The Key To Stress Interviews: Don't Stress!

Posted by The Editors on June 19, 2011
The Key To Stress Interviews: Don't Stress!

"Stress interviews" are an offbeat way to see how candidates react to unusual circumstances under pressure. Our advice: Expect the unexpected. In one type of stress interview, a recruiter might introduce himself, start reading a newspaper and ignore a job candidate for minutes. The baffled candidate might sit silently, fearful that she would upset the interviewer, or grow angry and lose her temper. Under or overreacting could sabotage a candidacy. Banks want neither a wallflower lacking the confidence to speak up for himself nor someone who's rude and overaggressive.

After a brief interval, a calm, collected job seeker might politely suggest another time for the interview. The subtext of this action is clear: "If you don't have time for me now, I would be happy to speak with you on another occasion."

Another stress tactic: a two-on-one session in which the bankers play good cop/bad cop. In one such interview, a candidate became so infuriated by the bad cop's harsh interrogation and obvious scorn that she threw caution to the wind and shot some of that hostility right back at him. Convinced she'd nixed any chance of ever getting a job on Wall Street, she arrived home to a phone call from none other than Mr. Bad Cop, inviting her back for a second round of interviews the following morning. He made a point of congratulating her on her assertiveness and her ability to handle pressure.

For their part, our banking sources insist that they do not conduct stress interviews. But most recent interviewees would disagree. One recruiter offers a rationalization for this interpretive divergence: "Just remember: it's all perception," says one banker.

While no one can prepare for every wild pitch, make sure you know what's expected of you in general terms. There will always be the random banker who just wants to make you uncomfortable. Sometimes you can best these types, but more often, you can't. Just take a few deep breaths and roll with the punches. More often than not, all that's being tested in a stress interview is your ability to keep your wits about you. For your edification and amusement, here are some of our favorite war stories:

  • A former analyst recalls an interview in which a woman, not much older than she, looked at her without so much as a smile and said, "Okay, tell me a joke. Entertain me for five minutes and then we'll see if I want to stay and learn more about you." (Note: Under no circumstances is this an invitation to serve up an off-color joke.)
  • Another candidate cites a banker who wouldn't shut up for the majority of the interview; out of politeness, our source thought it best not to interject. At the end of the session, the banker criticized him for his lack of assertiveness.

Regardless of the questions asked and the tactics employed by an interviewer, keep in mind you are being assessed on how you handle a situation. Stay cool and be prepared for anything. One undergraduate candidate arose on interview morning feeling queasy. In an effort to calm his insides, he ate a small breakfast. The doors opened and before our candidate could greet his peers and recruiters, most of whom were standing less than ten feet away, he threw up. Instant gong, right? Actually, he handled the situation so well that, after returning for another interview, he received and accepted an offer-and the affectionate office nickname "Chuck."

Insider Scoop

"In my interview, the guy focused on the fact that I had played in a band in college. Of course I had listed that I played bass guitar, but he wanted to see if I had more talents. He then proceeded to conference in four other guys and then made me sing a few lines of a song. I'm tone deaf, but I did it. Granted, I was extremely embarrassed, but for some reason they thought it was funny and seemed pleased. How's that for induced stress?" 

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