What are the Most Stressful Jobs? (And How to Know if You’re Interviewing for One)

Photo of a hand squeezing a stress ball.

Interviewing for a new job? Learn six smart questions to ask interviewers to make sure you’re not walking into a pressure-cooker environment.

Most jobs are stressful. But some just seem to ooze pressure and tension. A study of more than 12,000 U.S. and Canadian workers from Robert Half and Happiness Works recently identified the most stressful jobs.

The most stressful jobs by profession

Those employed in the legal profession reported the greatest amount of stress, according to the survey. Jobs in insurance ranked as the second most stressful. IT professionals reported the lowest stress levels.

  1. Legal
  2. Insurance
  3. Healthcare and wellness
  4. Hospitality and food services
  5. Financial services
  6. Education and training
  7. Administrative
  8. Manufacturing
  9. Accounting
  10. Human resources
  11. Marketing or creative
  12. Finance
  13. Technology

The most stressful jobs by role

In terms of job role, semi-skilled or agricultural workers ranked among the most stressed. Staff-level professionals were in the middle of the pack, while senior executives reported being the least stressed.

  1. Semi-skilled and agricultural
  2. Skilled trades or crafts
  3. Personal or care services
  4. Staff-level professionals
  5. Managers
  6. Sales or customer service workers
  7. Administrative and secretarial clerks
  8. Senior executives

Understanding how different industries and roles rank in terms of stress can help influence your career decisions whether you’re applying for entry-level jobs, switching fields or simply evaluating your current professional track.

But it’s also true that any job in any field at any level of any workplace can be highly stressful. It all depends on the prevailing workplace culture, leadership, workload demands and a host of other factors. That's just life. But it's the reason it's so important to carefully consider the potential stress level of a prospective job during the hiring process.

Here are six questions you can ask during the interview process to get a sense of how stressful a job you’re after might be. While you don’t need to pose all of the following questions, try to get the interviewer’s response to at least some of them.

1. What is the pace of an average workday here?

You obviously want to know if employees are always in meetings or constantly responding to requests to meet nonstop deadlines. When you ask this question, you’re looking for detailed information, but you should also listen for clues based on the interviewer’s tone. Does the interviewer enthusiastically paint a picture of daily responsibilities that sound reasonable? Or do you get the sense most employees are scrambling from the moment they walk in the door until they leave?

If the interviewer doesn’t mention when the workday typically begins and ends, you might inquire about that as well. If you catch a vibe that employees often put in significant time after hours or on weekends, consider asking this next question …

2. How does the company make sure employees have decent work-life balance?

Juggling competing professional and personal obligations is a top concern of many job seekers and employees today. You want to know that the company understands the benefits of rest and gives people the opportunity to recharge their batteries. Employers should have ideas or programs in place to help staff avoid burnout and enjoy work-life balance. While other aspects of the job — like a great salary — could sound appealing, it might not be worth it if you’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

3. When is busy season?

Businesses tend to have workload fluctuations. Most employees understand that there are stretches when life at work is going to be more hectic. (Think accounting firms at tax time.) But if the interviewer chuckles when you pose this question or says something like, “It’s always busy season” or “There’s never a dull moment around here,” that could be a sign that you’d find the job and workplace stressful.

To learn what separates the most stressful jobs from the least stressful jobs, download our white paper, The Secrets of the Happiest Companies and Employees.

4. Tell me about the most stressful experience you’ve had at work in the last month?

The response will help you determine how your potential boss gauges stress. The most stressful experience he cites could be something that doesn’t faze you at all. Alternately, hearing what he says may make you break out in a cold sweat. How well does your capacity for pressure line up with your interviewer’s? Does he say nothing has stressed him out over the last 30 days? That in itself could be a red flag.

5. Where would I work in the office?

Where you physically work all day can significantly impact your emotional health as well as your energy and stress levels. Remember that the interview space may be very different from where you would sit once on the job. If you’re in final contention for the position, ask to see the actual workspace. Take it in with all of your senses — look at the desk area and lighting. How’s the view? What’s the noise level like? Are team members stacked in like sardines? Is the workspace cluttered and uninspiring? In short, do you think you would be able to concentrate, find happiness and do your job well in that atmosphere?

6. What do you like most about working here?

This question can give you information you might not gain otherwise. Happy employees are able to quickly and easily identify a range of things they enjoy about their jobs. Highly stressed individuals will be more likely to pause to think for a while or make a sarcastic quip. A response such as “Well, the company certainly keeps me on my toes” or “Ha, well, not much this week” or another veiled criticism framed as a joke could speak volumes.

Finally, remember that just as you’re trying to sell yourself in an interview; the employer should be trying to do the same thing. It certainly tells you something if you hear a healthy dose of negative comments. But your ears should also perk up if you only hear positives. Look for both enthusiasm and authenticity in interviewer’s answers.

And remain observant of everyone you encounter from the moment you step on company grounds. Attitudes are extremely contagious. No matter how calm, cool and collected you are, if everyone seems like they’re in stressful jobs, you’d likely begin to feel the same way.

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