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The Stress Interview: What is It and How Can You Survive?

July 13, 2016 - Posted to Job Interview

Content the stress interview what is it and how can you survive

You go into a job interview expecting to have a sincere, productive conversation with a hiring manager. You want to impress the interviewer and you have prepared for all of the typical questions, practiced your answers, probably read a lot of tips on the best online resume writing service and are ready to roll. You sit down and the first thing out of that interviewer’s mouth is this: “By the looks of your resume, you haven’t accomplished much, have you?” Stunned, you don’t know what to say. Welcome to the “stress interview” – it is more common than you might think.

Toward a Stress Interview Definition

We all experience stress – some of us more than others. And we all respond differently to stress. Some people can handle large amount of stress; others buckle under just a small amount; most are somewhere in between. But stress does take its toll on everyone.

When jobs, by their very nature, are stressful, employment managers must ensure that candidates can withstand stress and pressure. They have developed the stress interviews, often called the “stress test.” They create stress interview questions that are designed to anger, irritate, frustrate, or frighten the candidates. Then, with each question or statement, they sit back and watch for the response – verbal and non-verbal. From these responses, they make employment decisions. This is the closest you will ever get to a stress interview definition.

Because each organization is different, the stress interview questions will differ; however, there are certain categories of stress-related questions and statements that are common for every stress interview.

  • Insults: These are usually related to background and experience and can seem pretty rude.

  • Criticism: They will ask a normal question and then criticize the candidate’s answer.

Questions that Evoke Anger: Deliberately trying to get the candidate to “blow.”

  • Attempts to Embarrass/Humiliate: They have investigated a candidate’s online presence and bring up things in his/her history in an attempt to get that candidate to buckle or “fold.”

The interviewers know that stress is an involuntary reaction, but it is those individual reactions that they want to gauge. Can a candidate remain calm during stress questions in an interview? Can the candidate craft a response to an insult or criticism that demonstrates confidence, assertiveness, and a willingness to “correct the record” when that is called for? And can the candidate do this without exhibiting undo emotion? And, better still, can the candidate even exhibit some humor while responding?

Candidates who survive the stress interview techniques move on in the selection process; those who are unable to handle the pressures of the interview will be cut at that point – they have demonstrated that they will not be able to handle the pressures or the position.

Preparing for the Stress Interview

First, you must decide if you might be subjected to stress questions in interview. If your profession or career comes with a lot of stress, and you are seeking a change in that same career field, then you can surmise that you may be subjected to at least some stress interview techniques, and you should prepare for that possibility. If not, then chances are you will not be subjected to such questions.

So, what careers can most often result in stress interview questions? Typically, the following:

  • Sales and any positions which require quotas

  • Positions which require meeting deadlines

  • Positions in which you may have to deal with difficult clients – web designers, attorneys, accountants, and other consulting professionals

  • Positions which require fast thinking and decision-making – law enforcement, emergency medical personnel, etc.

  • Positions that deal with crises and last-minute hitches – e.g., event coordinator

  • Journalist

The following careers will probably not result in stress interviews:

  • Teaching

  • Research

  • Many Management Positions

  • Some health care positions – aide, home health care

  • Software Development, Programming

  • Some Medical Fields – e.g., Sonographer, lab tech

Preparation for Stress Interview Techniques

While you should certainly prepare for all of the standard questions you would probably get during a standard interview, you have to figure out how to maintain your cool and reduce our reactions. Here are some strategies for you to use:

  • Hydrate for 24 hours before the interview. Drink lots of water, and be certain to drink water right before the interview. Stress can cause “dry mouth” and will impact your voice tone

  • Visualize the worst interview situation possible. Place yourself in that situation and see yourself smiling, laughing, and being assertive in extoling your strengths.

  • Breathe deeply before you go into the interview. Those breaths will serve to slow down your other body systems.

  • Remind yourself that you will not use vulgar language, no matter what may be thrown at you. As soon as you succumb to that language, you are a “goner.”

  • As you walk toward your interview chair, go at a moderate pace, but walk assertively. Your body language will be watched through the stress interview process, and it begins with making note of your physical stance and your other non-verbal behaviors.

  • Understand that when insults or criticism is thrown at you, you want to continue to look the person straight in the eye. Looking downward, above or off to the side is a sign of weakness. You have to meet aggression with assertiveness that is not aggressive – maintaining eye contact demonstrates just that.

  • Suppress your emotions and stick to the facts of your background and experience, your education, and any other accomplishments.

  • When stress interview questions are thrown out, it is okay to pause, take a breath and think about your answer for a few seconds. When you do this, be certain that you maintain eye conduct with the interviewer, even as you are thinking of your answer.

