Stress Interviews: Tactics to Handle the Pressure

Man being intimidating during job interview with woman
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Stress interviews come in many shapes and sizes, from mildly disconcerting to downright aggressive. The interviewer isn't simply taking pleasure in making you squirm; rather, the purpose is to put you on the defensive in order to see how you perform under pressure. 

Why Employers Use Stress Interviews

The logic is that the way you respond under stress during the interview is indicative of the way you'll handle similar situations on the job. Creating an emotionally chaotic setting puts candidates under psychological stress to see if they will crack, remain calm, or even thrive under pressure.

Stress interviews can be controversial because they create a sensitive and emotionally charged relationship between the applicant and the hiring manager, and, thereby, the company. Sometimes, even the most successful applicants will turn down an offer on account of the nature of the interview alone. 


A candidate may be asked repeated difficult or seemingly inappropriate interview questions, be subjected to testing, face multiple interviewers simultaneously or sequential interviews, be subjected to a long wait or spoken to rudely.

Intimidating Questions: "Why were you fired from your last job?" "Was your previous job too much for you to handle?" These aggressive questions are intended to put you on the spot.

Aggressive Behavior: An example scenario is one in which the applicant walks into the room and the interviewer is sitting with his feet up on the desk while reading a newspaper that he holds up obscuring his face. "Get my attention," the interviewer demands. 

Unexpected Responses: The interviewer may ask the same question multiple times, pretending that he or she forgot or didn't comprehend your answer as you grow more frustrated at his or her lack of understanding. 

Brainteasers: "How many rats are there in New York City?” "How much of New York's garbage do they consume?" While you're not expected to know off the top of your head, you need to demonstrate your ability to explain how you'd research the answer.

Acing the Interview

The key to getting through this process is remaining calm and unemotional throughout the interview, but for many when provoked or disrespected, keeping a level head is not as easy as it may sound. Also, keep in mind that you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you. Here are some tactics to employ:

  • Clarify the question and don't feel any hesitation or embarrassment about doing so. This is what's expected of you and the point is it buys you some time to think and plan your answer before articulating it.
  • Request more details. If there's unknown or missing information, ask for elaboration before proceeding with your answer.
  • Focus on describing your problem-solving method rather than trying to devise a correct answer.
  • Tell a story that makes your point - inject your personality and uniqueness into the response instead of getting bogged down in trying to find the right answer.
  • Don't be intimidated or fearful - understand that this approach is part of the process and your interviewer may very well be a carefree kind of person.