Training

How to handle a pre-employment stress interview

Many job seekers shudder at recalling or anticipating a job interview. It’s always difficult to leave your shell, the unknown is always weighing on you. And if you know that in order to get the job, you need to go through “all the circles of hell” and a “stress interview”, then you may feel a pain in the neck.

But let’s see if it’s worth it to panic. After all, the choice of such interviewing techniques is not someone’s cruel joke. Most often, this is a special “obstacle course” used by psychologists and the HR department to find candidates who will be able to do well in this job.

It is important for any employer to make sure of your ability to successfully withstand the constantly emerging challenges of business. A stress interview will test how you handle the questions posed in an atmosphere of pressure, stress or apparent uncertainty.

stress interview

Among employers who widely use stress interviews, these are, first of all, companies in the FMCG industry. It is believed that a successful salesperson or executive in this industry must be resilient and resourceful in any situation. Such companies as Heineken, AB inBev, Mars, P&G and others use stress interview to pick the best candidates for their managerial jobs and for Management Trainees programs.

In this article we offer you information on the main scenarios and types of possible questions that you may face at a stress interview. As well as examples of possible answers during such a stress interview.

Most frequently stress interview questions and techniques

Below you will find a list of most frequent questions and scenarios of stress interviews that you may encounter.

Ignoring or intrusiveness in conversation

Your interviewer may resort to tactics in which he will ignore you when you enter the room. Perhaps you will not receive an offer from him to take a seat. Or they may pretend not to notice you: he or she can talk on the phone, write something or do something. For example, in Heineken, an employee who meets you can simply walk by, pretending not to see you. And sometimes the opposite: the behavior of your interviewer becomes too intrusive. For example, in the same Heineken, they love this trick: at the first meeting with the candidate, they grab his hand and shake with violent force and watch the behavior. Donald Trump has the same habit of checking people. When shaking hands, he sharply pulls the interlocutor’s hand towards him.

Donald Trum's intrusive behaviour

In this case, you will probably either be silent for a long time and try to attract attention to yourself, or you will be tactless in relation to the interviewer. Both will not be your best behavior. If ignored, it will be optimal to wait about a minute and then ask if he will appoint you another, more convenient time for him. In the case of intrusive behavior, it is better to accept this game. In any case, the best strategy is professionalism and moderation.

Personal and inappropriate questions

A human resources employee can quite unceremoniously ask you questions about your personal life, your preferences, and then make completely inappropriate comments about it. Politely dismiss such conversations. It is entirely justified to tell that your private life does not affect your professional behavior in any way. They may ask you to describe a situation in which you have experienced the worst moments in your life, moments of awkwardness or inappropriate behavior. If so, try to use the situation to show that you have learned positive lessons from the most awkward situations.

Unexpected tasks

It is possible that you may feel that you are getting an impossible task at first glance. For example, your interview can say: “jump off the windowsill”, or something similar. In such a situation, you should remain calm and ask yourself if there is a hidden meaning in such an order made to you. Indeed, this is not a suggestion to jump out of the window, so if you are quite cold-blooded, you will realize that jumping off the window sill (inside the room) and throwing yourself out of the window is far from the same thing. The subject of observation here is your logic and behavior. But if you have big eyes from fear, adequate brain work may be difficult. Resist the fear of the unexpected.

Derogatory questions about your previous experience

Questions of a general nature are possible, but with a certain subtext aimed at lowering your self-esteem. For example, why did you score very low in a subject while attending college or why you left your previous job. In such cases, you should not lose your confidence. Keeping a cool head, one must be able to find justified reasons for any events. Some HR agents like mentioning that you scored low at your aptitude test comparing to other candidates and ask why so. They do not mention that the result of your aptitude test was high enough to get your invitation for the interview. So, you may answer: “I scored high enough to be one of the best candidates”. As before, for you the best policy is professionalism and moderation.

pre-employment stress interview

Questions that provoke negative comments or flattery

You may be asked to rate your progress, college results, or recent job/employer. Perhaps they will ask you to express your attitude towards the interviewer or another employee of the personnel department. Thus, you will be provoked to negative comments or, conversely, some flattering remarks. In this case, you must try to be as objective as possible. Do without flattery, but also not be overly critical. You need to find a reasonable estimate and give a balanced answer. When asked about your previous employer, try not be very critical even if your experience was not positive. It is professional to give a generally positive feedback about previous employers.

