If you are interviewing for a job, you are probably going to get the “stress” question at some point. The simple truth is this. If you can’t work under pressure, you won’t get the job. If it comes up in a job or promotion interview, there’s a reason you’re asked this question.
Consider that the recruiter is doing you a kindness by telling you if a job is stressful. It’s useful to prepare by developing a story, rather than a series of pronouncements about how great you are under pressure. You’ll need to formulate a story (or two) that shows how much experience you have working or managing under difficult conditions.
If you’re not ready for the question? You’ll feel anxious just attempting to answer it. So, be prepared.
TIP: The most profound way to respond to this question is to thank the recruiter for asking it. Then, preempt their next question. The predictable follow-up is “give me an example.” Jump on it unprompted, to showcase just how stress proof you are (if you are).
Here’s an example of a great response.
Recruiter: “How do you function under stressful conditions?”
YOU: “Thank you for asking. I’d like to share an example with you. Just two weeks ago, a client of our firm called with a really urgent problem. She had given us the wrong date for her upcoming trade show. The show was actually a month earlier than she previously communicated. I reassured her that we would have some materials for her without a doubt, and that I’d see what changes needed to be made in order to meet her new deadline. I called it a “new” deadline – to make sure she didn’t feel embarrassed. Also, I made sure I didn’t over promise what we could deliver. Then, I immediately began calling colleagues and vendors to make changes in the project management schedule. Turns out I needed to change the complexity of some of the communication pieces or have her pay rush charges. But all the vendors were pretty good about helping out. When I gave her the choice, the client chose to pay more to get everything done perfectly. So, I put in some extra hours each day and worked through one weekend to get it done. Sure it was stressful but I was really proud to make the event perfect – as if nothing had gone wrong. Plus, we actually made a bit more profit on the job.”
Do you see how the example showed that you handled stress well – without seeming false or self-serving?
The other quality you showcase in this answer is that you didn’t give away the extra work for free. You gave the client a choice to pay more – and that means you understand that making revenue is a business goal. You were also respectful to the client and to your vendors. How good is that for your personal brand?
Stories create memories about you; proclamations don’t. Your personal brand is built by knowing who you are and being able to tell stories that showcase these qualities.
Even if you don’t have a story that directly relates to work or this job in particular, certainly you have a story about managing something under pressure. Your story could be a research report with a tight deadline from a professor or a volunteer event where someone wasn’t able to handle their responsibility but you pitched in to make it happen.
I’d love to hear your stress story – and how you aced it.