How to manage a stress test interview.

Stress is a part of some jobs. Public contact, complaints handling, mediation, conflict resolution, there are some jobs which can be said to require people who are specialists in stressful situations.

To employers, it’s critically important that staff can deal with the sometimes huge pressures of their work.

The stress interview is designed to find applicants who can handle stress, and handle it well.

Stress interviews contain:

  • Conflict
  • Contradictions
  • Argument
  • Disagreement
  • Hostility
  • Pressure
  • Aggression and intimidation
  • Criticism

This isn’t being done for fun.

People who can’t handle stressful jobs can literally fall to pieces, and so does their work, and the job they’re supposed to be doing.

Interviewers are specifically looking for responses to stress stimuli.


The most common, and obvious, advice about stress interviews is to remain detached, and be professional.

That’s fine, as far as it goes, but there’s more to it than that.

You do need to remain calm, and think clearly, in all situations.


You also need adequate responses to situations which can be actual emergencies. Being glib isn’t the answer to everything in a high stress job.

In practice, this is a real on the job series of situations you’re being given.

Questions must be dealt with exactly as you would deal with them on the job.

Forget you’re at an interview, for this one.

If you know your work, you know what must be done in the situations they throw at you. That’s what’s really important about stress interviews. The more realistic you are in your responses, the better you demonstrate your skills.

Don’t try and second-guess the interviewer.

It would be no use to you on the job, and it’s no use at the interview, either. You’d need to know exactly what responses were required, and why, to understand the motivations for the questions.

Just remember that there is a reason.

Like a real work situation, you’re dealing with emerging situations, coming from all directions.


It takes two to have a conflict. Don’t create conflict, and don’t add fuel to it. You don’t disagree, you provide information.


Same deal, slightly revised. You don’t respond to contradictions, just reiterate your point, and make sure you’re right. If your information is disputed, you must be sure of your own accuracy.


On the job, you can’t argue with your own position and the information you have to give someone. You’ve got a job to do, not run a debating society. There’s nothing to argue about. The other person is expressing an opinion, not the facts as you’re obliged to give them, even if the other person is right.


Inevitable in some cases. You listen to the disagreement(s) and you check out inconsistencies or any situation where disagreement is relevant.

You do not have an “opinion”, nor do you express one, particularly as a statement of fact relevant to your job.

You may even be sympathetic, but that’s not what you’re being paid to do.


Too bad if someone’s hostile, as far as achieving anything is concerned.

You don’t have “choices”, any more than opinions, regarding your job obligations. You do not add to hostile situations, or respond with hostility, under any circumstances whatsoever.


Pressure can be time frames, expectations of other people, the work environment, relationships, virtually anything involving another person can be part of work pressure.

It’s part of the job. You’re supposed to demonstrate coping abilities and performance.

Aggression and intimidation

These are outside the acceptable ballpark. You do not have to put up with either, and neither does your employer.

Do not, ever, provoke aggression. Don’t be a facilitator by responding.

Not only will you definitely get yourself into trouble, you’ll create potentially serious legal problems for the employer.

Intimidation is for those who can be intimidated. Just don’t allow yourself to be intimidated. You do have rights. If you’re doing your job properly, there’s no problem.

These are extremely sensitive situations, and you must be acting correctly, at all times, legally and professionally. Situations where aggression is involved can cost you your job, and maybe a trip to a hospital.

Avoid risks.

Use your common sense, and play strictly by the employer’s rules. Corporate culture link


Criticism is a part of human life. Criticism can come from any source. As far as the interview is concerned, how you deal with criticism from managers, clients, and colleagues is important.

Can you defend your own actions and back up your own judgment in a stressful job?

Because that is exactly what you need to be able to do.

Criticism can have career ramifications, and can be quite unfair, or fully justified.

Can you recognize your own mistakes? Can you respond positively to advice when you need it?

This is crucially important. If you don’t understand criticism, you don’t understand your job.

The stress interview is very much based on the real, practical, unavoidable, realities of a lot of jobs.

If you know how to deal with everything they throw at you, you do know your stuff.

If you don’t, pay attention, because what you don’t know can do you real damage, in terms of employment, and personally, in situations you can’t handle properly.

If you flunk a stress interview, you need to know why, and how to improve your performance, because these jobs are seriously tough, and mistakes are often costly.

This is no bull.

Experts in stressful jobs will tell you the First Golden Rule is “Be careful”.

The Second Golden Rule is “Be sure you know what you’re doing.”

NOTE: Some jobs really should come with health warnings.

People who feel unable to deal with the pressure and stresses of some work environments are strongly advised to avoid those environments at all costs.

There are very real health and employment risks, and the CV will look a lot better without a trail of sackings and resignations.

Also of interest:

Torn between 2 jobs
Music and Job Stress