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I have been the subject of what was obviously a stress interview: first emphasizing that some of my past achievements are void here, then asking me to tell them about my own shortcomings myself, then giving a relatively easy task but not enough time to complete it, then making me defend the unfinished work to someone who was deadly sure I am not capable of finishing any part; I simply have had no time to type it in. Also, I was asked how well I can work under stress.

I can work under stress. I was quiet, polite, responded constructively and deserved the second round of interview. Still, understandably, I prefer quiet working conditions, the same as most mere mortals. Having alternatives, I am thinking about whether it is worth continuing with this second round.

Is a stress interview normally just for testing or could it be a serious indicator that the company plans to put you under significantly more stress than normally expected for that kind of job?

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    We can't read their minds any better than you can. I would be offended -- politely -- and scratch them off my list unless I was desperate – keshlam Jun 14 '16 at 6:16
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    @GautierC: I see no value in hazing, and a stress interview is exactly that, no matter how they attempt to justify it. The claimed goals of such an interview can be achieved, better, in other ways. All a stress interview demonstrates is incompetence in the interviewer, management that doesn't care enough to explain how to conduct a proper interview, and -- yes -- disrespect for the candidates. ... And this may be turning into an Answer... – keshlam Jun 14 '16 at 12:13
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    Since no less than Google HR has openly stated that exactly zero interviewing techniques led to successfuly sieving of good vs. bad employees being hired, I rather doubt that a "stress interview" is good for anything other than stroking the ego of the interviewer. – Carl Witthoft Jun 14 '16 at 12:35
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    Maybe I'm being naive here, but a "stress interview" is actually a thing? WTF? – Fake Name Jun 14 '16 at 19:51
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    You should ask them why they gave you a stress interview. They asked you some tough questions. Ask some tough questions back. What incident prompted them to want to do a stress interview? Is this a role with high turnover rate? Will you have multiple managers? What are the shortcomings of your managers/coworkers/interviewer? Will there be more hazing of the new guy? What hours does everyone work? Is there unlimited vacation (meaning no vacation unless you're willing to look bad)? If a development environment, do they pass the pass the Joel's test? Also, be sure to check glassdoor. – Stephan Branczyk Jun 14 '16 at 21:03
84

It depends. They may be looking for someone who will start out with a normal job title but will get quickly promoted to a manager or managerial role. Maybe corporate politics prevent them from hiring managers directly.

One key point is though: A competent interviewer doesn't test for skills that the applicants don't need to succeed.

So you have to ask yourself: Are you willing and able to tolerate this kind of stress in your job? If not, you probably don't want to work there.

Its however very possible that this was a newb interviewer or something went wrong the first time, and its worth giving the second time a shot. Even if you don't end up working there, going to the second round is valueable to make connections and gain info on the company and yourself.

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    +1 I once did something similar to a candidate. I gave him obscure questions where he had no possible way of knowing the answers. I didn't want him to know the answers, I wanted to know what he would do when he didn't know the answers. He didn't try to BS nor did he get nervous. He just said that he'd have too look them up, and he told me where. Hired! – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jun 14 '16 at 12:28
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    Who says that managers have to handle stress and time pressure as a matter of course? – Carl Witthoft Jun 14 '16 at 12:36
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    @camden_kid I'm sorry you feel that way. The position was for a major newspaper where any mistake would have been seen by millions and the job was far more stressful than anything I put him through. As with any interview, the point isn't the answer to the questions but how you react to them. Do you think it would have been more appropriate if I had thrown him softball questions and he got on the job and was fired because he made a mistake that showed up in the paper? – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jun 14 '16 at 16:06
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    @camden_kid the point was that he wasn't supposed to be able to answer. I wanted to see what he would do if he didn't know the answer. "I don't know" was the correct answer because he didn't. It was the answer I wanted to hear. For bonus points, he told me where he'd find the answer. I recommended him, and he was hired. That is the entire point of an interview, to see if the person is a good fit. He was, and he did great work. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jun 14 '16 at 17:31
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    You need a monument for the second paragraph. It is incredible how many interviewers do not get it. – Rilakkuma Jun 16 '16 at 0:54
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Go to the second round.

From my experience:

Okay, I must say that it might have gone better than you expect. I did terribly the time I had an interview. I was nervous, I knew very little of the job offer (but the company principles were pretty nice, so I wanted to try!), and I had to fluently speak and defend myself in English, in a time I couldn't be less prepared. I didn't finish the coding task on time, and I was not capable of answering the last "brainy" riddle. It was a pretty lame introduction about myself, if I must say.