  • If you can use humor, you will be a true soldier – one who can win this battle

  • Maintain diplomacy and tact with your verbal responses. This is what is being tested by the stress interview.

  • Keep in mind, stress interview techniques are not personal. Every candidate is getting the same kind of treatment. To the company, it’s just part of “doing business.”

Sample Stress Interview Questions and Answers

While we may not be able to come up with a single stress interview definition that will cover every situation, there are some sample stress interview questions and answers that will give you some understanding, and, along with the sample answers given here, you can come up with your own responses. These answers give you more of a general “attitude” you should have as you answer questions or respond to rude or insulting comments.

  1. It seems to me that if you were really good in your current position, you would have been promoted. Why haven’t you been?

Sample Answer: There is a very low turnover in the organization. No positions became available in my department which would have provided me a promotion. That’s part of the reason why I am looking for a change now.

  1. It doesn’t look like you’ve accomplished much in your last positions.

Sample Answer: Actually, I have accomplished a great deal (here, you will want to repeat the accomplishments and achievement that you list in your resume and any others that you decided to bring up during an interview). Don’t lie or exaggerate – you don’t need to. Stick to your actual accomplishments and state them with confidence.

Note: The interviewer really doesn’t believe what s/he is saying. The point is to gauge your verbal and non-verbal response. If you stay calm and assertive, and smile while you are responding to this, you will have “won” this point.

  1. Why did you choose that college to go to? It’s not that great.

Sample Answer: Actually, this school offers an outstanding program of studies in my field. I learned a great deal and was very well prepared for my career. And the student population was very diverse, allowing me to broaden my world view. All in all, my four years there allowed both professional and personal growth. I am glad I chose the school I did.

Note: You have defended an important decision in your life and provided strong reasons for that decision – this is what they want to see. Never, never, never, “trash” the school you went to.

  1. What makes you think you can possibly survive here?

Sample Answer: Well, I have done the research on your organization and the position that you have open. I know you have a fast-paced and sometimes stressful environment. I operate very well in that type of environment, and I look forward to challenges that really push me. I react to stress in healthy ways, and I see no reason why that would change.

Your answers may not be exactly like these, but the important thing is this: Don’t let them get to you Be honest and forthright, tell the truth, and don’t back down. The details of your answers are not as important as “how” you provide them.

For an extreme example of sample stress interview questions and answers, check out this video.

Don’t Be Surprised if the Interview Changes Tone

Here is how you will probably know if you did well during a stress interview. The usual stress questions in interview situations come first. If you get the tough rude questions first, and then the tone changes and more typical questions are asked, then you can consider yourself to have “passed” the stress test. They would not keep you for the second part of the interview if they were not pretty certain that you can deal with the stressors you will face.

Let’s Recap

  1. A General Stress Interview Definition: You will be asked questions and comments will be made that are intended to evoke emotional responses from you – anger, irritation, frustration, anxiety, defensiveness, and even some fear.

  2. Your Responses Must Be Calm and Confident: The goal of the interviewer is not to hear the answers you give to the questions. The goal is to see if s/he can “get” to you and to see how you respond in a stressful situation.

  3. You Must Not Take Anything Personally: Keep reminding yourself of this as you are going through this part of the interview. This is a business tactic, and every candidate will be getting the same treatment. You have not been singled out.

  4. Try to Anticipate What Stress Questions Will Be Asked: They will not be related to the specifics of your background and experience. They will relate to negatives they are pretending to see in you. Go back and review the four sample questions above and formulate your own responses to them.

  5. It is Okay to Pause and Take a Deep Breath: You don’t want to appear emotional. You do want to appear confident and assertive, without being aggressive. If you can smile and even use a little humor as your respond, all the better.

  6. Watch Your Body Language: When you walk in the room, do so at a moderate pace, and stand straight. Do not cross your arms or allow shocked or angry facial expressions to be shown. Stay steady, keep your arms in your lap, and use them only to make a point as you respond. Watch your voice tone – you do not want to appear defensive.

  7. Maintain Eye Contact at all Times: Averting your eyes while the interviewer is being “rude” or while you are answering a question or responding to a comment tells him/her that you are succumbing to the stress.

  8. Remember to Hydrate and Breathe: Take long deep breaths before you go into the interview, and drink plenty of water beforehand.

And most important, remember this: If you do not do well, it may be for the better in the long run. If the position is really that stressful, it may not be a good fit for you. Better to look elsewhere.

Stress test interviews aren't easy. But understanding what's going on makes them much easier to handle. It's not personal; it's business. Make sure your reaction reflects that – stay professional and poised