how to answer when your interviewer asks, “how do you relieve stress?”

A reader writes:

I’ve encountered this question in many interviews for both customer service jobs and non-public-facing jobs, and I can’t figure out why they’re asking: “What do you do to relieve stress?”

With most interview questions, there is a right and a wrong answer. I’m guessing the wrong answer here is “scream and flip tables” but what’s the right answer? I can never tell if my answer, “Reflect on my day, gradually put it behind me, and then do something relaxing and fun,” is the right answer. I’ve had interviewers push at me with “Yes, but what if you can’t get over it? You’re really, really stressed?”

I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask someone how they specifically handle their personal feelings in their off time, plus I’d think that handling conflict and stress like a reasonable adult would be a basic workplace expectation you don’t need to ask about, so I have no idea how to approach this. Since this questions has come up across a few different industries and different interviews, I feel I could better handle it if I knew what they were trying to determine, other than filtering out people who don’t know better than to say “I’m a lot like The Incredible Hulk, actually, in that I tend to break stuff.” What’s the deal?

Yeah, this is a weird question. (And for some reason when I read it, I could only think of X-rated answers.)

I mean, it’s fine to ask it initially, although I’m skeptical that it’s going to produce anything of real value. As you note, it’s not likely that anyone is going to respond with, “Well, last week I punched a hole in the wall” or “I scream at people” or “I turn to drink.”

But the pushing for more and refusing to accept your answer is weird.

I do think, though, that in your case it might be happening because your answer might sound … insufficient for a period of prolonged stress. They might think that you’re envisioning a mildly stressful day, when they’re asking about weeks of unrelenting high stress. They might be looking for something more like “For a sustained period of stress from something like high workload, what I’ve done in the past is to take a fresh look at my what’s on my plate and make sure that I’ve prioritized correctly. If I’m concerned about my ability to keep everything in the air because of conflicting priorities, I’d flag that for my manager and figure out a plan.” Or something like, “It’s no secret that this can be a stressful industry, but I’ve found that for me, the keys are staying in regular touch with my boss so we’re on the same page about priorities, leaning heavily on a good calendar system, and making time to hit the gym.”

I think that’s probably what the “what if you can’t get over it?” part of the questioning is getting at — if doing something fun one evening doesn’t solve it, how do you approach it from a work standpoint?” They might be looking for signs that you won’t melt down under stress without sending out warning signals — that you’ll raise a flag when you need help, or otherwise step back and manage your work a little differently when the situation calls for it.

It’s also possible that interviewers who harp on this question are doing it because their work environment has a lot more stress than average … so watch for that if your interviewer seems unusually preoccupied with it.

{ 293 comments… read them below }

  1. Mina*

    Glad I wasn’t the only one who read that and immediately thought of an X-rated answer that would not be appropriate to use in an interview! haha!

    1. Ronaldino*

      I suspect I am on reddit WAY too much for my own good, because the first answer that came to mind was X-rated too

    2. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

      Early on in my career, I was asked this question in an interview and I did respond with “drink”. And when they laughed and said “no really”. I responded with no, I really drink. A lot.

      It’s safe to say I didn’t get that job!

      1. PB*

        I had a professor in grad school who gave the following advice:

        “When an interviewer asks about your weaknesses, don’t say ‘Sometimes, I just get SO MAD!'”

        You just know there’s a story behind that one.

        1. Videogame Lurker*

          I was going to make a comment about the “I drink” part of Alison’s answer regarding the Supreme Court! XD

          *Admits to being off-topic

    3. Seifer*

      Yes, same!

      I was making faces at my desk, thinking to myself, well I can’t say that… DEFINITELY can’t say THAT…

    4. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Oh! I see where you’re going. Because my actual answer one time was, “I say bad words.” I don’t perform those bad words; I just say them. With differing tones and frequency.

    5. Vicky Austin*

      I thought of something X-rated, specifically what is mentioned in that song by The Divinyls.
      (For those of you who never heard of them, just Google them. They were a one-hit wonder, so it won’t take you long to figure out the song I’m thinking about.)

    6. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

      HA! I feel like I’m missing out. The first thing I thought of was working out. :D

    7. Hats and coats*

      I’m honestly shocked that so many people think of X rated stuff when they’re stressed! I had to read a few comments before I could figure out what kind of X rated stuff it could possibly be, except for swearing. For me, my first impulse is to complain to my husband or if he’s the one causing me stress, complain to my friends or go for a walk. My desire for anything X rated (except for cussing people out) goes down significantly when I’m stressed

      1. Ron McDon*

        I think it’s less that we think of X rated stuff when we’re stressed, and more that the way the question was asked just begs for an answer like ‘I like to bang one out, relieves the tension’. That’s where my (filthy, English) mind went, anyway… although that probably speaks volumes about me!

        1. Woman in Tech*

          You and many more! (X-rated stuff was definitely the first thing that came to mind as a mechanism to relieve tension).

      2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        I’m wondering if the X-rated techniques work better than the stuff I was advised to try by my EAP – can’t be any worse I suppose! (absolutely love “self service the front range” – that’s got to be my new favourite euphemism!)

      3. Akcipitrokulo*

        I tend to think of not so much getting affectionate x-rated, but thinking of new and interesting ways to separate all the different parts of the stressor from each other. Which I would never actually do ;) but I suspect “hmmm…. chainsaw?” would not be an answer that would get me a job!

    8. Turtle Candle*

      Yeah, I’d almost want to say “pornographic fanfic” just to see the look on their faces.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        For real. I’d like to say something like “hit the Ann Summers* shop then surf youporn for a while” just to see the reaction. In reality I’d listen to some soothing meditation music and take a nap.

        *For those who don’t know, they sell lingerie, sex toys, etc.

    9. Ana*

      Haha! Thank you, thank you all in this thread for that laugh on my way to work- I was dreading it because I have something stressful on my plate today. And also: my first thought was x-rated stuff (sexual, not swearing, I live in Europe so swearing isn’t x-rated or bleeped out much) :-DD

    10. Square Root Of Minus One*

      Same here as well.
      I think it’s the “relieve” that got me. Had they used “manage” or “control”, I might not have gone there. At least not at first.

      1. jojobeans*

        This a good point. I get asked this question a lot in interviews due to my career field (I spent several years in a war zone where every single aspect of your life was life-and-death stressful, and often work-related stress was extreme on top of that), but they nearly always ask how you “manage” your stress, not “relieve” your stress.

        Asking about “relieving” stress really does lead me right down that sexual road…

    11. Stranger than fiction*

      “I have two methods, with and without someone else. Which would you like to hear about first?”

  2. Artemesia*

    If I got this question I would pivot to how I reduce the likelihood of getting stressed out. It is what I do since I am not great at stress, so I organize work to minimize stress by prioritizing, and organizing to get things don’t efficiently. Like everyone I have personal techniques for dealing with feeling stress but they are personal and it seems intrusive to go there in an interview, so stress management professionally rather than personally just feels like where the answer should go.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah to be honest how I handle my personal stress isn’t something I’d want to talk about in an interview (crying? tequila?), but I would like to talk about how I manage my workload or send up a flare when it becomes unmanageable, to avoid the tears-and-tequila stage.

      1. Drew*

        Enough tears and you don’t have to find the salt for the rim of the glass.

        Or so I’ve heard.


    2. Elizabeth W.*

      This is a good answer. I’ll steal it.

      And then say, “If that doesn’t work, then it’s time for cake.” :) /kidding

    3. Michaela Westen*

      I like to go out dancing with my friends, and I wouldn’t want to share that in an interview either. All kinds of bad things could ensue.
      Colleagues could think I have more fun than they do.
      It could get people started thinking of me as a dancer instead of a colleague.
      It could lead to colleagues wanting to go with me, and the types who would push for that are not the ones I would want to come.

      1. whingedrinking*

        My main stress relief is taking a bath, and I certainly hope people wouldn’t be planning to join me on that one.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      Honestly, the last part if Alison’s answer was my first thought: If they’re weirdly obsessed with this question, that’s probably a red flag.

    5. TardyTardis*

      I don’t think anyone, except at a few companies, wants to hear “I kill orcs on Warcraft.”

  3. Jaguar*

    If they asked how I handled stress, I gave them an answer, and they came back asking, “Okay, but what about if you were suuuuper stressed?”, my response would be, “Is that a problem here?”

      1. AnnaBananna*

        + 1

        Seriously, if they’re insisting on an answer, they may actually be (intentionally) clueing you in that the envirment and role is way too stressful for most folks. I’d personally ask them for examples of high stress to see what comes out of their mouths and then answer accordingly. So if they respond with ‘well, let’s pretend your boss travels frequently and can be difficult to get a hold of on the best of days’ may be a key clue to what you’re up against in that particular role, you know?

        1. GlitsyGus*

          Good idea! Not all stress is created equal, it would be good to know what they consider “high stress” and see if it meets my own criteria.