However, they were interested about how I did in the coding task anyway, and they wanted a second round, after which everything was perfectly fine (and I was more relaxed, too).

Give them a second chance, maybe they were pushy just to see what you were able to handle (expect those peak situations every now and then, I won't lie you), and if you'd be able to improve (most of the time they'll want an investment when hiring somebody, not just "you right now").

You're not forced to accept the offer even after this second interview, but you might be missing a good opportunity if not going.

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    Said otherwise : the best positions are usually demanding. If you give up easily, you might miss some of the best positions. – gazzz0x2z Jun 14 '16 at 8:15
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    @gazzz0x2z exactly. A friend of mine's working at Google, and his interviewing process was long and full of tasks (it took more than 4 months, sparing interviews weeks apart), in my opinion, to see how capable and endured you are. Much like Spanish public position processes and exams: they are long and tedious (it's even hard to apply) on purpose, in order to cut out the less devoted. – Korcholis Jun 14 '16 at 8:46
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    This is a good point. It's only the second round of interviews, not making a commitment. If you are not sure how to interpret the first interview, get more information from the next. – user45590 Jun 14 '16 at 10:29
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    @gazzz0x2z by "best", do you mean "best paid"? Because I love my current place despite the pay – John Dvorak Jun 14 '16 at 13:27
  • @gazzz0x2z: it is true that those best paying positions are demanding. It is false, however, that most demanding positions are the best paying. Source: experience. :) – Neolisk Jun 14 '16 at 18:41
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An interview goes both ways. It's for the company to decide if they want to hire you, it's for you to decide if you want to work there.

I couldn't say if they just made the interview stressful or if that is what the company like, but if it was just the interview, then they failed your test. If you don't like the interview, then the interview worked as intended. Walk away.

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    Yeah it's a personal decision: my own policy is that, unless my mortgage is on the line, I'll avoid companies with "trick" questions, stress tests, or questions that do nothing but prove the interviewer is smart. I accept that stress can be part of the job at times, but I've no interest in companies deliberately testing it. An interview is already stressful, and is, itself, a stress test! – Jon Story Jun 14 '16 at 14:40
  • @JonStory: prove the interviewer is smart - should be an answer. – Neolisk Jun 14 '16 at 18:40
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I've worked in HR. I've worked in Ops. I've held positions of public trust. I've been through stress interviews. So I have a 359 degree view of this (the missing 1% is a placeholder for Johari Window purposes).

A stress interview for some positions:

  • Can be legitimate. I've known jobs where stress response is a legit hiring discriminator.
  • or it could also be bush league interviewing, where there otherwise would be no red flags deserved
  • or it's a red flag

I generally believe the system works, and I wouldn't consider stress interviews a red flag. Especially considering your self-reported ability to deal with stress, your interview demeanor and the fact you got an offer.

The fact that you're so cerebral about this to ask the Stack, makes you even more a +1 hire.

6

Is stress interview a red flag - Yes, if you are hired for a technical position. I don't have experience with any other, so cannot speak of that.

Think about this. When you approach a master in martial arts, does he/she immediately hit you in the face in order to prove their mastery? When you sign up for martial arts courses, do they beat you well to test if you are in good condition to train?

If an interviewer has any background in psychology, whether formal or not, it is extremely easy to tell whether person is being stressed out or not. Things like odd body movements, changes in tone of voice, facial expressions etc. - unless you were specifically trained not to show your emotions, you will show them guaranteed. Even people with 15 years of experience - well I can only say for technical background anyway.

Now, is it important for you to (know how to) work well under stress? Or - is it more important for you to do the work and become better at doing said work? Stress or work - you cannot choose both. Many people I know who are excellent at handling stress are nowhere near as productive as other "sensitive" individuals. Talking 100 times here. A quiet and comfortable work environment is key requirement for measurable personal and professional growth.

There was a good comment by someone on the net about interviews and your first impression.

How they treat you during an interview is the best treatment you'll ever get after and if you get a job with them.

It may get slightly easier when you get a job, but you may later reach a point when they increase stress arbitrarily, just because it's okay and "how things always been done here". Then you need to factor in bad sleep, being sick, kids & family and how all this fits together, when you (often) get a "bad day" at a job like this.

Another way to approach it is what I call a fair treatment principle. If they have doubts about you (and hence testing your stress abilities), doubt them from your side. Are they really good and worth your time? Example questions to ask yourself:

  • Do they have 30 days of vacation per year?
  • Does it pay 200K/year to work there?
  • Can you work from home any time you want?

If you answered yes to all, maybe it is okay to accept their stress requirement. If not, weigh pros and cons, factor in the stress and assume it will always be there. Is everything else worth it? This decision is personal - only you can tell.

