Less Stress, More Success: Coping in a “Stress Interview”

Stress is an inevitable part of the job interview process, but what happens when a candidate’s stress tolerance is pushed too far?

An example of this occurred in the UK, as reported by the BBC. A young woman had interviewed with a tech firm, where she says she was degraded and humiliated about everything from her music taste to her parents’ marriage during what is referred to as the “stress interview.” She later shared her experience on Twitter where her post went viral.

Interviews generally consist of a mix of the following types of questions:

  1. General e.g. Tell me about yourself
  2. Behavioural e.g. Describe a time when you had to explain a complex accounting issue to someone without an accounting background. How did you help your audience understand the situation?
  3. Technical e.g. I buy a piece of equipment, walk me through the impact on the 3 financial statements.

While the UK example is an extreme case, the “stress test” is additional interview technique used to assess how applicants deal with pressure by taking them out of their comfort zone of expected questions and answers. An innocent question like, “Tell me about the recent ERP implementation you were involved with” could be morphed into more aggressive questioning such as, “Sounds like your ERP implementation was a nightmare – what did you do wrong?". Asking “How do you handle stress?” can be very difficult from inducing real levels of stress in the moment to gauge how the candidate responds under pressure. Other ways that interviewers may create stress is by seeming disinterested in the candidate and/or purposefully interrupting them while they are providing an answer.

Stressful workplace situations are inevitable due to a number of factors, such as tight deadlines, addressing errors in financial reporting, conflicts among team members, or other root causes. Attempts to evaluate how a candidate responds under pressure during the interview process may be beneficial for jobs that are high stress by nature; however, it is the responsibility of the employer to always treat their candidates with respect and ensure that they have a positive overall recruitment experience.

What if you find yourself in the candidate seat during a high stress interview, whether it is intentionally planned or not? According to The Balance Careers and Wisestep, here are some tactics you can employ to keep your composure and ace the interview:

  • Carefully listen and understand the questions before you attempt to provide an answer. It is totally acceptable, and often expected of you, to ask clarifying questions or for more details. This will also buy yourself some time on how to respond.
  • If you’re presented with a brainteaser such as “How many rats are there in Toronto”, focus on your methodology to solving the problem rather than attempting to come up with a definitive, correct answer. You can state some assumptions if needed to guide you through the process.
  • Leave emotion out of it and refrain from getting offended. Remain calm and professional, while responding to all of the hiring manager’s questions.
  • Prepare in advance how you will speak to handling stress. Identify a couple of examples of stressful work situations from your past and be able to recall how it resulted in a professional development opportunity for you.

Key Takeaways

For employers, help candidates have the best interview experience possible by taking the time to plan out your interview process and only adding the element of a “stress test” if it is appropriate for the role you are hiring for.

For candidates, know that some interviews are intentionally structured to induce stress. Prepare yourself to respond carefully and professionally to all of the interviewer’s questions.

Your Next Step

No one should walk the job search or hiring road alone. At Clarity Recruitment we help others realize their success through a process that marries proprietary technology with unwavering commitment. Contact us today to take control of your career, or to partner with us to hire well.

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