        2. Wintermute*


          This SPEAKS to me as one of those sneaky ways that an interviewer can blink “run” in Morse code to you. From friends’ stories and some personal experiences I’ve found that sometimes interviewers focusing in on something specific is their way of throwing a red flag on themselves. Asking one question about “tell me a time you had a conflict with a manager and how you resolved it” but if they follow up with “what would you do if a manager screamed at you?” then they might be tipping their hand.

          It’s the Interviewer version of the old HR chestnut where a manager at a company with a “no negative references” policy would use coded meaning like “I can’t recommend him highly enough!” (“highly enough” for your needs that is), “No employee would be finer for your organization” (you’d be better off having an empty desk) “he’s an unbelievable worker” (he lies), or “I can recommend this employee, with no qualifications whatsoever” (he isn’t qualified to shine shoes let alone run an IT department).

    1. Eddiesherbert*

      Right? That would definitely be my first *thought* if they keep pushing that question…

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Kind of like when two out of three of my interviewers asked me how I dealt with passive-aggressive people. There was a story there and they did share it with me, so that was good in terms of transparency. I still didn’t take the job, but for other reasons (I handle P-A people really well: I usually don’t notice when people are doing it to me *and* I’m a literal person, so I drive them nuts).

    2. Lil Fidget*

      Yes! OP says that they push back on her answer and ask her more pointedly … I would worry that basically indicates that they expect their situation is very stressful (and that they’re basically going to put that on you to handle, rather than doing anything about it). If Op is in a super stressful industry there might be a more standard answer for that type of field, but if this is a run of the mill job I might start to get suspicious they’re trying to tell me something.

    3. Dr. Pepper*

      Yup. I interviewed for a job once that going into I knew would be occasionally high pressure, and I got LOTS of these type of questions. Handling stress, what do you do when 5 people are asking you for different things simultaneously (and they all have equal authority), how would you describe a successful day… handling stress, and so on and so forth. I did not get the job and honestly I was quite relieved. For the menial job description (and accompanying menial salary) it sounded WAY too ridiculously stressful. Like, why would I, essentially the janitor, be making these apparently life and death calls? Is this why the position is open? You pay people next to nothing to sweep the floor and be screamed at all day?

    4. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Yeah, Not, “Okay, but what about if you were suuuuper stressed?”
      Really, the response takes me back to high school.
      “Do you like him.”
      “He’s nice.”
      “Do you like him, like him?”
      “He dresses cool.”
      “So you like him.”

    5. nnn*

      That’s what I was thinking.

      It could also be entertaining to get completely baffled at the concept. “That…that hasn’t ever happened. Is there, like, something wrong with this job??”

      (Not saying that’s a good idea, just saying it could be entertaining)

    6. Kes*

      Yeah, I definitely feel like this questions raises a flag and I would want to ask if this is a stressful workplace in general/often, even more so when they keep asking/pushing for more.

    7. nonegiven*

      Sounds like the last person in the role was out on leave for stress before they quit, was let go, or died.

  4. Detective Amy Santiago*

    “I make a cup of tea and listen to a true crime podcast.”

    That likely wouldn’t get me the job.

        1. Delta Delta*

          Over/under on podcasts mentioned before discussing Serial for the entire rest of the interview: 3.

        1. Former Admin Turned Project Manager*

          One of my colleagues just mentioned having found a legit yoga/knit hybrid class. I found each activity on its own to be soothing, but I would end up more stressed out if I tried to combine them.

    1. your favorite person*

      Yes! This exactly. Honey Vanilla Chamomile tea, MFM, and maybe some Yoga with Adriene if I have the time.

      1. My Foul Mood*

        MFM: male-female-male, maternal fetal medicine, My Favorite Murder podcast, a visit to the Macau airport? Which one is is it?

        1. Ego Chamber*

          I immediately assumed the first one, since so many of the people I know who read pornographic ebooks I mean “erotic literature” also have serious tea habits, with a preference for the most coziest teas. But my real guess would be the Murder podcast, because context cues.

    2. Will*

      I think it might. “I do a harmless, quiet, internal thing, that doesn’t have any chance of disturbing other people or causing any damage to persons or property” is probably the best answer you could give.

    3. Will "scifantasy" Frank*

      I think it might. “I do a harmless, quiet, internal thing, that doesn’t have any chance of disturbing other people or causing any damage to persons or property” is probably the best answer you could give.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Well, I was thinking the implication might be that I know how to commit a perfect crime and thus might be dangerous…

    4. Turquoisecow*

      I was thinking it was a way to lead into a hobbies/what do you do outside work question – although if that were the case I don’t think the person would push with the “but what if you’re REALLY stressed?”

    5. Videogame Lurker*

      Might be more likely than me and my video-game-based Youtube discussion videos about video game lore. Or the anime ones. Or science fiction lore discussion videos…

      Stuff like “Who is Mephala, the Daedric Prince/Queen of Spiders, Secrets, Triple X, and Murder?”, “Warhammer 40,000 Lore on Some Obscure Space Marine Chapter”, “Dragonball WHAT IF – Radditz Turned Good (Part 17)?”

      And a good classic for The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim fans – Epic Nate’s “Ten Tiny Details You May Have Missed in TESV:Skyrim (Part 467!)”

      *sips at hot apple cider, except on weekend nights where she does this with alcohol cider*

      And play videogames, while listening to those Youtube videos…

      1. Videogame Lurker*

        Then again, I work with kids.

        “I don’t go home with my work.” Wait, I’m studying to be a teacher, and will need to probably bring papers home for work…

        “I play a very expensive hobby involving buying tiny models, getting them painted and assembled, and then battling the models in armies against other people.” (Miniwargaming)

        “I play videogames.” (I must be one of those awful Millennials the news people talk about when they need some fluff article. *eyeroll*) “Umm… Not ones I would recommend to students?”

        “I unplug-” Oh wait, that’s the same as “not going home with my work.”

        “I assure you, I am not a serial killer, nor will I go ax-murdering everyone to death?”

        1. TardyTardis*

          When I was under an incredible amount of stress, I really improved my Tetris score. (my children became quite self-reliant at an early age…)

    6. TZ*

      I get asked this question a LOT in interviews. I’m curious was industry the LW is in, but it’s very normal in community services/social work/youth work. (But we deal service some of the worst and hardest parts of humanity while trying to hold on to our compassion and reduce burn-out, so I think it’s a fair question in my cases.)

      I absolutely have answered ‘drink tea on my balcony and read trashy urban fantasy’. And got the job, ha.

      They mostly seem to be looking for, Do you debrief with other people (with a mind towards respecting confidentiality)? Have you thought about how personally hard this job can be and have good systems in place for handling that?

      1. Robyn*

        Yes, I’ve been asked about managing stress and taking care of myself in every job interview in my field (crime victim services), due to the nature of the work and potential for burnout. Usually I talk about maintaining boundaries/making sure I have a separate life outside work and debriefing with colleagues. I also usually mention outside hobbies like hiking or guaranteed stress-relief strategies like hanging out with dogs.

        After the worst day at work I ever had, I called my friend (also a coworker) and asked if she I could bring some wine over, cuddle her dog, and talk about my day. It works!

        1. TZ*

          It totally does! And it is helpful to have articulated upfront “here’s what I should do when stressed beyond belief” , because it’s good to have something already articulated to reach for when you hit that overwhelm point.

    7. JarJarBinks*

      I work in an emergency services job and we see true crime all the time. This would totally get you a job here! And we ask the stress question because having to work fast in a high-stress environment means we want you to at least have one non-drinking related stress reliever to turn to when you go home each day :)

  5. Essess*

    If the stress is to the point where you expect your employees to be unable to “get over it” then the environment is toxic. and the employee should run like hell.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Either that, or the question is in reaction to a previous employee who wasn’t able to “get over” a typical amount of stress for that industry, and they’re trying to over-correct by haranguing interviewees on this issue.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I agree. And I feel they haven’t been able to correct for that yet.
        The follow up should be more along the lines of, “that’s interesting. Do you feel that you will be able to [gym, tan, laundry, paint, cook, etc.] while working here?” or “Let me clarify, I’m asking for your in the moment reactions. Do you need a break from your desk, do you put on headphones, do you tend to “talk it out” if it’s a person who is making you feel stress?”
        Be specific: If you’re team is about to miss a deadline, what do you do? Or, tell us about a time when the project scoped changed, or someone left the team. Ask what you want to know, don’t go fishing and hope for the best.

        1. wherewolf*

          Good point, pointed questions are more likely to get the answers that you want. “How do you handle stress?” is not going to tell you if the candidate can handle normal levels of stress at work. If you have a problem person in the office, ask how they handle passive aggressive or strict bosses. If the role has a lot of conflicting priorities or sudden interruptions, ask how they handle those.

          When I get asked too many questions about stress in an interview, I take it as 1) a test to see if I can present basic adult professionalism when asked, ie don’t admit that I don’t take it well or that I cry and take it personally; 2) a red flag that this job is going to be too stressful for me.

