Career Paths

Stealthy Killer Stress: How do you disarm it?

min read
Mikaela Thompson

Most of us can recall a crucial moment when intense pressure seemed to have a murderous intent to kill both us and our job off. Even if that isn’t the case, it would be a lie to say stress hasn’t been experienced in some form, often sneaking up before a cumulative final assault. It’s no surprise then that employers often want to know how a prospective employee will handle themselves under pressure.

Why ask?

While it may seem, the interviewer is trying to trigger your internal combustion button when clearly, you’re a jittery mess struggling to settle into the interview, there is a much less sinister, valid agenda on their part. Stress is far from fun but a typical part of daily work life in some guise, especially under Covid-19 pressures. Think dwindling markets and job opportunities, rising unemployment, and working from home isolation etc. It seems a no-brainer then that a prospective employer, or agent of, will ask you how you mitigate stress. If you want that job, you better have a compelling answer prepared! No one wants to witness, much less work alongside, an employee who has an apoplectic fit every time deadlines loom, a competitor steals a deal/client, a hard-nosed client intimidates, a promotion is denied, and the like. The interviewer hopes to see the calm exterior of a rational thinking and perennially productive employee who gets the job done come what may.

How should I tackle it?

First off, a word of caution: although given the interview situation, it’s tempting to answer with a sarcastic, “Well, I’m here aren’t I?”, please don’t! Yes, interviews are immensely challenging. You’re up against 100s or perhaps even 1000s of applicants just like yourself; you’re meeting strangers who are sure to put you through your paces with questions designed to psycho-analyze you. All this could be made more intense if you’re wearing a formal constricting ensemble lacking comfort. So, a smart-ass ironic response, from this perspective, might be somewhat attractive to you. Instead, smile, make appropriate eye contact (read: don’t stare like a creep) and put on a good show as a professional who can participate effectively despite your frazzled nerves of the moment.

Secondly, stress has two main types. Facilitative stress which motivates people to get things done and debilitative stress that incapacitates the sufferer. Make sure you choose examples of the former to demonstrate that you can handle stress constructively. On the same note, don’t choose examples where you caused the stress. No one wants an employee who creates stress! All your stories should show how you can add value to this company.


- Prepare your answer ahead of the interview. We all know it’s going to be asked! Formulate your specific examples featuring each key asset that relates to the position.  Then, practice telling these stories before the interview, so you’ll recall them easily and feel more relaxed

- Answer this anecdotal question with examples that are tailored to the job on offer. Show how this company can benefit from your good judgments under stressful conditions. Good answer samples can be found at:; (this site usefully breaks the samples into entry, management, and executive levels for answers).

- Focus on positive examples where you triumphed over stress and can show how you leveraged it for personal growth.

- Focus on actions, not feelings. The latter are of no interest to them. Use the STAR(T) format to keep you on track concisely e.g., situation, task, action, results (takeaways).

- Highlight the skills you used: show what you learnt and how you honed your skills as assets to bring to their company and the job.

- If you’re applying for a high stress job, let them know you are used to dealing with stress routinely.

- Emphasize how communication has been key in dealing with stress. Don’t give the impression you’re a lone wolf. That may be interpreted as you won’t ask for help when it’s needed, potentially costing the company much more by allowing a problem to snowball.

- Be prepared for follow up questions too, such as: This job requires an ability to work with ambiguity, how are you at handling stress when there’s no clear-cut answer? How do you deal with stress when you have difficult decisions to make? How do you cope with stress when it involves others? Do you think there are healthy forms of stress? etc.


- Answer in a way that shows you can’t handle stress or cause stress. They won’t hire anyone who deals with challenges negatively e.g. the sad sack, the drama queen, the angry stresser etc.

- Overshare e.g. “Dude, I go for a few beers.”, which sounds too casual and could red flag a possible drinking problem.

- Say you back off and have a think about it overnight before you act. Although this answer sounds right, it may give the impression you’ll jump ship on crisis issues that need to be dealt with right away.

- Say you delegate the problem task to others. It smacks of passing on your ‘too hard to solve’ stresses to your workmates. Not a popular choice for workplace harmony!

How can I control interview stress?

It’s hard to cope with interview stress while trying to sell your credentials. However, you can help yourself by:

- Being positive and honest. Avoid negative thoughts.

- Visualize having a successful interview in the preceding hours.

- Use relaxation techniques e.g., deep a deep breath before answering tricky questions and a sip of water to help you collect your thoughts. Watch your body language e.g., don’t fidget, stand up straight, smile, make eye contact, offer a firm handshake.

For more on workplace stress strategies, check out our latest tips here.

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