How to handle a Stress Interview

Handling a stress interview

Keeping your cool in the hot seat

Although a familiar sight on The Apprentice, hellish interviews aren’t just confined to our TV screens. Intimidating and stressful interviews may be a sign of a dreadful manager who you’ll never want to work for, in which case the sooner you get out of there the better.

However, sometimes interviewers will deliberately pile on the pressure because a key part of the role is conflict management and they want to test your resilience under stress.

They might use intimidation, ask ambiguous and confusing questions, interrupt you or make negative personal comments in a bid to test your mettle.

So how can you prove your worth at the “interview from hell”?

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare: It is easy to intimidate someone who has not done their homework so make sure you have thoroughly researched the company, product and competitors.  Look at the job specification and think of relevant examples of skills and experience that match what they are looking for in a candidate. Always practise your answers out loud beforehand so you can express them clearly and confidently on the day.
  2. Depersonalise: The interviewer is trying to see if you will stay calm under pressure or “lose it”. Treat this is as a game, where you win if you can remain composed despite provocation and dirty tactics from your opponent.
  3. Watch your body language: The interviewer may use poor eye-contact, fidgeting, and folded arms to put you on edge. Your own body language is likely to become more defensive as a result, so pay special attention to this. Try to slow down your breath, speed of talking and gestures to help you appear calm.
  4. 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, for example: “You’re asking whether I’ve experienced ABC and how I dealt with it – is that right?”
  5. Take advantage of a distraction:  You may be able to deflect some of the pressure by physically moving from the “hot seat”.  Find an excuse to move around while you are thinking of an answer, such as pouring a glass of water or using a flipchart to illustrate an answer.
  6. Be assertive: If the comments get too personal then it’s important to show your assertiveness rather than shying away from them, for instance saying: “I think I can do a really good job for you, however, if you don’t, then we may need to agree to disagree”.
  7. Use Humour:  Jokes are unlikely to go down well, but being open about the conflict in the room and showing that you can laugh at yourself may be a canny move in breaking some of the tension – for example: “Wow! I feel like I’m being grilled on the barbecue!”
  8. End Positively: Show your resilience by ending the interview on an upbeat note, such as: “Well it’s been an incredibly tough interview, but I know that I can do a great job for you given the opportunity”.

Finally, you must weigh up whether you want to work in this role or not. Think carefully about this and don’t be misled into thinking that it will get any less stressful once you are in the role – it usually doesn’t.