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Interview questions about stress management

Use these interview questions about stress management and find out how candidates handle challenging and complicated situations in their day-to-day work.

Why you should ask candidates about stress management

Most jobs have their stressful moments, such as hitting a quarterly target, presenting an idea, or meeting a tight deadline to name but a few. Employees with good stress management skills are an asset because they:

  • can make objective decisions;
  • can keep themselves and those around them calm; and
  • can propose solutions to problems in challenging times.

If employees are unable to handle stressful situations, they might well have problems doing their work properly even though they actually fit the job specification. Some positions, such as managerial roles, are more stressful than others. It’s therefore important to spot candidates who can cope with this stress and still remain productive.

Here are a few interview questions that you can ask your candidates about stress management. Combine these questions with those on problem-solving and communication skills.

Sample interview questions about stress management

  • It’s the day before an important presentation to customers/supervisors/stakeholders. How do you prepare?
  • How would you react if a supervisor gave you negative feedback in front of your colleagues?
  • What’s been the most stressful situation you’ve ever encountered? What did you do?
  • How do you prevent a situation from becoming too stressful?
  • What advice would you give a colleague who’s very stressed about a deadline?
  • Can you tell me about a time when stress caused you to make mistakes in your work?
  • How would you handle frequent changes in your workplace? For example, if people involved in a project were undecided about its requirements, or if a new member joined your team.
  • If you are assigned several tasks at the same time, how do you organize yourself so that you can work as productively and efficiently as possible to meet your submission deadline?
  • Tell me about a difficult decision that you had to make (e.g. letting a team member go or choosing between two job offers). How did you make sure you were being objective?
  • How do you make sure that stressful situations in your personal life do not affect your performance at work?

Tips for assessing candidates’ stress management skills

  • Use interview questions that focus on both different behaviors and different situations. This lets you find out how candidates have coped with stressful situations in the past as well as how they would tackle such situations in their new role.
  • Asking generic questions like “How do you handle stress?” will get you generic answers. You should therefore ask about specific examples or experiences.
  • Use realistic examples in your questions. If you are looking for sales staff, for instance, ask how candidates would tackle the most common customer problems.
  • Compare your candidates’ answers with the problems that crop up most frequently in the job role. Rather than only looking out for applicants who propose the best potential solutions, also consider those who can stay composed in unexpected circumstances.
  • Many candidates will have prepared for a question about a stressful situation. You should therefore use your conversation as an opportunity to test their capacity for stress management. Do applicants seem uncomfortable when you ask them tricky questions, or do they stay calm?
  • Don’t jump to conclusions if candidates appear ill at ease at the start – interview situations can be stressful. However, if candidates are unable to shake off their initial nervousness during the interview, you should consider whether the person is actually suited to the job – particularly if it requires frequent contact with other people.

Warning signs

  • Applicants get fixated on the source of the stress. Finding out what is responsible for the stress is only the first step. Candidates who only focus on the cause and not the solution may well struggle to handle stressful situations.
  • Applicants generate stress themselves. Bad habits, such as procrastination or poor time management, can give rise to unnecessarily stressful situations. Recruit employees who find ways out of situations like these and do not create them in the first place.
  • Applicants get stressed by small things. Pay attention to what gets candidates stressed. If they give you a list of routine minor tasks rather than sizable challenges, this may pose a problem for many job roles.
  • Applicants’ body language suggests discomfort. Put a few tricky yet realistic problems in front of candidates. If they get flustered trying to find solutions, this might indicate that they are easily stressed.
  • Applicants have never experienced stress. Most people will have come across stress at some point in their working lives. If candidates claim to never be stressed, this could be a sign that they treat problems lightly.

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