How to Answer the Most Challenging Interview Question With Emotional Intelligence

It’s all about reframing.

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Interviewing for a new job can be intimidating, and if there’s one question that can make candidates the most nervous, it’s this one: “How have you handled a stressful situation at work?” While we all have overcome our share of stressful moments in the workplace, having to talk about them to a hiring manager or potential boss in a way that demonstrates maturity and emotional intelligence and other desirable qualities can leave you feeling tongue-tied. The best answer to that question is simply: “I reframed it.” 

Reframing stress isn’t just an answer that works in an interview — it’s good for you in any situation. When left unchecked, stress can disrupt sleep, interfere with your mental well-being, and worsen your physical health. But when you approach stress with the right mindset, these harmful effects can be replaced with favorable ones, like emotional intelligence and strength. “When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience,” Kelly McGonigal, a Stanford psychologist, says in her TED talk on befriending stress. “And when you choose to view stress in this way, you’re not just getting better at stress — you’re actually making a pretty profound statement. You’re saying that you can trust yourself to handle life’s challenges. And you’re remembering that you don’t have to face them alone.” 

As McGonigal’s suggests, the next time you’re faced with undue stress, reach out to a trusted friend or mentor. They may be able to relate to your current struggle, and their shared experience can help you feel certain that you’re going to be okay. Or, let’s say you have a deadline nearing, and you’re doubtful that you’ll be able to finish on time. In this case, take a moment to remind yourself of a time you overcame a similar hurdle. 

By talking openly about these strategies during your job interview, you demonstrate to your potential employer that you have the skills to get unstuck — and that you’re generous and want to share de-stressing strategies that work. Not only can this make you a prime candidate for the job, but you may have helped the hiring manager handle some stressors of their own. 

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