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How To Answer: Describe A Stressful Situation At Work And How You Overcame It

Can you describe a stressful situation at work?

A stressful situation at work is hard to avoid. Whether you’ve been working a part-time job between studies, or you’re an experienced worker, workplace stress does not discriminate. Stress can occur as a result of feeling overworked, underappreciated, a heavy workload, lack of support, a busy schedule, time restraints and looming deadlines.

Often it’s difficult for some candidates to describe a stressful situation because they fear they’ll be viewed as incompetent. But this simply isn’t the case (if it is, do you really want to work for an employer with this viewpoint?!). Stress is a natural human emotion and a normal part of day to day life. This interview question is designed for the hiring manager to understand how you manage stress and workplace pressures, rather than the stressful event itself.

How to answer

The main focus of your answer should centre on a resolution. What steps did you take to overcome a stress-induced mind? You can do this by remembering an occasion where everything felt intensified, you felt overwhelmed and pressured to finish something. Then look back and analyse what method worked best for you to reduce the stress. Was it, talking to someone, asking for help, sharing a workload, taking time out or even putting in additional hours at work?

TOP TIP: Make sure 85% of your interview answer is you explaining how you dealt with the stressful situation rather the incident itself.

Tips on how to deal with stress:

  1. Acknowledge there is a problem (the “I’m fineeee” method won’t work).
  2. Understand the cause – in which areas of your work is causing the stress?
  3. Take time out – make time for yourself and put your priorities first
  4. Talk to someone – particularly in a work environment, if you feel overloaded tell your manager or colleagues
  5. Implement an action plan for future stress

For more steps find them here.

Please, please, please don’t say you don’t experience stress! It comes across as a tad inauthentic and means you’re giving yourself one less chance to prove your capability in an interview answer.

Example answer for the inexperienced job seeker

“In a previous junior role, I was assigned a project that at the time, I felt was beyond my capability. With little support and being a newish worker to the industry, I felt overwhelmed and slightly nervous about embracing the challenge. However, I was reluctant to let the stress of this prospect overshadow the potential opportunity. To overcome this I decided to change my mindset. I embraced the challenge, spent out of office hours researching and building my knowledge in the given area and worked on the project until I was confident it would be a success – and it was!”

This is a good example to describe a stressful situation because they are honest, they provide practical steps to beat stress, all whilst showcasing commitment and motivation to their job.

Example answer for experienced job seeker

“My approach to stress is to recognise it before it becomes a problem. For example, when working to tight deadlines I find that planning my time wisely and creating a schedule once I start working on various different tasks helps me manage stress much more efficiently. This squashes the risk of stress spiralling out of control and becoming a much bigger problem than it has to be. I would say that being an organised person also helps as I can manage multiple tasks, prioritise work and work simultaneously on multiple projects in an order that I believe helps reduce stress levels.”

Why’s it good?

This answer takes a different approach by explaining the precautions they take to minimise stress.

An answer to avoid

“There have been times at work when I felt stress became out of my control. I was working for a company where they would pile all the work onto me. It would become so much I didn’t know where to start. My manager was expecting too much from me and I was doing jobs that weren’t in my original job description. I decided it couldn’t handle it anymore and left.”

Whys it bad?

The answer provides no real resolution. Instead, it would have been far more effective to state the steps they first took to deal with stress before leaving. For example, did they arrange a meeting with a manager to talk workload? Did they request a role revaluation to ensure their job matches their skills? These are the types of answer snippets the interviewer looks for.

Read more ‘How to answer‘ interview questions and other career advice articles here.

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