Imagine for a moment that you are doing exceptionally well in your job interview – until your interviewer asks you a question totally irrelevant to your discussion, such as “How would you improve the design of the hockey stick?”
While you fumble for an answer, inwardly you are thinking, “What is wrong with this person? Why would I be asked such an absurd question as part of a serious interview?”You have just been asked a deliberate “stress question” designed to give the interviewer an opportunity to observe “the real you” by looking for a reaction that might reveal something of your character – perhaps impatience with a silly interviewer – as well as a glimpse of your creative abilities in coping with the unexpected.
While it is no secret that most job applicants view employment interviews as stressful, many are not aware that there is an intentionally designed and somewhat unusual type of selection interview called a “stress interview.”The stress approach can be in the form of questions or statements. Mild stress: “With your lack of relevant experience, what makes you think you can do this job?” Or, medium stress: “You seem much too timid to handle these responsibilities.” Or, major stress: “That is the worst answer we’ve heard from any of the candidates.”
The stress could be presented in a situation or disguised in the interviewer’s behaviour, such as an unsmiling greeting, protracted silence after hearing your answer to a particular question, or a confrontational or argumentative attitude.Stress approaches may include: rapid-fire questioning, criticism of your interview or past work performance, silence in the beginning or following an answer to a question asked of the applicant, unclear instructions, or being confronted by the interviewer.
It is important for job seekers to keep in mind that it is one’s reaction – how one handles stressful, unexpected questions and/or the interviewer’s surprising behaviour – that is observed and assessed by the interviewer, not necessarily the answer.Interviewees should not take the stress tactics personally. The candidate’s reaction should be evaluated relative to the genuine demands of the work, and “grace under fire” is the key to handling this unusual situation.
Actually, many hiring professionals agree that a full interview using a stress approach is seldom used or appropriate these days because heavy-handed stress tactics do not fit well with the relaxed and welcoming interview atmosphere that Canadian organizations attempt to create for candidates.So, why worry about stress interview tactics?David Sher is a Toronto employer who uses stress tactics “purposefully and responsibly” when selecting his staff. President and group publisher of the Student Media Group, Sher publishes Business Sense and Enginuity magazines.
“Whether we use stress tactics or not depends totally on the expectations of the job,” he says. “If we are hiring creative staff, we don’t use it. However, if we are hiring for sales and marketing, we do ask stress questions and we create a bit of an unexpected atmosphere. We are not out to create tremendous stress as that is not productive. We just want to see how the person reacts and we expect honesty in answers.”As an initial stress tactic, Sher continues, “we use a combination of waiting and silence. If we are interviewing for sales and marketing position, we will have an applicant wait about 10 minutes and then bring the person into the interview room. We say hello, smile and then – silence.”
“Our goal is to see if the candidate will initiate the conversation. It can even be small talk – as long as they start the conversation. On the job, a salesperson has to demonstrate composure and control to strike up a friendly conversation with a client. The stress tactic tells us if the person can do that.””We use a stress tactic at the end of the interview, as well. We know that when we ask about ‘weaknesses,’ we’ll get a rehearsed answer. But add the stress follow-up question, ‘Tell me more about your weakness’ and we are likely to get an honest and unrehearsed answer.”
According to Candace Davies, founder and director of the Alberta-based Cando Career Coaching and Resume Writing Service, “stress interviews can be brutal.” A former general manager, Davies has interviewed more than 1,000 people for hiring purposes and now helps people prepare for interviews,
including stress interviews.
Consider her tactics when in stress interview situations:
- Do not let yourself be intimidated.
- See this as an opportunity to rise to the challenge.
- Ask for clarification if you need it.
- Don’t rush into your answer. Collect your thoughts.
- Most importantly, respond calmly, confidently and professionally.
Experts seem to agree on at least one thing: Know the requirements of your job, anticipate the possibility of a “stress tactic” experience, be aware of your reactions and learn some useful approaches to handle this unusual but possible curve ball.
It’s all part of the game
The interviewer doesn’t hate you. And I’m sure they are not rude in real life either. It’s a test. Some of your competition may fall to pieces. You won’t. Your ability to handle pressure is just another reason why you are right for the job.
Be prepared. You need to think about how you will demonstrate you can cope under pressure, and try and anticipate what will come up. This is a lot easier once you have the right job interview information. The aim of the stress interview is to see if you can be thrown off your game. Focus on delivering a great interview. With the right preparation and by presenting yourself well, you will be fine.
Believe in yourself
Confidence is the key to coming through the stress interview. Remember you wouldn’t be there if they didn’t believe you were capable – you just have to show them you are.