Another one of the very difficult questions in the array of psychological tests that now supplant standard interview techniques can seem simple at first glance, but at its core is fairly complex: “How do you handle stressful situations?” It can only be seen as pure irony that this question can be one of the most stressful to find an answer for, but there is a very good reason why you’re being asked, and it helps to understand this. As with many things in business and in life, knowing the reasoning behind a question’s asking can often be more important than the question itself.
Why Are They Asking
When we are told about work by our parents or our mentors for the first time as teenagers, the descriptions of the work-a-day world are as varied as the individual experiences of the people explaining it. Some tell us an idyllic tale of a career built from the ground up; forged in the gauntlet of hard work and perseverance. Others explain that there is little more to working life than having the will to get up each morning and march down to the office with no desire to gain more for oneself than the next paycheck, and the continuation of one’s lifestyle.
Yet one thing that is explained in almost every case is the simple and inescapable fact that all work brings a degree of stress, no matter how you spin it. No matter how happy you are at your job, and no matter how much you love the people you are working with. Whether it’s the job of your dreams or just something you’re doing to make ends meet, there will always come a point at which your work brings a special kind of headache. It follows then that any employer worth their salt would want to know if, and how, you handle yourself when things go wrong… because eventually they always do.
What Do They Mean By “Stress”
It must be understood that in any interview process there are things that an employer simply does not care to hear. The question of handling stress is, as many interview questions can be, very open to interpretation, and by nature it can be all too simple to wonder off on a tangent, and find yourself saying things that your potential employer not only doesn’t care to here, but things that may be outright damaging to your chances at landing the job.
“Stress” can mean many things, and even if a more specific qualifier is put on it, such as “stress in the workplace,” people can still take a turn for the unnecessary without realizing it. The “stress” that employers want to know if you can handle is the stress that is related to the job itself. Whether or not you got along with Andy from accounting is frightfully irrelevant. That is a completely different question that we will likely discuss at a later time, but for this question you will want to be prepared with something more than an office gripe.
Prepare Your Answer, and Don’t Open the Wrong Door
The key to acing any interview, and indeed one of the primary keys to success in all business, is preparation. Seeing around the bend, knowing what’s coming, and being ready for it can make all the difference in the world. This particular question though, has a few built-in pitfalls that can be easily stepped in if you over think… or over talk. You will want to think of a specific, work related issue. Not a general “working there was tough and I dealt with it every day.”
That will only say to your potential employer that you that you are either scared to answer, or that you didn’t care enough about the job to be stressed about it. Think of a situation that presented unique challenges; specifically a situation that others were not able to handle easily. Ideally you’ll want to think of something that presented a problem for others and that you came up with a solution for. It may seem off topic, but trust and believe that it is in fact what they are looking for.
Most modern, psychology-based interview questions are really a few more obvious questions wrapped into one. Can you deal with unique situations? Can you operate outside your comfort zone? Can you handle the pressure that accompanies this job? Can you keep your cool when it all hits the fan? You may have never been asked any of these things outright, but this is what your potential empower want and needs to know when considering you for a position; doubly so if you are after anything in management.
Beware the pitfalls though. Speaking about personal stress in the workplace is a different animal, and can very quickly descend into a rant about your own personal pet peeves if you’re not careful. As prepared as you may think you are and as much as you may have rehearsed, it’s easier than you think to wonder off course, and some skilled interviewers may even try to pull you off course in an attempt to get a better bead on your personality and its shortcomings. The number one rule here is to keep it about business; keep it about the work, the challenges it presented, and what you did to handle it. Do not get into personal feelings, issues with other employees, and under no circumstances refer to failings on the part of your management.
Buzz Words and Bad Words
Most who have kept in tune with modern business have heard of so-called “buzz-words.” These are words or terms that have been given special meaning in the business world, or words that have been supplanted with others to keep a more positive outlook. Using the word “opportunity” instead “problem” is one of the most common word flips on the market today. It’s tempting to try to throw out buzz-words in an attempt to impress a potential employer and there’s nothing particularly wrong with that, just don’t overdo it.
There are however some words that you should stay well away from when referring to stress in an environment. Refrain from sentences such as “that drove me crazy,” or “I couldn’t stand that.” Words like “stupid” or “silly” have an air of childishness to them that comes off more as finger-pointing. Instead stick to more subtle and less emotional terms. “Difficult” or “challenging” are terms that convey personal responsibility, and a desire to push past a tough issue. Your answer should be short, sweet, and follow this basic formula: What was a challenge that you faced during the course of your duties, what logic and hard work did you employ to find a solution, and what was the result of your solution. Keep to the path and keep your cool, and you may find yourself handling a whole new series of stresses at you your new job. Also be mindful that this question isn’t always asked in an interview, yet, can easily be asked in essays or tests as well. Uber analytics test is one of those tests along with Microsoft and Airbnb.
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