How to Answer “How Well Do You Work under Pressure?”

Your answer can make or break your chances of landing the job.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

How to Answer ‘How Well Do You Work Under Pressure?’ concept

Job interviews aren’t exactly what you’d call a barrel of laughs. They can be stressful and uncomfortable to say the least, though a necessary evil if you want to land yourself a job and a steady income.

They can often feel like you’re being interrogated for a crime you did not commit, but preparing for the interview and difficult questions like “How well do you work under pressure?” can make all the difference.

In this quick guide, you’ll learn why interviewers ask this question, how to answer it and what mistakes you should avoid to blow the hiring manager’s socks right off and get the job.

Why hiring managers ask this question

It’s often a mystery as to why interviewers ask candidates certain questions during the hiring process, especially the bizarre variety, but there’s a perfectly valid reason why you’re being asked about your ability to work under pressure.

Employers want to know if you’re able to work efficiently in a demanding and fast-paced environment, and whether you’re prepared to go the extra mile. They want to know they’re hiring someone who can coolly evaluate situations, stay focused, take charge and simply get the job done.

This question, and the answers it elicits, not only helps prospective employers assess your capacity to work under pressure, however. It also helps them appraise your decision-makingproblem-solvingorganizational and time management skills.

Basically, what they’re really asking is: “Are you the kind of person we want on board when the going gets tough, or will you simply collapse into a useless, quivering heap?”.

How to prepare for this question

As this question is very popular with interviewers, you can expect that it will likely come up. This is how you can begin preparing for it:

  • Consider stressful situations you’ve experienced in the workplace. Even though they were probably horrible, you survived them! Now it’s time to think about how you did that.
  • Write down some of the difficulties you faced, but don’t overemphasize them. This interview question isn’t a cue to start complaining about how toxic your previous work environments have been.
  • Break down your coping process. Do you start by pausing everything for five minutes? Do you rely more heavily on to-do lists? Consider the steps you take to navigate the stress.
  • Put together an answer that incorporates all of the above. When answering, you should avoid being vague. Keep your response concise yet specific.

How to craft a response

All career paths involve some degree of pressure, whether it’s hitting targets, meeting deadlines or managing multiple tasks at once — and some jobs are even more stressful than others (think: surgeons or firefighters, for example).

As such, the ability to work under pressure is a skill highly sought after by employers, and it is, therefore, important that you provide an answer that proves you’re perfectly capable of keeping your cool in difficult situations.

The following tips will help you do that.

1. Talk about how you thrive under pressure

It’s important to remember that your end-goal here is to assure employers you’re perfectly capable of handling things when the going gets tough and that your work performance is not hindered in demanding times.

You can do this by focusing on a situation where you were under immense pressure and explaining how you rose to the occasion.

2. Emphasize how you deal with stress

Employers know that work can be stressful from time to time, and they’re perfectly aware of the effects that overworked and overstressed employees have on their companies, which is precisely why they look for candidates who can apply practical methods when under pressure.

Your answer should convey your ability to stay focused on the task at hand during a major crisis — and definitely not how stressful situations make you feel!

3. Focus on a time you dealt with pressure from outside forces

Never, ever talk about a time when feeling pressured was a direct result of your own actions. Even if you came through in the end, employers will only view you as a liability to their company, and the chances of hiring you become slim to none.

That said, don’t point fingers, either. Instead, talk about a time where the pressure was a result of something beyond your, or anyone else’s, control — like an increased number of shoppers if you work in retail, for example.

And make sure you show how your common sense, initiative, forward thinking and problem-solving skills helped you manage the particular situation.

4. Relate your answer to real-life experiences

That is to say: not fabrications of reality.

Your answer should communicate your ability to prioritize and evaluate many different tasks at once, manage your own time effectively, think clearly in a crisis, and choose the most cost- and time-effective solution, so make sure your answer conveys this.

If you’re new to the world of work and haven’t got any experience to reflect on, it’s perfectly alright to talk about a stressful situation in other areas of life, like exam periods or times of family stress.

Whatever you choose to talk about, though, it’s essential that you relate it to the job you’re interviewing for. Talk about how the particular experience can help you succeed in the job, and make sure you don’t get too personal, like mentioning how stressed you were on a first date!

Sample answers

Check out the following examples for inspiration when the time comes to tell employers how well you’re able to work under pressure.

1. Juggling multiple deadlines

Although it can be quite demanding, I am able to thrive under multiple deadlines and projects. For example, I once had to work on three large projects that were all due in the same week. However, by prioritizing my responsibilities, working effectively with my colleagues and putting in the extra effort, I was able to complete all three projects ahead of time and avoid any unnecessary stress.