      2. Wendy Darling*

        My previous employer now has “Handles stress effectively and professionally” in their job listing for the role I had, because I tended to get a bit flustered and upset when they repeatedly made completely unreasonable demands and harangued me for being unable to meet them. :/

        Related: I’ve been gone 2 years and they’ve been through four people in that job that I know of. I found out when I started that job that the previous record for tenure in my role was 2 months but 4 weeks or less was typical, so it’s entirely possible the real number is much higher.

        1. LKW*

          It sounds like more that one person had stress related reactions with that kind of turn over. I think you’re in the clear.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          This reminds me of when I used to look at admin posts. “must be polished and professional at all times.”
          “must be able to handle anything up to and including the world blowing up without leaving her desk or losing her cool”

    2. Beatrice*

      There are some industries and fields where a normal amount of stress is above what some people are capable of handling well. I don’t think those are all inherently toxic environments. There’s nothing wrong with recognizing what kind of environment you’re hiring for, and working to match the right people for that environment.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Exactly, and I think in that case the question should be framed to discuss the expected levels of stress. Although I think it was mentioned it’s a customer service position, which can be inherently stressful, if the interviewers are really, really concerned about stress levels for a specific reason, they should explain what it is. Like, lately they’ve have a large percentage of very disgruntled customers because of a known product defect or something. Just asking about “stress relief” in a general way, and only trying to dive in about extreme stress after the first answer doesn’t help the interviewee know what they’re really looking for.

      2. TZ*

        Yeah, I would feel differently for people hitting this question hard if you were a paramedic versus if you worked a standard office job.

      3. atma*

        I agree to this, I have worked jobs where a certain level of recurring stress was part of it, and if I know that I can handle it really well. It also makes sens for the employer to know you have a strategy and are able to deal with it. My go-to answer is that if there is too much stress at work for a while I’m REALLY good at not being very active at home, so I get my rest/relaxation in

  6. Lily in NYC*

    I think that when we get asked something SO specific it is often a reaction to the person who is being replaced. The person might have handled stress badly and it affected everyone around them. I remember going on an interview where they kept asking me about coworkers I didn’t get along with and why we didn’t get along. I was confused and kept saying I get along with everyone but they pushed and finally admitted the person who left the role couldn’t get along with anyone.
    But I’d be worried that it might just be a stressful place in general, yikes.

    1. CM*

      I agree. My guess would be that the previous person got overwhelmed and left without trying to do anything about it first. I think your answer should convey that you would talk to your manager, figure out what was causing the stress, consider whether it was temporary, and try to work with your manager to fix the situation.

    2. Le Sigh*

      Ugh, I had this happen, except my manager did it to our most promising candidate. Had a person on his team who was always, always late. Instead of asking about time management, and his ability to be on time, he started asking the guy if he was married, had kids, etc.

      Our recruiter looked mortified and tried to shut it down. Shockingly, the guy didn’t take our offer.

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      I had this insight a few decades back, when I was in college and looking at “housemate wanted” ads. You could always tell what the problems were with the departing housemate based on requirements in the ad. Must pay bills on time, must keep common areas clean, must not practice drums after 1:30am…

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This was actually what I was thinking too. I got a bunch of questions about how I handle learning/not knowing things, what sort of expectation I have for being settled into a new position, and what I’d do if I felt overwhelmed. This was for another department where I ended up working and I found out that they had high turnover because people weren’t grasping the cyclical nature of the workload.

    5. smoke tree*

      I’m always a little worried about that not getting along with coworkers one, since I don’t have any examples of coworker conflict either (I definitely have had coworkers I didn’t like, but I don’t think they knew it). One of my previous managers told me that she’s always suspicious when people say that, since not having any conflicts at work is a sign that you don’t have strong opinions and never try anything new, or something. That might just be her own interpretation, but she was a really good manager and smart person, so I took it pretty seriously at the time.

  7. Snickerdoodle*

    LOL, I immediately thought of only inappropriate responses as well.

    If pushed, I’d probably fail to resist the temptation to point out that I knew I was a bad for the job and just leave. I once had an interview where they asked me how I handled drama in the office, and I thought “I work someplace else!” but said something about taking a moment to process the situation, escalate to management if necessary, etc. I wish I’d just blurted out the “nope” response and left, especially since they immediately followed up to tell me that it was the *boss* who was the drama llama. Needless to say, I turned down the job.

      1. Snickerdoodle*

        Yeah, that’s more than most places would be, I suspect. I’m glad I was able to select out rather than get trapped.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      So your answer told them what they wanted to know and what you needed to know. You expect a functional hierarchy. They don’t have that. So instead of wrangling the drama llama, they are going to keep wasting time looking for someone who either thrives in office bs or who is oblivious to it. Excellent business plan.

  8. Hey-eh*

    When I was an intern I once answered this question by asking back, “Do you have a kettle in the kitchen?” And my future manager said yes, so I said “Well then that means I can make a cup of tea, and in that case you don’t have to worry about me being stressed.” I go the job, but looking back I wouldn’t use that answer again! In this situation, I think I would be more inclined to say that if I can’t get over it myself, then I would ask for help? That’s the only thing I can think of that would be a response to this line of questioning.

  9. beanie beans*

    I think focusing on how you would address whatever is causing the stress would be a good response – get at the root cause.

    But it might also be a good opportunity to ask about what the typical stressors of the job are so you can understand why they are asking. Constant deadlines? Unmanageable workloads? High pressure environment? Demanding clients/customers? Your response might really depend on what they think the stressful parts of the job are! Maybe you’re calm under pressure and love deadlines!

    Sometimes a job is just always going to have stress and if that’s the case it’s in everyone’s best interest to understand what to expect so there aren’t surprises later!

  10. Eddiesherbert*

    Maybe they’re looking for people who “thrive on stress”?

    I would hope they’d just tell you that explicitly, so people could self-select out if that’s not a good environment for them… but we’ve seen plenty of evidence that interviewers often aren’t explicit.

    1. Snickerdoodle*

      My experience is that companies with stressful environments they can’t manage are so desperate to hire someone that they carefully hide anything that will drive off good candidates. I know my last job did that. I subsequently learned to ask why there was a vacancy and to note if the answer seemed dodgy, look at how happy/miserable people working there seemed, ask for a handbook, etc.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Yeah, when I was sitting in on interviews at $OldJob one of the questions was about stress…it really was a red flag if you didn’t want to work in a bit of a pressure-cooker. (But with one exception, that being the boss of a particular team, the pressure-cooker was mostly caused by the fact that we were creating & supporting life- and safety-critical systems.)

        Losing candidates to that sort of thing bites, but not as badly as hiring them and losing them just as they’re finally up to speed.

      2. Elizabeth W.*

        OH YES.
        This is a go-to question for me — “Why is this job open?” I’ve gotten answers as varied as “It’s a new position” (Okay) to “The person we hired before you couldn’t do anything right” (Bad–apparently neither could I and I regret taking that job). You can tell a lot by the answer you get.

        1. NW Mossy*

          I once got “because the person who was doing the job died tragically young in an accident,” followed by some obvious sadness about the loss of her.

          I’m not proud of it as a human being, but it definitely influenced my decision not to take the job when it was offered to me. It was clear that the hiring manager wasn’t in a good place yet with his grief, and I had major reservations about that. I might be able to do the work she did, but I couldn’t be an effective replacement for the person she was.

          1. Tiny Orchid*

            At a job, one of our young, up-and-coming employees died suddenly. It would have been awful if we had tried to hire her replacement quickly – even though it was a lot more work for all of us, keeping it open until the job had morphed a bit to be different from what it was when she died was so important for the next person to be successful.

            1. jojobeans*

              In one of the previous locations where I worked, someone from another organisation was kidnapped and within a couple weeks, there was a listing for her job posted on all the local/industry-specific websites.

              I mean, I get it, the programme needs to continue because we work in humanitarian/development aid and people’s lives are (extremely) negatively impacted if these programmes are suspended.

              But it still rather struck people as — I don’t know, unfeeling? Brusque? Insensitive? Cold? Too soon? And while I like to think that they informed the replacement as to just *why* that job was open, knowing what I do, it’s highly unlikely.

              I’m not sure how most orgs handle it (presumably cover the duties internally) but I’m fairly sure it’s not to immediately (and publicly) start looking for their replacement.

      3. all the candycorn*

        My last disastrous job, I asked why the position was open. I was told, “Well we had a rank-and-file person helping out with leadership work as needed, but we decided to create a new management-level position to helm the department and keep things organized when he took a different job in a different field.”

        What I found out actually happened after I took the job was: there was a formal lead person, Hiring Manager was a psychopath who harassed him and when he stopped doing her evil bidding (harassing other staff at her request) she demoted him and tortured him, so he spent most of his time at work applying to new jobs until he could get out.

        I did not stay at that job long.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          My last disastrous job I also asked why the position was open. They told me the previous hire was not a good fit, but I seemed like a great fit and they had no concerns about me whatsoever.

          What I got from the rumor mill after I accepted the job:
          – The previous hire quit after 2 months
          – No one before that lasted more than 4 weeks
          – There were at LEAST 3 people before the guy I replaced

          What I realized from sad experience: NO ONE was a good fit for that job because they had completely unrealistic expectations for the job to begin with, and rather than reevaluating their expectations after the 3rd or 4th time it didn’t work they just assumed the person they hired sucked.

