How to answer "Can you tell me about a time when you had to work under pressure?" (with sample answers)

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This post is part of our series on behavioral interview questions.

Why Employers Ask This

When employers ask about a time you worked under pressure, they want to know if you can handle stress and pressure well, and if you can remain calm and focused when faced with challenging situations. Jobs often come with tight deadlines, competing priorities, and high-stress situations, and employers want to hire someone who can work well under these conditions. They also want to see how you approach problem-solving and decision-making in pressurized situations, as that's a good indicator of how you would handle similar situations on the job.

Employers may also ask this question to assess your ability to work in a team. Working under pressure often requires teamwork, and employers want to know how well you collaborate with colleagues in high-stress situations.

Overall, this question is asked to assess your ability to handle stress, stay productive, problem-solve, and work collaboratively under pressure, which are all essential skills in many job roles.

How to Answer the Question

When answering this question, follow the STAR method, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. It's a great way to structure your response and ensure you cover all the key points the interviewer is looking for.

  1. Situation: Describe the situation that you were in and provide context. What was the project, deadline, or situation that required you to work under pressure?
  2. Task: Explain what your task or responsibility was in that situation. What were your goals, and what was expected of you?
  3. Action: Describe the actions you took to deal with the situation and complete your task. Explain what steps you took, what challenges you faced, and how you overcame them. Be specific and use examples.
  4. Result: Finally, explain the outcome of your actions. What was the end result, and how did your actions contribute to that result?

In addition to using the STAR method, focus on emphasizing skills and behaviors that are relevant to the job you're applying for. For example, if the job requires collaboration, focus on how you worked with others under pressure. Emphasize your ability to remain calm, make rational decisions, and problem-solve in high-stress situations. Show that you can handle challenges and be successful under pressure.

Finally, avoid using negative language or blaming others for mistakes. Focus on how you took responsibility and overcame challenges to succeed in the moment.

Sample answers

Good answer: I remember a time when I was working on a project for a client and the deadline was approaching quickly. The scope of the project was larger than we originally anticipated, and we were short-staffed. I quickly created a project plan that broke down the work into smaller, more manageable tasks. I also reached out to my team members and delegated tasks accordingly. Through careful planning and delegation, we were able to deliver the project on time and to the satisfaction of the client.

Explanation: This answer demonstrates the candidate's ability to recognize and manage pressure effectively. They showcased their problem-solving skills by creating a plan, and their teamwork skills by working with their team members to deliver the project on time.

Bad answer: One time, my boss gave me a task that had to be completed by the end of the day. I had a lot of other work to do, so I decided to complete the task quickly without checking for errors. When my boss reviewed the work, they found several mistakes, and I had to spend the next day redoing the task.

Explanation: This answer demonstrates poor time management skills and lack of attention to detail. The candidate failed to recognize the pressure and did not manage their workload effectively, resulting in a poor outcome.

Good answer: During a busy holiday season, I was working at a retail store that was short-staffed due to unforeseen circumstances. The customers were becoming frustrated with long wait times and crowded aisles. To alleviate the pressure, I took the initiative to organize the store and create a more efficient flow for customers. By doing so, we were able to provide a better shopping experience for customers, and our team became more productive, resulting in a positive outcome for everyone.

Explanation: This answer demonstrates the candidate's ability to remain calm under pressure and take leadership when necessary. They showed their problem-solving skills by taking the initiative to reorganize the store, resulting in a positive outcome for both customers and the team.

Bad answer: I can't think of a specific time, but I work well under pressure and always meet deadlines.

Explanation: This answer does not provide a specific example and does not showcase the candidate's problem-solving or teamwork skills. It also lacks credibility since the candidate did not provide any evidence to back up their claimed ability to work well under pressure.

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