Go to Menu How to Beat The Stress Interview
By Nick Corcodilos

Stress interviews are still common in many companies. A stress interview is where the employer lines up a bunch of interviewers (one at a time or en masse) whose mission is to intimidate you. The ostensible purpose of this interview: to find out how you handle the stress.

I don't approve of these interviews because they're artificial and unfair. If a company wants to stress you and observe the outcome, why not just put you "on the job" four hours and watch how you perform?

If you find yourself facing several interviewers who stare at you intently, or who fire questions at a rude, rapid pace while someone watches your every move (waiting to see what your body language reveals), you need to take control of the interview.

Get an agenda.
The best way to deal with such interviews is to act preemptively. Ask for an interview agenda in advance. Who will be in the interview? What are their jobs? Who will decide whether to hire you? Who would you report to if you were hired? These are all reasonable questions. After all, you're investing your time, and you want to know who you're going to meet.

Having an agenda will help you focus your attention on the decision maker or on the person you'd be reporting to. If it helps you stay calm and focused, take questions from everyone but deliver your answers to the person you'd report to. This tactic derives from the entertainer's method of picking one person in the audience to focus on -- it relieves the pressure and stress of standing in front of a big, impersonal group.

Control the interviewers by controlling yourself.
Next, don't try to perform. Be yourself. Pretend you're in a meeting of your department and it's your turn to talk about your work. If they try to stress you purposely, make yourself slow down and speak calmly and softly. Try this: place one hand on top of the other. Stare at the back of the topmost hand and let it go so limp that it feels incredibly heavy on the lower one. This will help you relax and stay in control. Take a breath and focus on the question they're asking you. Forget about the people in the room. Remember that what matters is not their question, but the quality of your answer. If you have to, roll into a tangent if you think you can do better there than on the exact question that was asked. It's a risk, but this is all a risk.

Dominate the room.
Here's one tactic I love to use in a stressful meeting. Stand up and walk around while you talk. This can make you very powerful, because everyone else is sitting down. If they tell you to sit down, tell them you like to stand while you work. (After all, stress tests are used to see whether you can maintain control under pressure.) I also like to walk up to the board and start drawing diagrams to illustrate my points. Again, this is taking control.

Know how to push back.
If the meeting starts to turn into a psychological crock, stand up, lean forward with your fists down on the table and say, "I'm here to help you solve your problems. If you want to stress me realistically, put one or two problems or challenges you're facing on the table and I'll show you how I'd tackle them. If I can't help you on this level, you shouldn't hire me."

There are too many "human resources experts" earning a living by creating clever hiring tests and "analysis tools". Some of these tests are thoughtful and valid; many are just plain stupid and unfair.

The more an interview is turned into a game, the more I believe the candidate should play hardball. Again, the risk is significant. But so is letting them toy with you.

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For more about employment tests, please see Employment Tests: Get an edge.


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