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        We do the exact opposite. I have a pressure-cooker practice, and we flat out tell people what it’s like in interviews, no sugar involved. It does me no good to spend a month training someone and have them quit. I want someone who knows what they’re getting into.

        1. Ron McDon*

          At least you listened; one time I explained all the negatives about the role to a prospective candidate, because we’d had a relatively high turnover and wanted someone who would stay in the role long term. The prospective employee nodded along, said she understood, that it wasn’t a problem as she was currently doing this exact job etc etc.

          Three months later (just after she successfully completed her probationary period) she began complaining bitterly about all the things both I and my boss had told her about the role before she even interviewed. And then got annoyed when we told her we couldn’t change any of those things.

          Turns out she had been desperate to leave her previous job, so didn’t really listen/take it in when we explained – multiple times! – the bits of the job that would not suit everyone.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Honestly, this happens a lot as well — not just because people are not listening but because hearing it and living it are two different things. They think, “oh, great! lots of OT $$” and it ends up being a work/life hit that doesn’t work for them in practice. It’s not for everyone, and we do pay the folks in that particular group more than others (I call it “hazard pay”) and offer as many perks as we can like free meals and additional bonuses after major deadlines are met.

            But I would never downplay the reality in an interview, and HR knows to include it in their prescreens. I do not want to use my time or the team lead’s on people who are looking for a 9-5 and done.

  11. Jordan*

    I recently had an interview coincide with a major ice storm that shut down the employer for 2.5 days, and had never a) driven on the busiest highway on the continent or b) driven in snow before that date. The interview happened, and getting there wasn’t so bad, because no one was on the roads and at least the one highway had been cleared – I just took it slow and drove carefully and made it there just fine. At one point during a break, a member of the hiring committee asked, re: the drive, “is there ANYTHING that frustrates you?”, to which I just replied “Adobe Flash, the only thing that has ever made me throw something in anger.” This got a huge laugh out of the developer on the team, and then one by one, everyone on the committee shared the things they have thrown in anger.

    I got the job!

    1. Wendy Darling*


      – The giant corruption scandal in his home country
      – People who promote homeopathy
      – Printers
      – When Netflix autoplays trailers

      I’ve been with the guy for over a decade and those are the only things I know of that get him mad.

      1. Videogame Lurker*

        Oh, those awful autoplay trailers. Or you go to read the description of a show, and while reading, the first episode or the current episode you were watching starts to auto-play. Auto-play videos are evil.


        Flash is pretty annoying inself too, slowing down websites when I am just looking for some text, but wait! It is ALLLL Flash!

  12. Kate*

    A previous boss I had (that I adored) asked me this in an interview. I asked him why later and he said that our job is stressful (true) and he wanted someone who would be able to cope, and also be honest. He said a lot of people would say things like “I just don’t let it get to me” and he knew they were BSing.

    My answer was “I take a break to walk around the parking garage with my iPod on full blast.” He loved it. He also would have loved “Make a cup of tea and listen to a true crime podcast.” :).

    1. Wendy Darling*

      I get up and walk to someplace that sells coffee, buy myself a drink, and walk back. I either go with a coworker I can rant with or listen to podcasts.

      It works REALLY WELL.

      I’ve also been known to just do a lap or two around the building when I didn’t have anywhere good to go.

    2. Red Reader*

      (TW: mention of self-harm) On the one hand, I do have a remarkable ability to let stress roll off my back without anything more than mumbling curse words under my breath. On the other, I spent six months in a position where my purpose in being there – and a situation I found myself in on multiple occasions – was to answer the phone, hear “I have a bottle of pills and a gun and I’m going to kill myself,” and do my damnedest to keep that from happening. (100% success rate, I’m proud to say.) Since then I have never had a position where a more stressful situation than that was reasonably expected, and discussing that position tends to do a pretty good job of demonstrating my largely unflappable nature.

    3. Lana Kane*

      I ask this question and that’s exactly why. We’ve had enough people who had zero coping skills when it comes to stress, that I want to hear that the person I’m interviewing has a way, any way, to cope. Hearing “oh, it doesn’t bother me!” is a pretty big red flag.

  13. Elizabeth*

    I would say I try to exercise every day, which is true. A good jog really clears your head and loosens up in any tension you have. So, I feel like that would be an acceptable and sufficient answer, but I could be wrong.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I used that once and included yoga as well. I got the job. They didn’t push for the ‘what about ongoing, really, really stressed answer though.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Honest answer: go complain a lot to my husband, retail therapy, and curse out my coworkers mentally. Ongoing stress? Go cry in the bathroom, sleep too much, and look for a new job.

  14. Seriously?*

    It seems like a poorly worded question. Hopefully what they were trying to ask is “How do you handle a stress on the job?” I relieve stress by baking and playing board games. I handle stress by prioritizing and scheduling my time well and working with my boss to have reasonable deadlines or delegate some of the work to others if it is really too much.

    1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

      When I read this, I misinterpreted it and thought they were asking the LW about her hobbies! (Maybe because another post today linked back to an old post about hobbies, which I read while waiting for a bus…)

      1. Ama*

        I think you are both right that the question is far too general in its wording (it could be interpreted either as “on the job” or “outside of work”) and perhaps that’s why they pushed the OP — they didn’t get the answer they wanted because they aren’t articulating the question well.

    2. Kris*

      I agree that these are two different things. I read the question to be ongoing/longterm stress, and my answer would be that I go hiking as much as possible in my downtime. But if the question is how I handle a stressful job situation in the moment, the answer clearly won’t be hiking!

  15. Amber Rose*

    I’m guessing “therapy” is still not an acceptable answer? Like, if my stress was so bad that a hot drink and some Katamari Damacy or Beat Saber couldn’t chill me out, I’d be looking for professional help.

    Actually, are video games even OK as an answer? Because man, I play a lot of video games.

    1. Elizabeth W.*

      Katamari Damacy is a great stress reliever. It’s so funny and weird I can’t not relax while playing it even if I don’t get all the things.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Seriously. And depending on if my stress has an anger component, the screams of the rolled up people in later levels are pretty satisfying.

        In one of the later games there’s a level where you just roll up fireflies in the dark and it’s so pretty and chill, I love it. One of my favorite musical artists wrote a song partly inspired by that level, apparently.

  16. mcr-red*

    My honest reply would probably be, “listening to metal or rap on my phone and/or crying in the bathroom.”

    1. mcr-red*

      That’s at work. If they mean after work, “baking, watching horror movies and playing violent video games.”

  17. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

    I work with abused and neglected children. The stories these kids tell will affect your own mental health. Having to work with the abusers – often practiced manipulators – can wear on you. When interviewing individuals wishing to work or intern with me, I always point out, as best I can, the reality of this job and ask about stress management. Professionals in this field have a high burnout rate. I need to know that the people I am working with understand the toll this job takes and have a plan to keep themselves healthy. I have also asked how they recognize when they are stressed out or need help. This question has tremendous value in my industry.

    1. Dr. Pepper*

      In that case though, if I were interviewing for such a position those questions would make sense and I would not be left puzzled after the interview was over. Unless of course I had no idea what I was getting into, but again, your reasons for asking are highly logical and not difficult to figure out. I’ve been grilled on stress management in an interview for what was essentially a janitorial position. That was weird and made no sense.

    2. The JMP*

      Yup. I also work in a field where vicarious trauma and burnout are really common and I ask similar questions for the exact same reasons.

      The response to the question doesn’t matter that much (as long as it’s relatively reasonable) but I do want to know that people are aware of the realities of the job and have some plan for self-care.

    3. strawberries and raspberries*

      Yeah, I’m a social worker, and the last few interviews I had I was asked the same question. It was always prefaced with how stressful the roles could be, but even if it wasn’t, I get it- I’ve heard enough about vicarious trauma and managing your own stress that I see where they’re going with it. I stuck to benign answers like “playing with my cat” and “cooking” and “weight training” rather than “binge-watching horror films” and “thrashing around to Scandinavian death metal.” (I do all of these things, sometimes simultaneously.)

    4. samiratou*

      Yes, certain kinds of jobs definitely need stress management techniques, and it’s totally appropriate to ask about them in an interview.

      In this case it doesn’t sound like it was that kind of job and the “what about if you’re reeeeeealy stressed for weeks on end” without giving any context for the stress, as you did, makes me think that they either got burned by a previous employee or the employees are chronically overworked and the LW should run like the wind.

      It wasn’t a professional way to ask about something that could be a professional concern, depending.

    5. Thany*

      I was going to comment this. I worked in Level 12 group home with at risk youth, and they asked this question in my interview. I also worked with the homeless and I was asked this question in my interview again. They are checking to see if you have coping skills to be able to handle the vicarious trauma that is involved with these jobs. It is a really important question to ask in an industry related with mental health.

  18. Lobbyist*

    I think you could truthfully answer this question by re framing it as what are your hobbies. I reduce stress by intense exercise and also by getting enough sleep, spending time with friends and family, and reading. When I’m under intense stress at work I stay calm and unflappable because I get my stress out elsewhere.