A lot of the time, prioritizing effectively boils down to coming up with accurate time estimates and communicating well with your team. Having worked in the industry for five years, I am able to perform tasks faster than I used to be, as well as accurately predict how long they will take me.

2. Managing a constant workload

In my job as a writer and editor, the pressure is always on. There are deadlines to be met and the workload is constant. But, by creating a detailed schedule, I am able to organize my work into small assignments and complete projects effectively and efficiently.

Making use of handwritten to-do lists for each day as well as each week allows me to stay on track and remember things, and not waste any time trying to figure out what my next priority should be. I also use a personal task management platform that lets me manage my monthly workload, set reminders, and keep important documents and resources in one place.

3. Dealing with unsatisfied customers

I constantly work under pressure in my current position, and I feel I have become a better, more efficient worker because of it. When I deal with an unsatisfied customer, for example, I’m able to focus on the task at hand rather than feel stressed. Let’s say that I’ve learned to view these occurrences as a sort of exciting challenge than a drab problem or inconvenience — and this kind of mindset helps a lot.

I believe that my ability to communicate effectively with customers during these situations, primarily by listening actively and demonstrating empathy, helps reduce my own stress as well as any stress the customer may feel.

4. Working on different assignments

Having many different assignments to work on or an upcoming deadline to meet helps me stay motivated and productive. The solution is not to panic but to remain focused on delivering my very best. This allows me to channel my energy into accomplishing tasks efficiently and without issue.

To ensure that I’m able to switch effectively between tasks, I’ve learned how to use small breaks strategically, as well as implement the time-blocking method. By carving out specific time windows for particular tasks, I’m able to focus exactly on what I’m doing and take on one thing at a time.

5. Working in a challenging environment

I believe I deal with pressure well, as I’m used to writing longform essays to strict deadlines at university, as well as organizing various society events with limited resources. I’ve found that I enjoy working in a challenging environment, and I’m able to produce some of my best work when under pressure. That’s largely due to the fact that I get to think creatively in those moments, which I find quite rewarding and consider one of my greatest strengths.

The more demanding the situation, the more I have to push myself to find solutions; and the more I do that, the more I strengthen valuable skills, which is highly beneficial for achieving my long-term career goals. Seeing the positives in demanding situations really helps!

Mistakes to avoid

Yes, mistakes are meant to be made and, yes, we’re only human, but even the tiniest mistake in an interview can be devastating. However, because we want to see you succeed and land your dream job, here are some things you need to avoid like the plague when it’s time to answer “How do you work under pressure?”.

1. Saying you never feel pressured

You’re not perfect, so don’t try to fool the hiring manager into thinking you are — they won’t fall for it. You’ve no doubt felt pressured at least once in your work life, so use it to your advantage.

2. Focusing on how the stress made you feel

It’s a job interview, after all, not a therapy session. The interviewer doesn’t care about your feelings (sorry!). They’re only interested in knowing whether you’re capable of performing effectively in demanding situations.

3. Talking about a time you put yourself in a stressful situation

This could be, for example, procrastinating and scrolling on social media when you were meant to be working on an important report. Even if you came through in the end and delivered the report by the specified deadline, you’ll still be viewed as lazy and untrustworthy.

4. Admitting you don’t handle pressure well

We get it: some people just can’t handle pressure, and there’s nothing wrong with admitting that — outside the interview room’s walls. Inside, however, it’s a completely different story, and honesty is definitely not the best policy in this particular case.

That said, we’re not suggesting you lie your way to a job but rather that you focus on how you use particular skills to manage your work effectively.

5. Talking about a time you felt pressured and ultimately failed

Like I mentioned previously, you’re not perfect (nobody is), but that doesn’t mean you should list your every mistake, weakness and failure. After all, the interviewer wants to hear about your successes, not your failures, so make sure you provide an example where you pulled through despite the circumstances.

Key takeaways

Regardless how organized and well-planned you are, changes and unexpected events are bound to happen, regardless of where you work. Being able to effectively respond to high pressure situations, therefore, is an important skill to have in any industry, which is what makes this interview question so popular.

To summarize what we talked about:

  • “Do you work well under pressure?” is one of the most common job interview questions you can get, so you better have an answer ready!
  • Writing down a few notes before your interview can help you put your thoughts in order and answer the question effectively, making a good impression on potential employers.
  • Use real-life examples when answering, but avoid blaming your previous employer, colleagues or clients. Focus on your skills and experiences, without incriminating yourself.
  • Using the STAR method can help you formulate your job interview answers. It entails describing the Situation, the Task you had to complete, the Action you took, and the Result.

Have you ever been asked a question about working under pressure in an interview? How did you respond? Let us know in the comments section below.

Originally published on June 8, 2017. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.