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A high-stress interview is a job candidate’s worst nightmare. Stress interviews are most common in sales jobs or other roles where there is a high level of pressure to meet quotas or deadlines. They are not easy, but understanding what is actually going on can be very helpful.

It’s Not Just You

If your interview feels unusually intimidating, it’s not just you. Your interviewer may be intentionally attempting to elicit an emotional reaction. Their goal is to see how you handle yourself in a high-intensity situation. This interview technique has a purpose – and you need to respond in an equally purposeful manner.

What to Anticipate

There are various types of stress interview tactics. The overall purpose is to try and put you on the defensive. As tough as this can be, there is a logic behind this strategy. Stressful situations show that a person who performs well in such circumstances will handle job stress in a similar fashion.

When faced with a stress interview, you can anticipate:

  • Questions designed to put you on edge: A few examples might be “Why weren’t you promoted in your last job?” or “Why haven’t you accomplished more in your career?” The interviewer is not only listening for your verbal response, but watching for your reaction. They will assess your body language, facial expressions, overall behavior and communication style. Do not take the bait. Stay calm and professional and simplify your answers. Stand up for what you know and believe is right. You were invited to the interview for a reason. Do not let them lead you to question your own capabilities.
  • Puzzle or brain teaser questions: These are questions to which you are not expected to know the actual answers, but rather to explain how you would find them. A seemingly bizarre question like “How much does the ice in a hockey rink weigh?” is a test of your problem-solving and creative-thinking skills.
  • Case interview questions: You may be presented with an open-ended business problem and required to describe a path toward a solution. This tests your relevant knowledge of industry issues, quantitative and analytical skills, ability to prioritize and communication strength.

How to Respond

The key methods to apply when asked high-stress interview questions are similar to techniques used in salary negotiations.

  • Clarify the question and the nature of the desired response. This will buy you time to think. Do not feel any compunction about asking your own questions to get clarification. This may in fact be exactly what the interviewer was looking for.
  • Communicate what you are thinking. State any assumptions and ask for any unknown information. Focus on the way in which you are solving the problem. If you reply with a story, stay on point. Refuse to be intimidated.
  • Keep your cool. Smile and stay strong. Speak slowly and intentionally. Pause and take a breath when necessary. Do not hesitate to repeat key points. They are your stake in the ground.

What better time than interview prep to work with a specialized executive recruiter who can improve your chances of success during high-level hiring processes. The executive search consultants at BrainWorks can guide you every step of the way. To learn more about our track record and how we can become your career partner, read our related posts or contact us today.


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