    1. From the High Tower on the Hill*

      Nothing clears my mind more than having a cookout with my family and watching the Green Bay Packers (not always the best decision as this season they are causing more stress).

  19. JM*

    I actually ask this when I interview people, because we ARE in an industry that has long days, and very stressful week/month periods. What I’m looking for when I ask this is really just that people HAVE thought about self-care and coping mechanisms. So there isn’t a “right” answer per se, but the “right” answer for me is just hearing that the person I’m interviewing is aware of how they react to stress and thoughtful about it. It’s not a high stakes or make-or-break question ever though, so I can’t imagine pushing a person who didn’t give a “satisfactory” answer.

    I will also say it’s a great getting to know someone question, and if I hire that person, I have some information about how they deal with stress and what they need to take care of themselves. For example, I once worked on a team where none of us really took formal lunch breaks (it was a short term project, so we were all good to just eat at our desks while we powered through) but I hired a contractor who answered this question by saying he really needs dedicated time away from the office, even 20-30 minutes, to recharge and drink a green juice, in order to power through a stressful day. It helped both of us set healthy expectations about what would help him have a positive work experience, and when I saw him flagging I knew it was time to make sure he took a walk and got his juice :)

    1. Nina*

      Sometimes in a high stress environment that contractors answer would be seen as a weakness or something, when in reality it’s quite reasonable. It’s just hard to know what the interviewer is expecting with this question.

      1. JM*

        I see that, and I think it’s also important that I frame the question in the context of, “we care about our employees, we recognize our work can sometimes we training, and we understand it’s important to take care of ourselves….how do you do that?” So the person responding feels safe being like “I need breaks!” “I love yoga!” etc. I would hope that any interviewer who is asking this question is asking because they care, and want employees to take care of themselves, but yes I totally understand how it can be hard to guess what the interviewer is expecting (isn’t it always?? haha)

    2. joriley*

      Same here–I’ve asked this (and been asked it) and for me, really I just want to know that they have some way of handling stress. If a candidate says “you know, I really don’t find work to be stressful” or some other non-answer, it’s a data point that maybe they haven’t had to deal with particularly challenging situations in the past. I wouldn’t reject them because of it, but I would dig a little deeper. It’s kind of a companion to some of the behavioral questions, but it doesn’t necessarily require thinking of a specific situation in the same way those do.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Only if you are a certain demographic, sadly. For the rest of us, there are standard answers like “meditating”, “more work”, “team meetings, they always calm me down”, “volunteering at an animal shelter” (hmm that is actually a good idea), “nature walks”, basically, whatever behavior the leadership would want to see in a stressed-out pliant employee.

  20. Micromanagered*

    I always thought this question wasn’t so much about the RIGHT answer as it is being able to articulate your answer. Do you have the self-awareness to recognize a stress response? When you do how do you deal with it? When that’s not enough, what do you do? With the idea being “have you ever thought about this stuff” more than seeing if you’ll say the wrong thing like “punch a wall and leave anonymous complaint-notes in the kitchen.”

    1. Anonamoose*

      I nearly spit out my water when I read this. I would have loved to see what an interviewer would do with that answer!

  21. Sharkey*

    This question doesn’t seem off-base for a known-to-be-stressful role, but it definitely needs better follow-up to actually learn about a candidate. I hire for tech support, which is notoriously stressful, so I ask variations on this question all the time to get a sense of whether candidates (a) understand what kind of stress they can look forward to and (b) have a sense of their own sensitivity and have systems/habits/practices in place to handle it.

    I usually ask something like, “We’re lucky that most of our customers are very nice, but we do talk to plenty of people who are having a really hard day because of our product. How do you stay calm during and get back on track after a tough customer call?” I also surround that question with behavioral questions looking for stories of how they handled their toughest customers, their workload, and how they handle customers they can’t help. It’s only with the behavioral questions that “how do you relieve stress” is really useful.

  22. Delta Delta*

    I discuss stressful situations with my horse while I groom him. This has numerous benefits: 1. The horse gets brushed. 2. I get exercise. 3. Horses are very good at keeping secrets.

    But, in an interview with someone who might not be A Horse Person, I’d say, “barn chores and exercise help clear my head, or talking to a trusted friend.” No need to say the trusted friend is a horse.

    1. Dr. Pepper*

      Hello, fellow Horse Person! That would be my answer too. Non horse people do not generally understand the sincerity of it, though, and sometimes think you’re nuts. :/ I like your generalized version.

      1. Videogame Lurker*

        Not a horse person here, but I am a dog-cat-and-rodent person, so I could see the sincerity of that friendship with your beloved animal friend. Rats will even groom their humans! And playing peekaboo in one’s hair is adorable!

  23. OtterB*

    My first thought wasn’t X-rated, but was equally inappropriate for an interview because it’s “prayer.” I guess I’d frame it as “meditation” for an interview answer.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My first thought of what I would actually say was “meditation”, since it seems to be all the rage in the corporate world lately. I have never done it, but that’d probably be my answer. Or mindfulness (whatever that is).

  24. AnonEMoose*

    Depending on my impression of the interview, I might answer with any of the following:


    Get a massage.

    Bake. Preferably with chocolate.

    Boot up Diablo 3 and slaughter large numbers of electronic monsters. Because when something annoys me in Diablo 3, I can drop a meteor on it.

    If it’s during the day, take a walk around the block.

    But, yeah, the X-rated answers definitely occurred to me, too – LOL!

    1. Macedon*

      I do the same with Diablo 2. More difficult monsters in my experience, longer time spent inflicting meteor damage on unsuspecting demonic annoyances. Another friend uses D3 for the same purpose.

      I don’t think Blizzard has ever quite thought to capitalize on its audience segment comprising professional adults with job-related anger issues.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        LOL! I don’t think they have, but it is helpful. Not much plot to think about, but lots of satisfying explosions and such.

    2. Free Meerkats*

      I have a friend who works on the Diablo team at Blizzard. They are expected to play the games at work, it’s their work chat system. So if he’s stressed during the day, “drop meteors on demons” is the right answer.

  25. AKchic*

    I would want to turn the question around on them.
    “Why are you concerned with employees becoming ‘super stressed’ and how they handle and/or manage their stress? Is there something in the work environment I should be aware of that you are trying to subtly hint at? My coping skills are just fine and I do not discuss my stress management techniques with relative strangers. However, since you have brought the subject up, what do you consider to be ‘stressing’ and ‘stress inducing’ to your workplace that prospective employees should be aware of?”

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Agreed. This answer would put a candidate in the “Weird answer…Nope” category for me.

  26. Phil*

    The question is a tip off that it’s a very high stress job. And that’s a useful piece of information.

  27. Master Bean Counter*

    My answer: After having to deal with having a company car run into a house, I’ve not found many things much more stressful. But if I start to feel stressed a take a minute breathe and refocus on what needs to be done.

  28. Bikirl*

    I would view the question it as Micromanaged suggests above. A good answer might be: I’d try to determine the source of my stress; If I’m overloaded with more work than I can handle, then I’d take practical measures to address the problem, such as re-prioritizing, delegating, changing some aspects of the workflow. If this didn’t work, I’d discuss it with my manager. If it’s a problem with a colleague; I’d try to communicate with them about the issue and find a solution. “Normal” stress that comes with any job, can be dealt with by practicing self-care, i.e. getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well, enjoying social and leisure time on the weekends, and taking regular vacations.

  29. ACDC*

    I’ve always answered this question by sharing one or two hobbies that I do regularly and enjoy. I.e. I’ll share that I enjoy crafting or yoga or baking, etc. This has always gone over really well and it also gives the interviewer insight into my personality.

  30. Could be Anyone*

    Yeah I take a long bath with a glass of red wine and that is not something I want to discuss in an interview.

  31. East of nowhere, south of lost*

    I like to throw sandbags around… and carry steel plates in my ruck for many many miles. I have some odd fitness routines… but it works. Lol

  32. Kali*

    When applying for my present position, I got a lot of questions about handling stress because (a) I’m work in a high-stress field that has noted higher averages for substance abuse/suicide than most careers and (b) people who had thrived in different areas of this field had stressed out too much about my particular position, and they wanted to know if I had a way of dealing with it. So, if you’re in a field that is high-stress, I understand the digging. For what it’s worth, I answered that I decompressed by spending time with friends and family (none of whom are in my field, so it wouldn’t be shop-talk) and with my hobbies. I emphasized that I worked to keep my personal and professional lives separate, and if I was having a *really* tough time, I knew who to lean on to listen/support/help me. I think that the bottom line for them was that I wasn’t going to stress-quit on them or bottle everything up until I exploded. (Yes, this had happened previously.) So far, I’ve done neither, so I’m crossing my fingers going forward!

  33. LadyMountaineer*

    Oooohh! I get this question a lot! I am a Data Scientist who works on issues like suicide prevention, serious illness, child abuse prevention…all that fun stuff. For me it absolutely makes sense that this question is asked and I don’t mind answering it. That being said I don’t start off with “wine and sex.”

