How well do you work under pressure?
Why do employers ask this question?
In a period of economic change, efficiency becomes a focal point for management and employees are often expected to take on more responsibility and a greater work load. Greater economic uncertainty means that traditional ways of operating are challenged, new ideas and practices are implemented; all of which creates unpredictability in what was previously a stable work environment.
An employer will want to know that you can work effectively in a fast changing environment and that you are prepared to go the extra mile when required. To illustrate your ability to work well under pressure, let us first break down the process into its component parts.
Working well under pressure requires careful and skillful planning. Deadlines must be analysed and enough time allocated to complete tasks, leaving some additional time to take into account unforeseen problems. Consideration needs to be given to conflicting deadlines and if appropriate they need to be adjusted to better fit the time constraints you are working under.
If things do arise that you are not prepared for, you must be able to adapt quickly to them. When you find yourself in a highly pressurised environment, stand back, take a deep breath before focusing in on the details. By doing this you can be more effective, anticipate any potential blockages or problems and this saving precious time. Think outside the box – would pulling in functional expertise save time? Should you brainstorm with colleagues before attacking the problem?
Keep calm. No body works effectively when they are in panic mode. Work in intense spurts and then take a break to refresh your mind – stepping away from the project will also give you a fresh perspective when you re-approach the task.
Manage your energy levels. Follow the lead of high performance athletes – they understand the impact of physical and mental strain and carefully pace themselves to avoid burnout and injury.
When facing a tight deadline, you need to quickly identify and prioritise the most important tasks. Keep in mind the 80-20 rule – that 80% of your results will be achieved through 20% of your efforts. This rule means that much of what we do is not adding much real value. Being strategic means identifying the 20% that is critical and investing most time and energy on those items.
When asked this question in interview, remember that the employer is looking to uncover your skills in a diverse range of fields including problem solving, decision making, organisational skills, time management and your ability to work under stress. As always, have a carefully chosen example to highlight your adeptness at working in such an environment, being sure to convey your ability to work calmly and efficiently whilst achieving results.
About the Author
Laura McGrath is a qualified executive coach, EMCC Certified with over 20 years’ experience in executive search and recruitment. She’s the owner of Interview Techniques, a leading provider of interview and career coaching services and has been a guest lecturer with Trinity College Dublin and TU Dublin. For a consultation, please call 087 669 1192 or go to www.interviewtechniques.ie.