It’s easy to show your smartness and resourcefulness when everything is calm and going as expected, but how do you act when chaos reigns? Are you able to maintain your composure when things are going awry in the workplace?

In most workplaces, things often don’t go according to plan, and employees are still expected to do their work diligently under conditions of stress, especially in fast-paced, high-pressure industries like investment banking, IT or law.

This is why some employers insist on conducting stress interviews to ensure that their employees can handle the pressure that comes with their jobs.

Most interviewees come to interviews prepared and ready for some of the most common interview questions.

What they are not prepared for, however, is their emotions being riled up. That’s exactly what a stress interview does. It puts you under extreme pressure, enabling the interviewer to assess your ability to think on your feet, stay calm under pressure, and respond appropriately in difficult situations.

How can you stay calm, objective, and maintain self-command in a stress interview?

Below, we highlight several tactics that can help you handle yourself masterfully during a stress interview.


The type of interview you are taken through will depend on the personality of the employer and the characteristics required to fill in the vacant position. In this article we are focusing on stress interviews.

Stress interviews put the interviewer under high pressure by asking tough questions, whether relating to situations in the workplace or about the interviewee’s personal life.

Some of these are questions which could be asked in a normal interview, but the difference being in HOW they are asked.

In a normal interview, questions are asked in an altogether professional manner.

The interviewee, if adequately prepared, can answer the questions with confidence.

On the other hand, the very manner in which questions are asked in a stress interview is distressing.

For instance, the interviewer’s demeanor may be one of indifference, distractedness, one that is contrary to the interviewee’s, or even rude.

What the interviewer wants to see is how you react to the rejection, indifference, rudeness, and overall stress.

Source: SlideShare

Source: SlideShare

Success in a normal interview means giving correct answers.

On the other hand, success in a stress interview is not just about answering correctly.

It’s also about reacting correctly.

Are you able to maintain grace under pressure in spite of the stress conditions you are subjected to by the interviewer’s tough questions and tactics?

Another tactic that interviewers use in stress interviewer is asking strange, oddball questions.

Imagine being asked, “How many basket balls can fit in a 757 jet?”

Clearly, the interviewer cannot expect you to give an accurate (or even near accurate number). The interviewer probably doesn’t even know the correct answer, but why is she asking this question?

The point of such strange questions is not to get precise answers as in normal interviews, but to assess your reasoning capability, how you use logic to map out a problem, breaking it down into smaller, more manageable components, until you arrive at a likely answer.

Another tactic used in stress interviews to increase the pressure is putting candidates in uncomfortable or uncertain situations.

An example is giving interview candidates a test that should take at least 2 hours to complete in a normal interview, but instructing the interviewees to complete it in 30 minutes.

The point of such an exercise is to gauge the candidate’s ability to remain calm.


One good reason employers use stress interviews is to pick the candidates who are best suited for jobs that are stressful or fast-paced.

For instance, any job that deals with customer support will require someone who is able to stay calm, be patient, and think on his/her feet to solve problems that arise in the day-to-day of the job.

For fast-paced, high-pressure industries such as investment banking, stress interviews are an efficient way to narrow down the list of candidates to those who can handle the heat.

Otherwise, there is likely to be high labor turnover as employees who’re not mentally/emotionally suited for the fast pace and high pressure quit in droves.

The interviewer can also put you through a stress test when the role you’ve applied for is high-level in terms of authority and responsibility.

People in such roles often have to make decisions and solve problems daily, and these can be trying for someone not equipped for constant or frequent high-pressure situations.

Stress interviews help employers determine that you have the right attitude and the emotional resilience required to handle such taxing environments.


Stress interviews may be trying, but it doesn’t mean you can’t ace them if you’re self-aware enough to act in the correct manner.

Below are some tactics you should keep in mind that will be an asset to you in case you are subjected to a stress interview.

1. Do Your Research

It’s always good to prepare for interviews.

The very concept of stress interviews is premised on catching you off-guard. Therefore, if you are prepared, it will not be easy to make you squirm uncomfortably as often happens to interviewees in a stress interview.

Preparation means research.

The more information you have ready at your fingertips, the easier it will be for you to calm yourself down and think clearly so as to give answers that make good sense.

Do your research on the company that has called you in for an interview.

Find out everything you can about it because this might give you a clue into what the questions are likely to focus on.

For instance, what does the company culture look like, who are its main competitors, what are its strengths and failings? What are the business ethics of the company or the industry?

