How to Handle Interview Stress

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If you feel you are experiencing more than the usual amount of interview stress, the employer may be doing it on purpose. Sometimes employers purposely cause a certain amount of tension because the job they are filling will involve a some challenges, and they need to know how you perform in tense situations.

Employers may conduct a stress interview in several different ways.

They may ask a lot of crazy interview questions designed to catch you off guard. (See how a reader effectively handled a several crazy interview questions and got the job.) 

They may also set up the room in a way that is socially uncomfortable. 

For example, a client told me a story about an interview he attended for a counseling job. He said that the interview was a panel interview, and the interviewers were sitting around the room with their chairs arranged in a U shape. There was an empty chair placed immediately in front of one of the interviewers. The chair was placed so that it was uncomfortably close to one interviewer, and anyone sitting in that chair would have his back to several other interviewers. Giving an interview in the chair as it was placed would have been very socially uncomfortable.

Before he began the interview, this client simply asked the interviewers if he could move the chair back a bit so he would be able to see everyone in the room. The interviewers said that was fine, he moved the chair, proceeded with the interview and was later hired for the job.

After the interview, he realized that the employers wanted candidates to ask to move the chair into a better position. The job he was interviewing for would involve dealing with clients in situations that could be challenging or socially awkward. The interviewers used the chair in the wrong place as a way to see how candidates for the job would deal with a socially awkward situation. Those who handled the little bit of interview stress effectively were considered for the job. 

Interviewers may also cause interview stress by asking you to complete specific work-related tasks under difficult circumstances. 

Another client once told me that she was interviewing for a job as a receptionist/administrative assistant. The job involved preparing time sensitive documents for two supervisors while also greeting clients and answering incoming telephone calls.

My client was interviewed by the two people who would be her supervisors. After answering some standard job interview questions, she was asked to complete a typing test, which is very common for office administration job interviews. The interviewers took her to a room with a computer and told her she had 30 minutes to type up a document they had provided for her; they also pointed out the phone on the desk and stated that they were leaving the room, but if they had any further questions for her, they'd call her on that phone.

My client looked at the document and knew she would have no problem typing it in the time provided. She began to type, when the phone rang. She picked up the phone, and it was one of the interviewers asking her some silly question. She answered the question and then went back to her typing. A few moments passed and the phone rang again. It was the other interviewer asking her a question. Again, she answered the question and then got back to her typing. This went on through the entire typing test. She was constantly interrupted.

This type of typing test would be very stressful for some people, but not for my client. In fact, she laughed as she told me the story. She said that she realized what the employers were trying to do. She knew that if she was hired, she would be required to produce documents within a given time frame, and she would have to handle constant interruptions as she was working on those documents. She was accustomed to managing this type of stress on the job, and so she was happy to show the interviewers that she could work effectively while managing conflicting demands on her time.

Keep in mind, if you realize you are in the middle of a stress interview, it is not personal. It may feel awkward or uncomfortable, but good interviewers do not cause interview stress in order to be difficult; they are causing a bit of stress because they know you will encounter certain stresses on the job, and they need to know how you will react in those situations. Simply take a deep breath, remind yourself that it is not personal and that you know how to handle challenging situations, and show the interviewer that you can work effectively in a challenging situation.

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