A stress interview is a tactic used to put candidates under extreme pressure. They are designed to test your ability to think on your feet, respond appropriately in difficult situations and stay calm in a pressurised environment.
When using the stress interview technique, employers are looking to see how you would handle things like workplace conflict, abusive customers and work overload. They are intentionally provoking you to assess your psychological and physical responses to stressful situations.
Companies that adopt the stress interview technique are usually those that operate in fast-paced, pressurised industries such as investment banking, or top-level customer services such as air travel or front-line public sectors.
You may also be put through a stress interview if the role in question is one of high authority and responsibility.
Employers will use these interviews to make sure that candidates have the right attitude and the emotional capability to handle these taxing environments.
While competency based interviews give you the opportunity to demonstrate your skills, knowledge and experience, stress interviews are designed to move you beyond the interview room and into the real world, where trying or confrontational situations may be a regular occurrence.
Stress interviews are usually carried out by experienced professionals, who adopt a number of strategies to gain a true reflection of your personality as a potential employee.
There are several types of stress interview; employers may use any or all of the following techniques:
Stress interview questions can be similar to those asked in behavioural or situational interviews. However, in this case, they are purposefully worded in such a way as to make you uncomfortable – and often delivered in a much more aggressive manner.
They are meant to put you on the spot, confuse or frustrate you.
They can be incredibly difficult to answer but remember, how you react is just as important, if not more so, than the answer you give.
“What makes you think you’re qualified for this job?”
The key point here is that the interviewer already knows your qualifications and work history. They would not be talking to you if they thought them inadequate.
What they’re looking for in your response is a confidence in your own abilities.
Think of key personality traits that show your suitability to the role and give examples of these traits in action.
“The key responsibility of this role is to provide exceptional customer service, no matter the circumstances. In my previous role, I was often faced with aggressive behaviour. It was a learning curve at first, but experience has taught me that this type of behaviour usually stems from frustration and is best solved through patience and understanding.”
Finish your response with an example of when and how you resolved a tense situation.
“You lost me halfway through. Could you start again and get to the point this time?”
This type of question is designed to shake your confidence and test your patience.
Don’t backtrack on your previous answer. The interviewer is looking for you to calmly repeat yourself, stand by your original response and provide clarification on anything that may be unclear.
Don’t be afraid to ask if they have any questions. This will show that you are open to their frustrations and willing to work through them.
“I’d be happy to talk you through my response again. Is there a particular point you’d like me elaborate on?”
“What would you change about the design of a post box?”
Random questions like these have no right answer. In asking them, the interviewer is assessing how you respond to being put on the spot.
They’re not looking for you to reinvent the wheel. They are looking for someone who can perform under pressure with sound reasoning.
The explanation behind your answer is more important than what, if anything, you would change, so be sure to share your thought process.
“We’re seeing the closure of a lot of local post offices so I’d look at bringing the post box into the digital age to replace some of the more basic services lost – such as recorded delivery and the ability to weigh larger envelopes and purchase the appropriate postage.”
“How would you deal with a co-worker who continually took credit for your ideas?”
Your answer here will demonstrate how you deal with workplace conflict and how much of a team player you are.
Try to show tact, diplomacy and a willingness to compromise.
“I’ve often found that people who take credit for the ideas of others feel that their own voice is not being heard, so I would encourage them to work collaboratively at first. I would establish a common goal for us to work towards and make sure that all ideas and opinions are taken on board and discussed openly. In doing so, I would hope to establish a working relationship built on mutual respect and solid teamwork.”
Stress interviews are a controversial method. Those opposed to the technique say they add unnecessary pressure to what, for some, can already be a nerve-wracking experience.
Those in favour take the view that if a candidate can’t handle the interview, a stressful career is not the right path for them.
Whichever side you stand on, if you are subject to a stress interview, remember that it is serving a purpose and is not a true representation of your interviewer or the company as a whole.
As with any type of interview, the key to success is preparation and practice. Dealing with any stressful situation that may arise will be far easier if you are confident from the outset.
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