Interview Question: 'How Do You Work Under Pressure?'
Updated 8 November 2022
Being able to work under pressure effectively is a valuable skill that employees can use in various positions and across many different industries. Due to this, employers or hiring managers may ask you how well you work under pressure during your job interview. Creating and preparing a well-thought-out answer can help you remain calm during your interview and impress the hiring manager. In this article, we explain why interviewers may ask you how well you work under pressure and provide examples of how to answer this question to best showcase your skills.
Why do employers ask 'How do you work under pressure?'
Many jobs can have challenging periods and tasks, which is why a hiring manager may ask you the question 'How do you work under pressure?'. Other roles may have simultaneous projects that result in competing deadlines or quick turnarounds. Other positions may require you to have constant client interactions, where you may use problem-solving skills to assist customers. A potential employer may want to know how you work under pressure to understand how you may professionally perform in any situation.
Explaining how you can keep a clear mind and focus on the task at hand during stressful periods helps to prove how you may be a good fit for the role. For a competitive role or interview process, having a well-prepared and convincing answer to this question can demonstrate that you possess both hard and soft professional skills.
How to answer the question 'How do you work under pressure?'
To impress your interviewer, consider the following factors when answering this question:
1. Be honest
Your potential employer is likely asking this question to determine how you might fare in their office or workplace. Try to give your prospective new manager the best idea of your specific working style and mention both your strengths and any weaknesses you have. Even if working under pressure is still something you're actively trying to get better at, being honest with the interviewer and talking about how you're developing your skills may show them that you have a keen interest in your own personal development and a strong work ethic.
2. Use the STAR method
A common way to structure your answers and a common evaluation tool that hiring managers often use is the STAR method. This stands for situation, task, action and result and allows you to answer any interview question with a clearly structured example. Plan for this interview question by thinking of past professional experiences that fit this format, and also show how well you fared under pressure. The STAR method also values specific examples, such as telling the hiring manager 'I did this' instead of hypothetical situations, such as saying 'If I was under pressure, I would…'.
3. Describe only one example
Many interviewers use a metric or scoring system to evaluate your responses during or after the conversation, to rate you as a candidate against other people they interviewed. Due to this, it can be more effective to stick to one solid and detailed example instead of trying to give several shorter and vaguer stories. Think of your strongest story that illustrates your working style under pressure and rehearse telling it to a friend or family member until the story feels comfortable to recite. Any smaller examples can be told if the interviewer feels they need more information and asks for it.
4. Relate it to the job you're applying for
Highlight strengths that directly relate to the open position during the interview. For example, if you're interviewing for a customer service position, using challenging customer interactions from a retail or hospitality job can show how you can stay calm, polite and customer-focused when under pressure. Read the job advertisement or description while preparing for your interview, and see if they mention any skills related to working under pressure. These could be conflict management, managing multiple priorities or achieving tight turnarounds.
Example answers for this question
Here are three sample answers to help you answer the 'How do you work under pressure?' question during an interview:
The following example shows how you can prioritise tasks whilst working under pressure:
'Over the course of my career, I have been able to learn to thrive under pressure and stress. In my last position, a colleague fell sick days before a big deadline, and I had to take on their workload in addition to my other daily tasks. This initially threw me, and I felt like there was too much to do and that I wouldn't be able to complete it in time. Luckily, I have developed various strategies to help me during these types of situations.
I organised a quick one-to-one meeting with my team leader and let them know what I thought my most pressing tasks were. We discussed if we could delegate any minor tasks to the administration team or leave them unfinished until my colleague returned. After that, I created a to-do list in order of urgency and blocked out time in my calendar to complete each task. This helped me to focus solely on one thing at a time, and I was able to complete both my colleague's and my own workload within the set timeline'.
The following example allows you to explain how you can manage stress by staying calm and level-headed:
'I have learnt how to multitask under pressure and stay positive under stressful situations. I was working in a retail store where there had been an incorrectly advertised sale on a popular children's toy. I was stressed and overwhelmed with double the typical number of customers entering the shop on a Thursday night, and, to make matters worse, I had to tell each customer trying to buy this particular item that it was still full price.
Many customers reacted negatively to this, and it was a particularly overwhelming evening. Luckily, I can work well under pressure and didn't let the negative feedback demoralise me or drop my usual standards of customer service. I apologised to every customer profusely, offered to pass on feedback to my manager and checked out everybody in the recommended time frame of five minutes or less'.
The following example describes a personal situation where you adapted well to work under pressure, but, if you don't have an adequate professional example to share, you can use a similar example:
'When I was at university, I had taken on more subjects than recommended, as I wanted to fast-track my graduation. During the exam period, I found myself feeling very stressed and overloaded with the number of exams I had to sit and what I had to study.
I found different working techniques to make the most of my study time and to work as productively as possible. I also created a healthy morning and evening routine that boosted my mental health and helped me to absorb more knowledge when it came to studying. I was able to achieve great grades across my exams and felt very calm sitting them'.
Other helpful interview tips
Here are some additional general tips to help you feel prepared for your next interview:
Research the organisation. The organisation's hiring manager may want to know what attracted you to apply for this position or why you want to work for the organisation that's interviewing you. Searching the organisation's website, recent news or social media can help you answer this confidently and draw on specific facts.
Arrive five minutes early. There are many inconveniences that can cause you to be late, so try to plan to get to your interview location slightly earlier to avoid feeling rushed. If your interview is remote, you can prepare similarly by testing out the interview meeting link before the scheduled time.
Practise before you attend. Having a friend or relative conduct practice interviews with you before your real one can be a great way to prepare answers to commonly asked questions and get you to think up professional responses quickly.
Ask questions. Many interviews end with the person conducting it asking you if you have any questions you'd like to know. Not only is this an excellent opportunity to find out more about your potential workplace, but it also helps to show the hiring manager that you're confident, engaged and interested in the role.
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