answer to this question is to seize this as an opportunity to talk about a situation or an occasion where you were under pressure – and you how rose to the challenge. Try to avoid talking about an occasion when you were totally stressed out – but do acknowledge that you understand stress and are able to deal with it appropriately.

Avoid conveying the impression that the fact you were under pressure was in any way your own fault – or due to your own personal failings. Place the ‘blame’ firmly on external factors outside of your control.

Different lines of work are of course subject to different levels of pressure and stress and this will have a bearing on how precisely you phrase your answer.


Working for a small start-up company the past few years has naturally been quite a high pressure experience on occasion. I’ve had to deal with numerous conflicting demands on my time – and often very limited resources. With careful planning and organisation you can normally reduce the pressure you are under – but there will always be factors at play which are outside of your control. Personally, while it makes a nice break to have a few pressure-free days, I generally thrive under pressure. I use it to help channel my energies into accomplishing as much as possible. Naturally, there are sometimes occasions when the pressure I’m put under is excessive and this can be stressful. However, I’m sufficiently experienced to appreciate that there is only so much you can reasonably be expected to be capable of and the solution is not to panic but to remain focused on delivering your very best.

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