Career Tips

Handling Stress Interviews

It’s not only the candidates in The Apprentice for whom the interview can be an excruciating experience.  The aggressive interview…

Article by:Corinne Mills


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What is the best way to handle stressful interviews?

It’s not only the candidates in The Apprentice for whom the interview can be an excruciating experience.  The aggressive interview tactics of the type employed by Alan Sugar’s henchmen are far from unusual.  Nor are they confined only to the psychopathic bully whose path you may have had the misfortune to cross.
Where a job involves handling pressure, conflict or dealing with difficult people, then the “stress interview” can be a very immediate way of checking if the candidate is likely to cope in the job. It enables the employer to see their conflict management skills at first-hand by employing tactics such as:

•    Intimidation to make you feel uncomfortable
•    Confusing questions
•    Interrupting or talking over you
•    Making negative personal comments

So what can you do to prove your worth if you find yourself in this kind of interview?

Preparation:  It is easy to intimidate someone who has not done their homework , so make sure you have thoroughly researched the company, product, competitors etc.  Think through the reasons why they should hire you with examples of relevant skills and achievements.  Always practice your answers out loud so you can express this clearly and confidently on the day

Depersonalise:  The interviewer is trying to see if you will stay calm under pressure or “lose it”.  So treat this is as a game, where you win if you can retain your self-control despite provocation and dirty tactics from your opponent

Body Language:  The interview may use poor eye-contact, fidgeting, arms folded etc are.  This is bound to have an effect on your own body language which will become more defensive.  So pay special attention to this.  Try to slow everything down, your breath, the speed of your talking, and your gestures to help you appear calm

Take your time:  The interviewer may be deliberately confusing you and hurrying you for an answer.  Buy yourself more thinking time by repeating the question back to make sure you’ve understood it e.g. “You’re asking whether I’ve experienced ABC and how I dealt with it – is that right?”

Distraction:  You may be able to deflect some of the pressure by physically moving from the “hot seat”.  Find an excuse to move around, use the flip chart, stand up to pour a drink, walk around while you are thinking of an answer

Be Assertive:  If the comments get too personal then it’s important to show your assertiveness rather than being a wimp e.g. “I think I can do a really good job for you, however, if you don’t, then we may need to agree to disagree”.  If you feel that the interview is unworkable, then remember you are perfectly entitled to leave and bring the interview to a close at any time

End Positively: Show your resilience by managing an upbeat ending e.g. “Well it’s been an incredibly tough interview, but I know that I can do a great job for you given the opportunity”

Decide:  The advantage of this type of interview is that it usually gives an accurate picture of what it is like to work in the role and for that manager.  You can then weigh up whether you want to work in this role or not.  However, do not be misled into thinking that it gets any better once you are in the role.  It usually doesn’t


•    Ensure you’ve done your homework beforehand
•    Remain calm even when being provoked
•    Be assertive and stick up for yourself
•    Watch your body language
•    Remember that this is what the job will be like

You may also be interested in reading the following articles; Handling tricky interview questions and How to prepare for interview.

Corinne Mills is Managing Director of the UK’s leading career management company Personal Career Management and author of the UK’s no.1 bestselling CV book “You’re Hired – How to write a brilliant CV”.

Personal Career Management offer a free introductory meeting to find out how career coaching can help you with your particular career issue.


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Article by:

Corinne Mills

Article by:

Corinne Mills

Corinne Mills is the Joint Managing Director of Personal Career Management, she is a career coach with 15 years career management experience.

View Articles by Corinne Mills

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