What would you do in a deliberately stressful interview?

October 30, 2017 3 mins read
What would you do in a deliberately stressful interview?

As the workplace become increasingly competitive, recruiters are placing a greater emphasis on the ability of professionals to overcome stress. Some HR professionals will attempt to test this ability  through the use of certain techniques throughout the interview process. Of these, one of the more common techniques employed by HR experts is the "stress interview".

The term "stress interview" refers to the deliberate creation of nerve-wracking condition as a means of evaluating how a professional responds to stress in the workplace. The interviewer makes the professional feel uncomfortable by posing awkward, impolite questions. They may pose a string of questions regarding one particular aspect of the job in an attempt to get to the bottom of things, grilling the professional until they are incapable of responding. The purpose of such an interrogation is to determine the amount of stress that the professional can withstand, the ability of the professional to adapt to stressful conditions, as well as the professional's interpersonal skills.

This method is appropriate for mid-to-high level management positions, as it allows the interviewer to observe how a professional adapts to stress when it is coming at them from all sides. It is also appropriate for sales positions, in that it is indicative of a professional's responsiveness during in-depth communication with clients.

Finally, the method may also be used for particular positions that make use of professional skills,where it helps the interviewer determine how well a professional can withstand pressure within a rapidly changing environment.

Should professionals be faced with such an interview, we suggest that they:

  • Wear a faint smile on their face, and learn how to be humorous and self-deprecating. Professionals need to be able to rapidly spot the pitfalls of a question, and then approach it in a calm and sophisticated manner, all while keeping a smile on their face. Certain questions can be dealt with through the use of  humour. Humour also prevents the interviewer from spotting obvious signs of nervousness, such as stiffness in the face.
  • Rapidly organize the overall structure of their response. A sincere and logically sound response is very often the key to breaking the ice.
  • Having patience. This is important for sales positions, or positions where one needs to constantly communicate with external parties. If the position requires you to meet face to face with clients, then you must demonstrate an attitude that is becoming of a professional manager. Professionals must avoid losing their cool—the more defensive you become, the more diffident and nervous you will appear to the interviewer.
  • Pose questions at appropriate interviews. Here, professionals must keep in mind that responding with questions of their own does not mean calling the competence of the interviewer into question. For example: "If you feel that my performance throughout this interview was poor, then what, if I may ask, is your idea of an excellent performance?" Whatever they do, professionals must not become angry out of embarrassment, or make presumptuous remarks about the competence of the interviewer.


In conclusion, the most important criterion upon which professionals are judged during a stress interview is not the correctness of their answers, but rather if they can withstand pressure and judgement to provide a rational, logical response in a cool and collected manner. An interview is a mutual process of evaluation - should the professional feel as though they are unable to adapt to such a stressful environment, then they shouldn't view this as a failure, but rather a sign that the position or the company's work environment does not suit them. Remember: choosing a corporate culture and environment that suits your personality is the key to ensuring your long-term, stable development.

See also: [Video] How do the best leaders manage emotion and stress?

Alan Li's picture
Alan Li
Operations Director, Greater China