    I generally say something like “I really enjoy listening to podcasts. The Headspace app has been really helpful. I also really enjoy playing Pokemon Go and going to the gym at lunch. I also have just joined a masters swim team and we practice on Monday nights.”

    My boss is a MD. He doesn’t want to get all up in my business but he doesn’t want me jumping off of a cliff either. Now that I’ve been here for awhile I am fine with saying “I’ll be an hour late on Monday got a therapy appointment, see ya!” But I don’t think I’d be 100% comfortable with that in an interview. Mainly what he’s looking for when he asks is that you think about self-care and take it seriously. This goes for all genders in hiring when it comes to the work that we do.

  34. Notasecurityguard*

    “Hoookers and blow has been pretty effective in the past so I’ll probably stick with that”

    I wonder if that’d be an acceptable answer

  35. Greg NY*

    I’ve been asked this exact question. I answered matter of factly. I said I go for walks, take daylong drives, and watch baseball and football games on TV. I then turned the question around and asked the interviewer why he was asking me that, whether there was something about working in the organization that lent itself to frequent or high levels of stress. I then found out about how fast paced the environment was. I explained that I can handle long periods of stress, but only for a temporary timeframe, and the stress could not be frequent either, and anything else is a sign of a dysfunctional workplace. His response to that: “Yeah, I know. It takes a certain kind of person to succeed here, and to be honest, I’m not sure I’m it.”

    When the salary being nothing to write home about and the other benefits (including time off) mediocre, I ultimately thanked him for the interview in a follow-up email and said to myself “NEXT!”, without looking back. My advice: when this question is asked in an interview, it’s asked for a reason. Only take the position if the salary or learning experiences are astounding and you can handle the stress for a certain period of time, because it’s nearly certain to be there in that organization.

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      I agree. When I hear this question, I usually think the interviewer is sending a signal about the company. But if the interviewer pushes back on the answer? That is a loud siren with flashing neon lights signal to not work there!

  36. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

    “Yes, but what if you can’t get over it? You’re really, really stressed?”

    “Well, by that time, the voices are usually telling me to take a restful evening off to clean the chainsaw.”

    1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

      “I get blackout schwaisted and pick bar fights. Clearly it works for some of our leading citizens.”

      “I just go home, crack a beer, and watch the news. That always calms me right down.”

      So many possibilities.

  37. Persimmons*

    Paraphrased answer from a veteran relative: “I spent three years in a literal war zone. Unless your clients are lobbing bombs over the counter, I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      Reminds me of Phil McConkey, a Navy veteran who played football for the New York Giants in the 1980’s. He was asked about the pressure of playing football. His reply? “Pressure is trying to land a helicopter on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Mediterranean at night.”

      I always appreciated his healthy dose of workplace perspective.

      1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

        My dad is a Vietnam vet and was was mugged, once. I asked him if he’d been terrified. His answer was something like, “Dunno. Once you’ve watched tracer rounds go by your head close enough to touch, at night, while really incredibly stoned, nothing really seems all that dangerous anymore. I just gave him my wallet and hoped he’d go away soon.”

    2. Be the Change*

      Yes, my benchmark for a “problem” has been influenced by my military siblings and my doctor son-in-law: Is anybody gonna die? No? Then calm down, we’ll solve this.

      1. Videogame Lurker*


        My grandmother had that as a rule for her kids coming to parents screaming about something. “Is someone bleeding/hurt/injured? Is someone dying? Then deep breaths, and talk it out.”

        If psychological damage was being done, then other means were in use, of course, but my aunt and father didn’t grow up torturing each other more than just annoying each other (“He’s looking at me!” “No I’m not.” kind of stuff)

    3. nym*

      I work for someone who was a (very good) thoracic surgeon before advancing into administration; his response to a similar question was “once you’ve held a live, beating heart still attached to its owner in your hand and your job is to keep that heart beating and that owner alive, there’s not much that will stress you out.”

  38. MTUMoose*

    I would answer one of two ways:
    I would have a cup of tea and enjoy a good book (sci-fi/fantasy).
    Depending on how I am getting along with the interviewer;
    I would say that I would take my stress out on the ice when I play hockey. Nothing like a good skate to get the stress out, but I would make sure to point out that I don’t drop the gloves. You don’t need to fight just the occasional collision.

  39. Vicky Austin*

    Acceptable answers:

    I exercise
    I burn incense and listen to Enya
    I watch comedy
    I talk it over with people I trust

    1. BookishMiss*

      My real answers: gallows humor, internal profanity, and chocolate, while just doing the thing. Once it’s done, I don’t have to stress about it, so I do it in order to reduce my stress.

  40. A person*

    I’ve gotten that question a lot and I have never once interpreted it as being about how I unwind in my personal life off the job – they don’t care about that.

    I’ve answered by talking about how I handle stress and stressful periods at work – prioritizing, flagging things for my boss if I need help, switching to another task for a while to give myself a break, etc., and my interviewers have been satisfied with those kinds of answers. I assume because they care that I’m able to acknowledge the stress, make a plan, and get the job done. Not about how I relax after work.

    I do think that interviewers pushing too hard on that line of questioning if your answer is insufficient is bizarre and means that it’s a job with higher than normal amounts of stress.

  41. Phoenix Programmer*

    I did not realize this is an odd question. I have been asked this question for every job I work in. I always assumed that it was to make sure you had thought through stress reduction/stress management.

    The pushing was odd though. Maybe they lost someone due to stress. We rather suddenly had our admin assistant quit after she was hospitalized due to stress.

  42. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

    I have gotten the question and I hate hate hate it. I usually talk about when I worked in a emergency veterinary clinic and how even though it was a stressful place, a lot of things that minimized stress was being prepared and stocked, blah blah blah.

    Early on in my working career, I told the truth, which was/is recite the beginning of “Evgenii Onegin” in Russian to myself. The interviewer seemed to enjoy the response, but I also got the clear impression that was not the answer they wanted. Did not get job, never mentioned it in an interview again.

  43. Torrance*

    I’m thankful that mindfulness has gone pretty mainstream because that’s my go-to coping mechanism for stress & it doesn’t get you labelled as unstable if you mention it these days. I gained my skills through years of DBT classes but now anyone can download an app and start learning the process. Headspace is a great app, but I’ve got to recommend “F*ck That: An Honest Meditation” on YouTube to anyone who doesn’t clutch their pearls too tightly because it’s amazing and I find it so empowering, especially when it’s people or situations that are stressing me out.

    1. BookishMiss*

      I keep that book in my desk, and have given it as a gift. I love the YouTube video, too, when it’s an option.

    2. Mockingdragon*

      Oh god I’m listening to that and dying of laughter. I don’t think I could actually meditate without cracking up.

  44. Femmeanon*

    Unfortunately my answer of “smoke a big bowl of [drug that is legal in my state]” would not suffice here, would it…

  45. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

    I’ve been asked this and didn’t really understand the question so the interviewer clarified. She said that if you work in a job that’s sometimes stressful, it’s important that know what you can do in your free time to process it. It doesn’t matter what it is, the important thing is to know what it is for you, but for some people it can be things like running or listening to hard rock. So she definitely wanted to hear about free time things. I still didn’t have a good answer for that one because I don’t usually feel stressed by work stuff after the workday.

    I didn’t get the job, but it was said to be because they were looking for someone more customer service oriented – the position indeed turned out to be more customer focused than I had thought so I wasn’t surprised or disappointed. I probably wouldn’t have been chosen for that job no matter what I had said to the stress question.

  46. MusicWithRocksInIt*

    I’ve answered this with “I like to workout when stressed” which isn’t really true but is what popped up in my head – science says it relieves stress so it must be a good answer! Which later I found out really helped me because the guy interviewing me believed in an active lifestyle.

    At my next job I answered (slightly) more truthfully with “I bake when stressed” which also really helped me because then they were excited for baked goods (they have talked about this quite a lot). Which given the advice on this blog is probably not a super great answer – but it worked for me so I would probably use it again. To be truthful I like to bake but don’t bake when stressed, but no one wants to hear “When I’m really stressed I put on my jam jams and read Pride & Prejudice variations and can’t interact socially with anyone, even my husband or dog. Also it sets off my ulcerative colitis and I will take lots of sick days”. That is not getting me a job.

  47. knitcrazybooknut*

    You would be surprised at how … odd the answers to these and other seemingly innocuous questions can be. Those answers are utterly helpful!

  48. Close Bracket*

    This seems like a case where it might help to ask for clarification, especially after reading some of other people’s experiences with the interviewer saying the position was high stress or that the last person couldn’t get along with anyone. What would be constructive way of asking what they are getting at?

    1. Echo*

      I think after answering the question, you should ask (in a curious tone, not like you’re trying to pull a ‘gotcha’ on them), “Is this position one where people tend to have high levels of stress, or there are particular times in the year when I can expect my stress level to be higher than usual?”

      It might look a bit out of touch in a field like teaching, social work, or sales where a certain stress level is expected, though.