Moral dilemma questions

For example questions in which you may need to be, to some extent, an arbiter. For example, expose someone or oppose a friend or colleague who is involved in a wrongful act. The best approach here is to assess the severity of the presented situation and then analyze the solution. If a friend or colleague is involved in something serious, you should take a principled stand, but if it’s a fixable problem, offer an alternative solution.

job interview questions

Introspection questions

These questions are the simplest if you know yourself well, and the most difficult if this is where you are struggling. The question may be to provide reasons why the company should NOT hire you. Here you need to tell not only about your weaknesses, but also show how you work on them and turn them into strengths. You can also resort to another method: to act on the contrary, i.e., retouch your strengths for weaknesses, for example, if you want to convey that you are a team player, you can say that it is very difficult for you to work alone and you can only do your best when you are on a team. Or you can say that you work until you get a purely perfect result, and sometimes you should lower your level of perfection.

Sales tasks

You may find yourself in a stressful environment when your interviewer plays the role of a rude customer or colleague. He may impartially challenge everything you say, but you should try to be persuasive, and most importantly, try to think outside the box. This is a very common assessment day exercise for FMCG companies, retail chains and sales departments of other large employers. So, we recommend you practicing such situations.

Examples of frequent questions of a stress interview

The scope of stress interview questions can be huge. Yet, there are a few that are most common:

  • Do you think you will be successful in your life?
  • How well do you think this interview is going on?
  • Was there a time when you planned something well but failed to complete it? If so, what caused your failure?
  • I am an Apple iPhone user. Convince me to buy an old Nokia phone.
  • How will you deal with a colleague who constantly takes credit for your job?
  • Imagine a situation where you have to work with a manager who is not pleasant to you. How do you plan to work with him?
  • What makes you think you are the right fit for the job?
  • I personally feel that the previous candidate had better skills than you. What can you say about this?

How to prepare for a stress interview

  • Accept the rules of the game. Yes, it’s simple. Tell yourself, “Okay, let’s play.” Attention! Play, not fight! An interview is an emotional game, and in order to win it, you need to tune in to the game and clarify the rules. After all, an interviewer is not a foe, he may be even your friend if you understand his play.

accept the rules of the job interview

  • Become aware of your pain points. You, like no one else, know all your pain points: for someone it is private life, someone worries about their appearance, and for someone all that matters is the career. If you voiced them for yourself, then you are half the battle.
  • Formulate for yourself a scheme for answering stressful questions.

When answering “stressful” questions, you cannot:

  • not to answer the question posed;
  • fuss and make excuses (you don’t owe anything to anyone, your life is your life and this is your choice);
  • argue and be indignant (no one owes you anything, it is you who came to the interview).

You can always thank the interviewer for their time and leave such an “inconvenient” interview. But we have already determined that such “stressful” questions are not a personal insult to you, they are just a test of your emotional maturity and the presence of emotional intelligence.

How to answer stress interview questions

If you are being asked an uncomfortable question, you should:

  • listen the question to the end, do not interrupt, watch your facial expressions and gestures;
  • smile sincerely with a positive attitude (and not a smirk), that will help you respond calmly and kindly; practice before the interview;
  • pause for 3-5 seconds and internally accept the fact that this question is “stressful” or unexpected for you (you knew what you were doing);
  • voice your answer calmly and frankly, do not invent anything; if you answer the truth, it will immediately become easier for you, because you will not betray yourself to please someone, but will remain yourself.

What the future employer expects from you when answering stress interview questions:

  • self-confidence;
  • preserving their dignity;
  • inner peace;
  • sincerity.

You must admit that in some psychologically difficult working situations, employees can turn from a stable good professional into a hysterical paranoid who cannot control their senses and impose negative emotions on others. For employers, it is important, at the stage of hiring, to understand whether such behavior is possible for a given person.


We cannot control happening of some situations, especially at work. But it is in our power to control our mood. And it’s up to you to decide what it will be like during a stress interview!


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