How to Answer College Interview Questions About Stress

How college students can turn stress into a positive attribute in an interview

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Job interviewers know how tough college academics can be, especially for certain majors, and they'll want to know how you handled the pressure and the stress. They might ask this as an ice-breaker to begin the interview ("Wow, you went to MIT? How did you handle that crazy workload?"). They might want to gauge your ability to prioritize and persevere. Most likely, the job you're interviewing for will have plenty of stress baked into its work environment, and the interviewer wants to know if you can hack it.

 

There are plenty of angles you can take to answer this question, but above all, be honest. Don't start twisting your answers to present yourself as some kind of invincible wunderkind. Interviewers want to know your strengths and weaknesses, and nobody is 100 percent superhuman strength. Everybody has their kryptonite. The key is to tell the interviewer how you take your kryptonite and make it work for you.

That said, you might be one of those people who do your best work when the stress is on. Either way, these suggestions will help you craft a convincing answer that is true to who you are.

I Love Stress!

You may thrive in a stressful environment, but how do you thrive? You've of course researched the company you're applying at, so your answer should show how you will use that stress to succeed at that particular company. Here are some sample answers. Edit to fit your personal experiences and background:

  • I find that when I'm under the pressure of a deadline, I can do some of my most creative work. (Great answer for a job that requires a lot of creativity.)
  • I'm not a person who has a difficult time with stress. When I'm under pressure, I focus on the task at hand, and I get the job done. (Demonstrates the ability to focus in a distracting environment.)
  • I find it exhilarating to be in a dynamic environment where the pressure is on. (Hints at being a great team player.) 

Step by Step

You don't have to like stress. One way to answer this question is to describe the steps you take when the stress is on. Share examples to illustrate how you handled a specific stressful time, whether at a job you had in college or during a time when the academics were crushing.

  • When I am under pressure, I stop and figure out my priorities. I make a list ranking what is most important, and then I go through that list step by step, getting each task done.
  • When I've been in stressful situations, I try to figure out what is causing the stress. It's not always time-driven deadlines. Sometimes it's other people disagreeing on how to move forward. I figure out what the problems or disagreements are and work diffuse them so we can all be productive.

No matter how you answer, keep it positive and focus on conveying how you will be an asset to the company.

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