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Answering Behavioral Interview Questions Regarding High-Stress Situations

Answering Behavioral Interview Questions Regarding High-Stress Situations

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Have you ever had an extra-heavy workload? Of course. We all have—and we will again. That’s why interviewers want to know how we handle situations like that.

RELATED: Need some interview advice? Watch these tutorials!

When we’re asked how we handle extra-heavy, high-stress workloads, a knee-jerk reaction for a lot of us is, “I stayed until the work was done.” You may want to give this answer so you can let them know you’re a hard worker who’s willing to sacrifice when necessary—but this really isn’t the best answer you can give. It’s a good thing for a potential employer to know you work hard, but if you shift your focus just a bit, you can answer this question in a way that shows you can work smart, too.

Behavioral interview questions like this one aren’t really trying to find out about your capacity for endurance and sacrifice. Employers ask questions like these to go deeper into what makes you tick—they want to know how you react, how you think, and how you prioritize. They want you to show them the process or the tools you would use to handle a stressful situation like an extra-heavy workload. All you have to do is walk them through your process.

One good answer sounds something like,

“We all have times when our workloads become heavier than usual.  When I’ve been in that situation before, I have realized that not everything has to be done immediately—so I take a look at everything on my list and prioritize tasks. I decide what tasks are more mission-critical, and do those first. For example…”

Follow this with a short story about a time you prioritized tasks in a high-stress situation.

Hint: Use the STAR technique to tell the story. STAR stands for Situation or Task, Action you took, and Results you got.

Another good answer sounds something like,

“In those situations, you really have to step back and prioritize. I get input from my supervisor about what he or she thinks is most critical, and then go from there. Feeling stressed about it doesn’t help, but prioritizing and taking action does.”

This is a great lead-in for a story about providing assistance to your boss on a critical task. Again, use the STAR technique to provide structure for your story and ensure you get all the most important pieces included (Situation or Task, Action you took, and most importantly, the Result).

Whatever option you choose, your overall guide to answering this question is this: take them through your thought process of how you approach a problem, think critically about it and make great decisions that will benefit the company. It will make you stand out from other candidates and be very impressive to your future boss.

This post was originally published at an earlier date.

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About the author

Career Coach – Peggy McKee is an expert resource and a dedicated advocate for job seekers. Known as the Sales Recruiter from Career Confidential, her years of experience as a nationally-known recruiter for sales and marketing jobs give her a unique perspective and advantage in developing the tools and strategies that help job seekers stand head and shoulders above the competition. Peggy has been named #1 on the list of the Top 25 Most Influential Online Recruiters by HR Examiner, and has been quoted in articles from CNN, CAP TODAY, Yahoo! HotJobs, and the Denver Examiner.


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Peggy McKee Career Coach – Peggy McKee is an expert resource and a dedicated advocate for job seekers. Known as the Sales Recruiter from Career Confidential, her years of experience as a nationally-known recruiter for sales and marketing jobs give her a unique perspective and advantage in developing the tools and strategies that help job seekers stand head and shoulders above the competition. Peggy has been named #1 on the list of the Top 25 Most Influential Online Recruiters by HR Examiner, and has been quoted in articles from CNN, CAP TODAY, Yahoo! HotJobs, and the Denver Examiner.