Consider the job you are applying for. What high-pressure scenarios are likely to take place in the course of this job? Stress interviews often involve putting candidates on the spot about some scenarios they are likely to encounter at work. Research will help you come up with a list of such scenarios.

If you are lucky enough to learn who is going to interview you (for instance, if you already work at the company and the interview is for a promotion), find out what sort of person he/she is, what sort of questions he/she has asked interviewees in the past. This can help you figure out how to present yourself during the interview.

2. Run Through Some Scenarios

Stress interviews are often about simulating a high-pressure scenario and making you go through strong emotions just to see whether you have enough presence of mind to keep your cool and solve the problem efficiently and effectively.

The scenarios may be job-specific. In other words, they could be scenarios that are only applicable to the job you’re applying for.

As we have noted in the previous point, the best way to prepare for this is by doing your research on the company and the industry or job you are taking.

For instance, if you are a candidate for a sales rep job, what are the challenges that sales reps face most often? You can even google something like “common interview questions for sales reps”.

You can ask friends who work in the field to tell you the common interview questions asked of them.

Social media is another place to source for potential stress interview questions related to the job you’re interviewing for.

In some cases, the scenarios may be general – questions that could be asked in any interview.

The following are some stress-interview scenarios that you can expect in almost any job interview:

  • If your superior lashed out at you with undeserved criticism, what would you do?
  • If you saw your colleague stealing equipment or supplies that belong to the company, what would be your next move?
  • If you and your boss do not get along, how would you handle the situation?
  • If a colleague got a promotion after taking credit for an idea for an idea you came up with, what would be your reaction?
  • If your colleague admitted to you that he/she lied on their resume to get the job they now have, what action would you take?
  • If a customer started insulting you in front of co-workers and other customers, how would you respond or react?
  • If you were asked to change the design of a baseball bat, what would you change?

As you can see, these are questions that can be asked in any job interview, but if you are mentally unprepared, they will probably stop you in your tracks.

Stress interviews require a stretched out mind that is open to creative thinking.

Visualizing these scenarios in advance and asking yourself what you would do helps stretch your ability to think critically and on your feet.

3. Take Your Time

Imagine being slapped with a question like this the moment you sit down in your chair in the interview room, before the interviewer even greets you: “How successful do you think you have been so far?”

This is a tough question, considering that either way you answer it might come out wrong, depending on who the interviewer is and what answer they would consider a good answer.

For instance, if you say “very successful”, this could imply that you feel what you have done is impressive and may therefore not be driven to do greater things. On the other hand, if you say you are not successful, it may indicate a lack of confidence.

As a result, this is one of the most agitating interview questions. You may have to take some time to think it through. Remember that some of these questions are less about giving a correct answer and more about showing your thinking.

The interviewer wants to see your logic. In many cases, there is more than one right answer.

So long as you can justify your answer with a well thought out rationale, you are in the clear.

To come up with such clear and logical thinking, however, requires calmness, which is why you can’t rush through the answer.

A good trick for buying time is to ask for clarifications from the interviewer.

As the interviewer is clarifying, you can take it as an opportunity to think through what you have to say.

Furthermore, while clarifying, the interviewer is likely to give you hints on what answer they expect.

4. Quit Looking For The “Right” Answer

As I have already mentioned, there is more than one correct answer to questions posed during stress interviews.

The interviewer is assessing two things: your ability to maintain your composure and your ability to think logically and solve problems.

That, however, does not mean that there are no wrong answers. The wrong answers are, however, relative and dependent on the position you are being considered for and on the personality of the interviewer.

For instance, if you are asked, “What would you do if you and your boss didn’t get along”, there are a variety of answers you could give.

You might say that you would find some common ground and improve your relationship with the boss. You might say that you would continue to respect and obey the boss.

However, saying that you will quit might be the wrong answer as it suggests that you are not in for the long haul.

On the other hand, a question like “How do you feel this interview is going” is engineered to make you feel the heat. With such a question, there is no way of telling which answer the interviewer wants to hear.

You don’t know what they think about you, based on your qualifications and how you have conducted yourself so far and how you have answered the questions.

With such question, the interviewer is testing your ability to keep calm and provide a logical answer.

If you say you think the interview is going well, the interviewer will ask you why you think so and you will have to break down your thinking process in a credible way.

When he/she asks questions about what you would do in a certain scenario, the interviewer is testing your problem solving skills.

This is especially pertinent in a position of authority or responsibility, for instance when you are being considered for a leadership/management position.

Leadership and responsibility are tested daily in the workplace by decisions and problems. It is not enough to have competence.

