How To Handle A Stress Interview

Some interviewers pose questions, the goal of which are not to test your competence and expertise, but to examine how you perform under stress. Temperament, personality and self confidence are important characteristics in any applicant, and some interviewers will test these qualities by putting you under pressure during the interviewing process. The interviewer's goal is to see if you can remain calm and rational in a stressful situation.

Why Do Interviewers Employ Stress Induction Techniques?

The key assumption of the interviewer is that if you perform well under stress in the interview, you will perform well under stress at work as well. Likewise, if you easily lose your calm and poise in the interview, it is probable you will exhibit similar behaviors in stressful work situations.

What Constitutes a Stress Interview?

Usually stress interviews include a mixture of questions, some of which are standard questions to gauge competency or behavioral traits and others which are "stress questions" that focus entirely on how you perform under pressure and how well you react to unexpected challenges and situations. There are some stress interviews in which the sole purpose is to put you under pressure in order to determine how well you handle the unforeseen challenge.

Typical Stress Measures

Stress questions typically take the form of unpleasant subjects, and can be presented with hostility, aggression, disinterest or indifference on the part of the interviewer. Here are a few examples of typical stress questions. Listed are also some of the stress inducing behaviors interviewers may purposely exhibit in order to gauge your stress response.

The interviewer may:
  • Play with his cell phone or PDA while you're trying to answer a question.
  • Continuously look at her watch throughout the interview, particularly while you're speaking.
  • Incessantly scribble down notes without maintaining eye contact with you.
  • Sound rude or disinterested.
  • As puzzling, off topic questions, such as "How many ping pong balls would it take to fill a Boing 747?"
  • Exhibit unexpected behavior, such as standing up and looking out the window while you're answering a question.
  • Pose the same question more than once.
  • Ask unpleasant questions, such as "So, I guess you're not really that good, since you were fired?"
  • Present aggressive behaviors, like hostile body language, disconcerting facial expressions or argumentative responses to your answers.
  • Give negative feedback on what you've said, like questioning your professionalism, or indicating that your experience is irrelevant for the position for which you're interviewing.
  • Downgrade your achievements by indicating your grades are simply not strong enough to justify hiring you or that your past employment is inconsequential.

Performing Well in Stress Interviews

First and foremost, you must be mentally prepared for stress interview questions. Arrive with a positive attitude and be aware that such questions are fair game and may be just a standard part of the company's interviewing process. Keep in mind that the hostile and aggressive behavior of the interviewer is not targeted at you personally. As soon as you realize the interviewer is intentionally trying to put you under stress, lower your defenses and play along with the game.

You must remain calm and continue to exhibit self confidence. Winning the game means being able to maintain your composure and provide constructive responses to interview questions, even if the interviewer appears completely distracted, disinterested or even argumentative. Losing your temper, showing nervous or defensive behavior, or becoming rude or aggressive yourself will mean you lose the competition.

If you are presented with a stress interview question or the interviewer begins to show stress inducing behaviors, there are a few things you can do to center yourself before proceeding with the interview. Take a moment before answering. Breathe deeply and carefully think of how you are going to respond and what you're planning to say. Only begin speaking again when you feel that you have regained control of your composure.

While the effectiveness of stress interviewing techniques is questionable and while some interviewers go too far in testing applicant stress responses and resistance, being aware of stress interview questions and mentally preparing yourself to face this type of interview process can make a big difference in your performance. It can ultimately mean the difference between getting the job and being eliminated from the applicant pool.