A stress interview aims at testing the candidate's behaviour while he is being deliberately put under severe tension. This evaluates his ability to work efficiently in an atmosphere in which he is tensed up. For example, a marketing professional may have to face offensive behaviour from a rude client. The professional should not misbehave even under such adverse circumstances.
In a stress interview, the interviewer may try to discomfort the candidate in different ways and watch his responses in different situations. It is an evaluation of the job-seeker's behaviour and emotional stability when put under pressure. Some of the techniques for stress interviews are the following:
Posing a number of questions one after the other in the ‘rapid fire' style thereby denying breathing time.
Putting a question before the answer to the previous one is finished.
Making irritating or offending remarks while the candidate is answering questions.
Upsetting his mental balance by asking irrelevant personal questions.
Hurling insults or by raising baseless allegations.
The interviewer may deliberately adopt certain irritating styles such as not asking you to sit down when you reach his table for the interview; retracting his hand when you stretch yours for a handshake initiated by him; remaining silent without asking you any question; keeping on poring over your resume without any reaction or comment; avoiding eye contact; constantly interrupting you; sighing when you give a right answer; initiating baseless arguments; using insulting phrases; making comments that unjustly belittles you; keeping a wooden face.
Yet another style may involve a panel of interviewers, asking you questions in a random manner on different subjects. Even before you complete an answer from one member, another member would shoot another question, creating confusion. They would grill you without giving you time for thinking or planning your answers. They may ask you stupid questions as well.
The interviewer may tell you that he does not believe what you have claimed as achievements in your resume, or that you scored high marks in the university examination only by cheating. He may pose a riddle that has nothing to do with your job.
See some samples of irritating questions that may upset you.
Are you not hiding some of you failures from us?
Why do you think that I am a poor interviewer?
You were sacked from your previous job. Are you not trying a cover-up?
How will you react when you are caught swindling out of company cash?
You are unfit for this kind of position. Why don't you try for something lower?
You are a woman. Is it not a pipedream that you can take up this kind of heavy responsibilities?
Why do you lose your temper frequently?
Are you not too old for this job?
Why should there be stress interviews?
The prospective employer may have different reasons for holding a stress interview. This would help the employer to find out whether the candidate would
wilt under pressure
face adverse situations with courage
maintain high levels of confidence even under stress
handle adversity efficiently
manage difficult situations effectively, without buckling under pressure
keep his equanimity and do only what is right even under duress
speak logically even under pressure
lose his cool and react violently if insulted
You should realise that stress situations are a deliberately planned strategy to test you. If you can keep in mind that all these are in fact harmless tests to unearth your real temperament, you can undergo this exercise with a smile and respond well. The most vital thing is that you should never lose your mental equilibrium. You will be evaluated by the panel, knowing fully well that you are under severe tension artificially created for the trial. No board would announce that you are to face a stress interview. If you smell this possibility, plan your responses appropriately.
Never keep in mind a negative approach, under the impression that the stress interview is a vain and redundant exercise. You can take it as an opportunity to face an interesting challenge. A smile within you and a confident approach are sure to make you win. Never show your frustration. Act as if you take the exercise as a pleasant experience. Keep your sense of humour. Give short answers. Handle the questions with aplomb. Speak softly. Believe in yourself. Keep your confidence at its peak.
There should be nothing abnormal in your behaviour. Be cheerful even when provoked. You should never seem to be nervous. Do not try to win debating points. Do not argue. Do not overreact. Do not take any word or action of the interviewer as a personal insult. If you do not know something, confess your ignorance straightaway. Remember that often the interviewer is not checking the accuracy of your answers, but your behaviour under pressure.
The other view
There is a school of thought that the stress interview is an unnecessary tool for assessment. There is no need of the human resources professionals trying to embarrass or insult the candidates seeking a job. The tool is sometimes misused by some of the HR managers for satisfying their ego . The trauma of the stress interview may de-motivate some brilliant candidates. The stress interview atmosphere may create a master-servant situation that has lost its relevance in the modern employer-employer relationships. An interview may be considered as a two-way traffic where the job seeker is assessing the company, just as the company is assessing the job seeker. A candidate with a sparkling record of integrity and uprightness rightly expecting dignified treatment may be dissuaded by a demeaning approach from the interviewer.
What is given above is only one side of the picture. If you have to face a stress interview, you should know the right strategies to face it.