You will also need to have decision-making and problem-solving ability. Stress interviews can help the interviewer determine if you are a good problem solver.

5. Maintain Your Cool

Let’s assume you are interviewing for a sales job and you get it. On the very first day, an irate customer starts an argument with you, claiming that you’re out to swindle him/her. How would you react?

This is a scenario that an interviewer might present to you. Are you able to maintain your composure and handle the customer calmly? Are you able to make the customer calm down and start a dialogue that is respectful and productive?

These are things you will have to demonstrate during a stress interview.

The interviewer may ask questions in a curt or rude manner, intending to rile you up.

Most people can’t stand being shown disrespect, but what if aggressive behavior from customers is the norm in the job you’re taking?

Do not respond to any aggressive behavior from the interviewer in an aggressive manner. Keep in mind the fact that he/she is trying to provoke you.

If you feel your emotions start to get stirred up, slow down your breathing. Breathe slowly and intentionally. In addition, be slow and intentional in your movements. Talk slower.

Slowing down your movements helps put back control in your hands. It also helps you become aware of your body movements.

When you are aware of your movements, you are less likely to fall into the trap of adopting the aggressive behavior of the interviewer.

It is easy to get influenced by the actions of those around you, a psychological phenomenon known as mirroring.

The ability to keep calm demonstrates that you have self-control, that you look at the big picture, that you can get along well with others, and that you can handle high-pressure environments.

6. Understand That It’s Not Personal

If the interviewer seems aggressive or dismissive in their demeanor during the interviewer, it is better for you to assume that he/she is not being personal.

It is better to assume that this is a stress interview and that he/she only wants to rile you up and test your ability to maintain your cool.

Of course sometimes it is personal, but you should not assume that without proof.

Besides, if you consider the big picture, it is more useful to you to take a professional perspective of the matter and assume that the interviewer is being intentionally aggressive for a strategic reason.

When you operate from this fundamental assumption, it is much easier to stay calm. Whatever happens, you will think to yourself, “This is not real. It is not an attack on me as an individual.

The interviewer is only being aggressive as a technique to test how I respond to pressure. If I keep my cool and think clearly, I will be alright. I should not take any of this to heart.”

7. No Shaggy Dog Stories

A shaggy dog story is a story that doesn’t end anywhere. It does not seem to have a point. In an interview, you must always be concise. Do not ramble or meander around fruitlessly.

That’s why it’s important to buy some time to think through the answer you are giving. The best way to ensure you don’t lose the point is to start with the end in mind.

If you know what your punch line or conclusion is, the sentence or thought that summarizes what you are trying to say, you can then work yourself towards it without deviating.

On the other hand, if you say the first thing that comes to mind without knowing what you ultimately want to say, you will probably stop mid-sentence and realize that you are not saying anything valuable or that you have started to contradict yourself.

When people are nervous, they ramble. Talking is a way for them to relieve the pressure.

Rambling may therefore be taken by the interviewer as a sign that you’re nervous and are not capable of thinking clearly or exercising verbal self-control when under pressure. Being clear and concise during a stress interview is a huge plus.

8. Stay Positive

It’s not enough to remain calm if you’re still exhibiting subtle aggression in your responses and demeanor.

Don’t be passive-aggressive. During a stress interview, the interviewer’s job is to try and wear you down. You must therefore stay upbeat throughout the interview.

A positive attitude is necessary for withstanding any job pressures.

For instance, in our sales rep example, when dealing with rude customers, a good sales rep is able to stay both calm and positive.

Positive attitude is also absolutely necessary for problem solving.

How can you solve a problem if your mind is preoccupied with the negative side of things? To solve a problem, you have to believe there is a solution, and you can’t do that if you have a negative attitude.

A good way to demonstrate your positive attitude is to finish with a positive closing remark.

This can be as difficult as saying “sorry” or “thank you” or “please” often is when you feel that the other party does not deserve your politeness.

Just as it’s good to say “thank you” and “please” in social situations even when you don’t feel like saying it, so too you should not forget to be polite and positive and close with a remark like, “Thank you for this opportunity. Even if I don’t get the job, this was a valuable and eye-opening experience for me.”


If the interviewer appears aggressive and asks you brutal questions, don’t take things personally and assume that they are out to get you.

Instead, understand that they just trying to find out if you are capable of handling high pressure situations that may be part of the job you are applying for.

Therefore, maintain your cool, avoid taking things personally, and above all, remain positive and upbeat.

If you do this, you will definitely impress the interviewer and most probably get that job.

Tactics to Handle a Stress Interview

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