Interview Question: 'How Do You Work Under Pressure?'

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 29 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Job interviews can produce feelings of excitement and nervousness for candidates. While it's important that you are able to conduct yourself professionally in an interview situation, interviewers may also ask how you handle pressure in the workplace as well. A good employee is able to work to a high standard even in stressful situations and thrives on solving problems rather than avoiding them. In this article, we discuss why employers ask 'How do you work under pressure?', provide other variations of this question and explain how you can effectively answer them.

Why do employers ask, 'How do you work under pressure?'

There are many events that can happen in the workplace that are out of your control, so it's not unusual for employers to ask 'How do you work under pressure?'. Whether it be changes to your budget, tight deadlines or short staffing, unexpected alterations to your planned routine can cause high-pressure situations and stress. Everyone reacts differently to pressure, and it's important for the interviewer to assess whether an applicant has the ability to thrive in a diverse working environment.

Interviewers are trying to understand if you're motivated by pressure and how you minimise stressful situations. The ability to make quick decisions, remain calm, think logically and act professionally in a high-pressure scenario are desirable qualities that employers are looking for. As interviews are typically stressful in themselves, how you conduct yourself while answering this question is as important as the answer itself. For this reason, interviewers may make note of your body language and any other nonverbal clues that indicate how well you are handling the pressure in that moment.

Related: 31 Common Interview Questions and Answers (With Tips)

Other ways interviewers phrase this question

Every employer has their own set of questions that they work from when conducting an interview. While they may use the wording 'How do you work under pressure?', there are several direct and indirect variations of this question that all require a similar answer. Examples of other ways interviewers might phrase this question include:

  • Can you work under pressure?

  • How do you handle stress?

  • Describe a situation where you were under pressure.

  • How do you handle sudden changes at work?

  • Describe a scenario where you've had to make a quick decision in the workplace.

  • How would you handle being asked to present to an important client with 24 hours notice?

  • What methods do you have for managing high-pressure situations so that it does not impact your performance?

How to answer questions about working under pressure

To help relieve some of the pressure when providing an answer to this question, it can be useful to do some preparation ahead of your interview. Here are some steps that you can follow when drafting an effective answer:

1. Do your research

Before you are even in the interview, take some time to do your research. Read back over the job description and make notes of the various tasks that they could ask you to carry out. It's also useful to highlight the essential skills that the employer is looking for in a candidate. Many jobs can be stressful by nature, so it's important that the employer can see you are fully prepared for all of the responsibilities that could be assigned to you. This information can also be used to help form an answer that is relevant for the position that you are hoping to secure.

You might also consider carrying out some research on the company. Visit the company's website to get a better understanding of their mission, core values and organisational culture to gain an insight into what they hope to achieve and how they operate. Networking with current or previous employees is also particularly useful to gain a firsthand description of the types of high-pressure and stressful situations that typically arise within that specific workplace.

Related: Networking Tips for Job Seekers

2. Use the STAR method

A great way to answer this question is to provide an example of when you have worked well under pressure in a previous workplace scenario. A useful technique you can use to do this is the STAR method. This technique allows you to recall the example in a systematic way, ensuring that you include all of the essential details. To frame your answer using the STAR method, follow the following four steps:

  • Situation: Give a description of the situation you were in to provide context to your answer. Explain what had occurred that led to the high-pressure scenario.

  • Task: Explain what your role was in the scenario. The answer is more effective if you were specifically selected to carry out the task at hand.

  • Action: Next, provide details of what you did to handle the stressful situation and what skills you needed to utilise to solve the problem.

  • Result: The final step is to share the positive outcome of your actions and any lessons you learnt along the way. Where possible, make your results more concrete by quantifying them with numbers.

Related: How To Use the STAR Interview Technique in Competency-Based Interviews

3. Give an honest answer

Interviewers are looking for an authentic response to this question, so it's important that you are completely honest when detailing your skills and abilities. While you may think the correct response is to claim that you never get stressed, employers know that this is unrealistic and as humans, we all experience stress at some time or another. Acknowledging that you have struggled under pressure in the past, and explaining ways in which you have developed your skills and abilities to improve in this area can leave a positive impression on the interviewer.

4. Stay calm

The interviewer is also assessing your tone and demeanour as you present your answer, so it's important to stay calm while expressing yourself. Answering this question confidently can make your answer much more believable in the eyes of the employer and help them feel the rest of your answers are also truthful. If you find interviews to be a stressful environment, here are a few tips you can use to help you remain calm:

  • Rehearse: Practising your answers beforehand in a mock interview can help you to feel more prepared and confident in the real setting.

  • Sleep: Get a good night's sleep the night before your interview. Being well-rested can help you to think clearer and aid your focus when recalling your answers.

  • Arrive early: Check your travel route and traffic reports and allow yourself plenty of time to get to your interview. Running late can make an interview more stressful. Arrive early and give yourself time to breathe and relax before you go in.

  • Think positively: A positive mindset can make a huge difference to your performance. Visualise yourself succeeding and answering all of the questions clearly and confidently.

  • Be resilient: Employers are often looking for potential rather than perfection. Take the pressure off of yourself and accept that mistakes can happen. Demonstrate to the employer that you are able to remain cool and collected during times of stress, both in the interview and on the job.

Related: 13 Ways To Calm Interview Nerves

'How do you work under pressure?' example answers

Here are some example answers that you can use when constructing your own impactful response:

Example 1

'I've found during my career that I actually work better when under pressure and I thrive when working in a challenging environment. In my previous role, they often tasked me with handling projects with extremely tight deadlines. On one occasion, a colleague of mine had to take a sudden leave of absence, and they asked me to take on some of their work. This included pitching to one of our largest clients with just one day's notice.

Rather than collapsing under the stress of the situation, I used my organisational and problem-solving skills to work smarter and more efficiently. I was motivated to make this presentation a success, and the end result helped us secure one of our largest sales that quarter. I feel that these skills, alongside my resilient attitude, make me a great candidate for this role.'

Example 2

'As a writer, working on numerous projects and keeping track of a variety of deadlines is something I have become very adept at handling. While I used to find the pressure quite intimidating, I've learnt that managing stress is an essential part of my work and have turned it into a motivating factor in my professional life. I'm continuously looking for ways to streamline my processes while ensuring my work is always of a high quality.

Recently, while working on a series of articles, my deadline was unexpectedly moved up, leaving me with just two days to write and submit six articles. With meticulous organisation and an effective time-management plan, I was able finish all six articles on time. I often find that when under pressure, I produce some of my most creative pieces of writing, and on this occasion one of my articles actually became one of the most viewed on the publication's website for that week, reaching over 70,000 views.'

Explore more articles