  49. bookends*

    I was once at a training for a political campaign job (so, temporary, high-stress, lots of younger employees, casual culture, etc.) where we had to go around the room and say how we dealt with stress. One person said “uh, I’m not sure if I can tell you guys what I do” and another just said “sex.”

  50. arjumand*

    I could tell them what I do when I feel stressed; is it helpful in dealing with it? Uhhh . . .

    See, lately I’ve found that stress in me manifests itself in watching an endless succession of those true-life seconds from disaster in a plane or on a bridge or falling from space vids (they’re all on youtube. ALL OF THEM).

    Yeah, that’s not going to get me any jobs.

  51. Circe*

    I work in a fast-paced, high-stakes job and “how do you relieve stress” is such a weird question to me. I ask/have been asked, “how do you handle stressful situations” (or variants specific to our work) and think your answer would be fine and Alison’s answer would be even better.

    But context in these situations is SO important. My WORK is fast-paced and high-stakes, but the OFFICE is not stressful. We plan, we delegate, we prioritize, we make decisions, we support each other, we express gratitude, and we encourage work-life balance. So if they’re pressing on what you do when you’re soooooo stressed, I’d dig into that. For me, external stakes can be a huge motivator, but nothing stresses me out more than a boss who can’t decide what he wants and constantly changes course.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah our office is very stressful – but only because the idiot GrandBoss never thinks anything out in advance, meaning we’re always finding out about things too late and they’re critical and need more time than we have to do well. The stress is compounded by the fact that this didn’t need to be a crisis at all and was totally avoidable. And yes, they asked me in the interview how I handled stress and I probably lied about handling it well :P

  52. Oof*

    I usually ask a version of this question, because we go through short terms periods of intense work. I’ve only followed up on it when I felt the interviewee wasn’t grasping what I was talking about, or being dismissive. It’s good to treat this as any other question too – show me! Here’s how I handled a stressful time at my last job, etc. Knowing what your version of “stress” is, is really, really important to me.
    Personally, I have answered this question by saying, well I really like beer (or whatever it is I was drinking that season), and then followed it up with what I described above. I have my work techniques, and then I go home, grab a good book, a great bottle of wine and reeeeeeeeeeelaaaaaaax.

  53. Bee's Knees*

    I mean, I’ve threatened to turn to drink before. That’s how they know it’s bad. Mostly it’s just me sitting at my desk grumbling to myself. Which makes me look SUPER sane. Other options include hiding under my desk. The lady at the front (who has a huge desk) says I’m not allowed to hide up there.

    1. Jennifer*

      Yeah, I threaten to drink but you know it’s bad when I actually DO it. I had two wine coolers the other night, so it was big drinking time for me :P

      But still better than working customer service in the winter when I came home and drank most days.

  54. Flower*

    (1) I’m super overstressed right now and it was weird seeing this pop up.

    (2) I was asked this for my first year working at a summer camp, where being on 24/7 for several weeks was, in essence, the job. It’s also on the application (the part you have to fill out every year). I still haven’t figured out a great answer, but part of my first year answer included “[camp] is one of the least stressful places I’ve ever been” (having been a camper for a very long time), which my boss flagged as “no, really, it can be incredibly stressful in this position.” Realistically, my answer still is “I tend to thrive in stressful environments, but when I get really overstressed, I cry for a while, do something little like cleaning up my space because that helps me, and then usually reprioritize and get things done, which leads to being less stressed. (And [camp] is still one of my least stressful places, most of the time.)”

  55. Maika*

    Meditation and strength training. Aside from doing this as a daily practice for long term physical and mental health benefits, I do pull a quick 10 minute meditation session in my office when I am stressed or anxious at work. Works for me every single time.

  56. From the High Tower on the Hill*

    In terms of the interview, I would say something to the effect of prioritizing work, making a list of daily/weekly objectives, and if the stress continues discuss with my boss to see if he/she has found better techniques for managing the workload in the department or if they have better methods of doing the work in a more timely or effective manner. In terms of real life, it is crocheting and bottle of Riesling while listening to heavy metal.

  57. Ms Cappuccino*

    The question didn’t make me think of anything x related.
    For me the answer is daily meditation

  58. I Ask This*

    I have asked this in interviews for customer service positions dealing with disgruntled people on a semi-regular basis. Some customers like to bring their cameras in and video their transactions and try to get us to act out. What I’m looking for is an honest answer to confirm you can contain yourself in the moment and be able to not let it get to you and drag you down emotionally as the day(s) go. I have told my staff many times, if they have a stressful customer and the customer is getting to them – ask for someone to come help deal with the situation if you find yourself losing control and then take a walk. I want to make sure one belligerent customer isn’t going to affect the service you provide the next customer. I would not, however, care what they do after work to relax. I’m more concerned with how you handle yourself in the moment of a stressful situation.

  59. FD*

    I actually think this could be a good question if it were just phrased differently. I think a good behavioral interview question might be something like: “Sometimes, work here can be stressful. For instance, sometimes you have to deal with demanding customers/tight deadlines/etc. Tell me about a time in your past work when you were under a lot of pressure, and how you handled that.”

    1. Echo*

      I agree with this, and I think pretending the interviewer asked this instead of “how do you relieve stress?” is the right way to answer.

      For what it’s worth, I’ve only ever worked in positions that were building up to a big event or the completion of a big project, so the last couple of weeks are always stressful and a scramble. And I do think it’s important for prospective employees to know that. If I were interviewing for one of these types of roles, I would consider asking the behavioral interview question, and I would want to hear among other things that the person believes in keeping a good work-life balance and taking time to recharge. Burnout can be a problem in fields like these.

  60. Justice Beaver*

    I once answered this question in a university interview with ‘bubble bath’ (because it was the honest answer and I couldn’t think of anything else). One interviewer looked at me blankly and said they had never had that answer before, while the other one said ‘Oh yes, our hotel doesn’t have a bath and it’s terrible. I completely agree.’

    I was accepted a few hours later and have no idea if my answer had anything to do with it!

  61. Jennifer*

    My actual answer would be “get to be alone ASAP or drink,” usually.

    But in reality I have a lot of hobbies so usually I just distract myself with those.

  62. writerson*

    “I leave.”

    I once said that when asked a similar question during an interview. The interviewer looked puzzled.

    I continued, “When things get stressful, if I’ve been banging my head against something for awhile, I get up, go for a walk around the block, and clear my head. When I come back, I’ve either figured out a solution, or put things in perspective so they don’t seem so bad.”

    I got the job, and stuck to my word. It’s still my favorite (and most effective) at-work stress relief method. Though now that I work from home, the correct answer is “kettlebell swings.”

  63. TootsNYC*

    I think I might be saying, “You seem to be focusing on this–is there some particular reason? Is this job or this company known for being particularly high-stress? And if so, could you explain what sorts of stress, and how those stressful situations manifest themselves?”

    Because, well, why DO they want to know this so badly and in such detail?

    Turn it around on them.

  64. Free Meerkats*

    “Put a couple of hundred rounds through my AR-15” probably wouldn’t fly these days. So I’d probably say what I really do, go for a long drive by myself. It’s amazing how relaxed I am after a thousand mile drive.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’m just sitting here imagining you, after a few stressful days in a row, finding yourself on the other side of the continent.

      “My grandmother started walking three miles a day when she was 60, she’s 90 now, and we don’t know where the heck she is!”

  65. giraffe*

    This type of question makes a lot of sense to ask based on the type of work environment. For example, I work in events, so this is actually a pretty important question we ask people — because long event days can be stressful and we can all get kind of cranky, so is this person going to be able to handle that stress in a productive way that’s not going to make the rest of the team miserable?

    1. Riley*

      But in that case you can make it specific to what you really want to know rather than asking a vague “How do you handle stress”. Even just “how do you handle stress while at work” or “tell me about how you’ve handled stress on long event days at previous jobs” (if they have that specific experience) would be more useful for both you and the candidate.

  66. BlackCoffee*

    I’m in a social work-type field, and this is a standard interview question in my line of work. I feel like what they want to hear from me is that I’ve given this thought, and that I would access guidance from senior management if I needed it, would recognise if a client’s trauma was having an impact on me and am proactive about taking steps to avoid burn out. In the past, interviewers haven’t been as interested in what exactly I would do at home as a self-care activity (although alcohol would be a red flag!) more that I recognise self-care as a thing. One way I’ve answered this question well in the past was by talking about a time I didn’t manage stress well, and what I learned from that.

  67. Argh!*

    This doesn’t sound like a right or wrong answer question, other than admitting to being violent or a substance-abuser. I have asked “what have you learned from a hobby that you can apply to the job,” which I use because it gives someone with a thin resume a chance to add something they wouldn’t have put on their resume. I have mentioned these things in my own interviews, such as helping out with a charity website, using photoshop and html to post updates to the web.

    The question about stress would depend on the situation. If the job is a stressful job, talking about having a way to decompress at work is great. If the job is sedentary, going hiking on the weekend is great. … and people would say what they find stressful, which is also useful information. I wouldn’t ask “what do you find stressful in a job?” but I’d like to know if someone stresses about deadlines, or having to deal with angry customers, or being isolated, or spending too much time around other people because that would tell me about whether they would be a good fit for the job. Someone who says “I thrive on stress” could be BS-ing, but if you give them enough time that would become evident.

    I would expect people who deal inappropriately with stress or who have never given it a thought will send up a red flag when answering this question. People with poor emotional control could start stressing out just discussing stress.

    Hmmmm I may consider using this question …

  68. Nonyme*

    I’ve had at least seven or eight interviews in the last two weeks and all but one asked this question. I assumed it was less about how you handle stress and more about assessing your personality. I’ve been applying for call center jobs since I have skillz and experience and need to obtain a job quickly, and they pay decent in my area. I saw that question as an opportunity to emphasize my skills.

    I usually said something like, “It depends on what is stressing me out! But if it’s just the usual stress related to working in a call center, you know, being yelled at by customers and taking lots of back to back calls, most of the time after work I hang out with some friends, or go have a hot bath and read a good book. If it’s really bad sometimes I go for a hike and the exercise helps. Usually the customers don’t bother me too much, though — I’ve got a thick skin, and I’m good at sounding competent and confident and solving problems quickly, so they usually don’t yell at me that much, and that helps keep my stress level down!”

    I got multiple job offers over the last few days and just accepted a position yesterday with pay way above average for the position, so apparently, it was an acceptable answer.

    1. BeenThere OG*

      Yay, congrats! I can see they hired you, love your answers and I’m going to steal them next time I interview

  69. BeenThere OG*

    Long long ago when I starting in finance, at a company known for high stress and 24/7 on call work, I was asked the stress question. I responded with “I go for a long swim and have a glass of wine” with a slightly cheeky tone. Turns out that was exactly the answer they were looking for. The look of relief on my potential coworkers face when I said glasses of wine was really telling. Basically they tested for culture fit, they wanted to see exercise and someone they could enjoy a beer with.

    Before anyone jumps on this with the but I don’t drink so it’s not fair. I agree but that’s what they prioritized and the industry and local culture was notorious for drinking.

  70. June*

    Ugh, that question is as bad as the “Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a coworker.”

    I find it really odd to assume that everyone has had conflicts with coworkers. I’ve never had a conflict with a coworker. I’ve disliked coworkers, I’ve disagreed with them, but none of that has ever risen to the level of conflict. Why is that answer not sufficient??

    I was asked this in my last interview and the interviewer just would not accept my answer. I decided that it was because she was a high-conflict person (there were other clues to this as well) and that I didn’t want the job.

    1. Argh!*

      Disagreement *is* conflict. What you define as conflict is a battle. That’s not necessarily the case. If you read up on conflict as a positive thing, you may see yourself in there.

      On the other hand, if you are a mousy wimp who lets people walk over you, not having “conflict” is nothing to brag about.

      You can ask the interviewer to define what they mean or you can offer your own broad definition that will include a situation you can discuss. If you claim never to have any conflict, that would be a red flag for me. It would mean that either 1) you’re a liar or 2) you’re passive-aggressive or 3) you won’t advocate for something I’ve assigned you to do and will come running to me to intercede for you.

  71. Kahlessa*

    After working several years as a substitute teacher, I have a very high threshold for stress. Once you’ve worked in a job where people throw chairs, not much will faze you.

    I did use that answer in an interview and I got the job.

  72. Susan K*

    I was asked this question once in an interview, and I was totally stumped, too! They seemed to have something in mind, and I wasn’t saying it, because when I answered, they kept asking the question again with a different word emphasized (“How do you handle stress? …But how do YOU handle stress? …Well, how do you HANDLE stress? And HOW do you handle stress?”).

  73. Are those my feet?*

    I got that question once. I had no idea what they meant, so I said “I handle it very well.”
    Probably not what they were looking for.

    Of course, that was years ago, and didn’t really know what stress was. And I sucked at interviews. Now I’ll be able to give an actual answer.

  74. workingforaliving*

    We sometimes ask “how will we know when you are stressed and what can we do to help you with it?” We think we get good information from that question.

  75. boop the first*

    Wow that’s actually a pretty hard question though… Is there really a cure for continuous long-term stress? I feel anxious and unpleasant most of the time, and I can’t say that doing “relaxing” things actually cures stress. It’s always just there. What kind of answer are they looking for? What strange situation caused them to make this an interview question?

  76. montescristo1985*

    I would have assumed they were asking how you would deal with stress, not as a day-to-day thing, like coming home from work and sipping wine while you soak your feet, but more along the lines of I identify my greatest songstress, and attempt to eliminate them (discussing work load with managers, addressing disagreements with co-workers, etc). Long-term solutions to stress rather than coping mechanisms. But that could just be me, and my obsession with eliminating stressors.

    1. montescristo1985*

      *songstress was supposed to be stressors, lol. I don’t go around eliminating people nearby who are singing.

  77. DataGirl*

    Personally I would answer the question with something like, “I garden” or “I exercise” or “I knit”. Whatever my hobbies are.

  78. Late to the party*

    I work in behavioral health, where burnout is a huge problem industry-wide. It’s inherently stressful, especially since most people in this field really care about the people they work with and will overwork themselves trying to help – and we often bear witness to some awful things, and may talk to people with horrific trauma on a near-daily basis. So we ask a version of this question to everyone we hire, because we need to know that you’ve thought about how to take care of yourself and set boundaries when you need to.

    I specifically am usually hiring entry-level, part-time staff for our residential programs, which means hiring a lot of students and people who are changing careers or looking for a second job. So the people I interview usually don’t have much, if any, experience in this field, so it’s even more important that I find out if they’re self-aware of how to take care of themselves under stress. How to take care of yourself when stressed may seem like an obvious question to most people, but it’s not for everyone. So I’m not so worried about WHAT you do to de-stress (as long as it’s interview appropriate), but if I ask the question and people are stumped (which does happen), or if they react like it’s a weird question, it sends up a red flag. It’s also an indicator of whether they’re familiar with the field, since self-care is a huge topic in behavioral health, and if they aren’t familiar with the concept it tells me something about their readiness to start into this field. It is weird to me, though, to push the issue beyond that in the “what if you were reeeeaaallly stressed though?” track, I would definitely wonder what was up with a company where they felt the need to push so hard.

  79. Oaktree*

    In reality, I smoke weed, have sex with my partner, and watch Netflix (not all at the same time). But if asked this (bizarre) question in an interview, I’d probably talk about going to the gym and cooking. Find something you actually like to do, and make that your go-to answer.

  80. Yet another Kat*

    I think this question could actually be fishing for one of two things:
    1 – Slightly more specific rephrasing of the more generic “What do you do for fun/in your spare time”. In this case I think they want to know that you have built in ways to maintain your sanity outside working hours. I think for most people a truly honest answer would probably not be interview-appropriate, but this is a good place to mention regular exercise/sfw hobby/book club/similar.
    2 – They want to know what you do in the workplace to handle stressful situations, e.g., take a deep breath, make a list, etc.
    Either way, it’s an annoyingly roundabout way to ask about something else, though.

  81. BoB*

    You’d be surprised what people say in interviews! When I did entry level hiring, I interviewed someone who told me that he handled a stressful group project by throwing his computer at a groupmate. He attempted to spin it into a positive by talking about how he fixed the computer (we’re an engineering organization), showing good ability to work independently.

  82. Database Developer Dude*

    It depends on whether I’ve decided I want the job at that point in the interview. If I’ve already decided no, I’ll say “I relieve stress by practicing taekwondo. I find kicking people gets rid of a lot of stress for me”.

  83. Haley*

    I have interviewed numerous times in the past month and was asked this question at least twice. The question really surprised me both times.

  84. MissPettyAndVindictive*

    Having been asked this in a couple of interviews, as well as just in general conversation, I find my answer always throws people off whatever their next question would be.
    I knit.
    And it seems to really throw people off that I’m 28 and knit. Or sew, or spin on a spinning wheel. I always mention that there are a LOT of people in my general age range that knit – doesn’t seem to be any less surprising!
    I have actually had an interviewer say “…well. That was not what I was expecting. -long pause- I can’t remember what my follow up question was supposed to be now. Next question then!” and she went on with the next question.

    So you could try saying that you knit and see if that throws your interviewer off!

  85. MomRulz*

    Too funny. That is actually often part two of my opening question to an applicant. For me it is just a question to get an applicant thinking, and sometimes, revealing a bit about their personality so that I can get a feel for them. I find that this question (coupled with the “tell me a little bit about yourself that isn’t on the resume – what do you like to do in your time off?”) usually disarms an applicant at the get-go and helps them get more comfortable with the process. Of course, DELIVERY is pretty important but usually I have a fairly fruitful and stress-free interview even though it fully delves into the nitty-gritty of a position. Too many times I have seen applicants “fake it” and make it through on practiced answers about their experience and skills but you want someone who not only has the right skills and experience but is also a good cultural fit. Sometimes you can tell a lot about a person’s personality from this question — but ultimately there really is no wrong answer.

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