  • It would help if you repeated the part of the question (is it a red flag?) that you are replying yes to. – hkBst Jun 15 '16 at 17:55
  • I think your martial arts example is flawed because it is not a question of mastery to assert your competency. A company testing how well you handle stress is a indicator of whether you simply hand it off to someone else or if you take the time to research, rationalize, and test it. Back to the martial arts class, wouldn't you want to test your competence against a foe who may not follow the same rules thereby allowing you to test if you learned martial arts or if you simply did the moves without understanding? – Dan Oct 15 '18 at 18:52
  • It's like in that movie dodge ball where the guy said, "If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball." If a workplace threw a wrench at you causing pain, would you want to work at such a place or would you rather just play dodge ball? By throwing a wrench at you, it creates undue stress and explains the environment is not fun and stressful. – Dan Oct 15 '18 at 18:55
  • @Dan: Nobody hires security guards by watching how other security guards beat them up. I'm not talking about secret agencies and the like, where annual salary is well beyond anyone's lifetime earnings. Giving stress to someone could mean a lack of respect. Or lack of social ability. – Neolisk Oct 15 '18 at 18:56
  • @Neolisk In a hypotehtical situation, introducing a stress test to hire security guards is a great plus. For example, let's say you did a test where an old woman with a bag. She paid for the items but it set off the alarm. Your job is to direct this elderly uncooperative lady to the register to take the tag off but she's refusing because she's old. As a security guard, would you hire someone is acts kind, gentle, and very well spoken to the unruly elderly lady or would you hire someone who simply walks away and says, "Nevermind. Let that old person go back home with the tag??" – Dan Oct 15 '18 at 18:58
3

I think it depends who it is. If it is the hiring manager or someone with that same seniority, I would think twice before continuing.

In general, people who play games like that can be unpleasant to work for because they tend to treat people like objects to be manipulated. Giving you a problem that you cannot complete just to see how you react is not a friendly gesture. It indicates someone who is demanding and exploitive. Not someone you want to work for, and I speak from experience.

Look for a company that treats you like family, not a work horse.

2

The main problem with stress interviews is not that they are unpleasurable. The main problem with them is that they are ineffective.

  • An interview is incomparable to normal work conditions. How you react to your interviewer screaming at you won't tell them anything about how you will react to customers' or colleagues' anger. It's simply not the same situation. Our reactions to stress depend on the person the stress is caused by, on the whole social situation we participate in and the support networks we have.

Basically, if someone uses stress interview techniques, they show they have no idea about interviewing. And then you need to ask yourself whether incompetence in this field reflects incompetence in other areas. For me it would be a huge risk to accept a job like this. I'm a rational person and find all kind of hocus-pocus has no place in the workplace.

If a company wants to test candidates' stress reaction, the right way to do so is to ask them about their past experiences or to create a situation similar to the one the new employee with be faced with:

Tell me about a situation when you needed to deal with a difficult customer

Tell me about a conflict you had with a colleague.

Imagine you got this job. I'm the head of department A and you need my approval to implement project B, which is your absolute priority. I'm against the project. What do you do?

  • As a candidate, you can't judge whether the interviewer who used stress techniques was an asshole or did it on purpose. That's a huge problem. Most people leave their jobs because of their bosses. Personally, I wouldn't risk starting a job knowing I would report to someone who presented themselves as hostile, unfriendly or incompetent during the interview. It might turn out well but the risk it won't is huge. Why take the risk?

There has been a study published lately about brainteasers used during job interviews. The paper showed that brainteasers tell nothing about candidates' skills, that they, however, say a lot about the interviewers' having asocial personality. I'm quite sure the result for stress interviews would be similar.

  • The logic of emotions doesn't have much to do with "brain" rationality. I have had interviews at companies I was totally interested in and enthusiastic about, which had so awful interview processes and were so incredibly disrespectful that I will never apply for a position with them again. It is actually a completely rational decision. For me, my emotional well-being is important, so I won't work for a company that shows they disrespect me.
1

"asking me to tell them about my own shortcomings myself" is a component of a regular interview, not a stress interview. It is literally number 2 on Forbes' list of most common interview questions.

It is a gift to any interviewee that has bothered to prepare. The common ways to respond are to either present yourself as "too much of a perfectionist", "a workaholic" (note, only do that if you think the company would see it as a strength), or to discuss a relatively minor flaw and segue into the great problem solving skills you have displayed in order to address your greatest flaw.

How do you handle pressure is number 32 on Forbes' list, and is important to ask as part of a regular interview. Almost all jobs involve stress, and the answer they are looking for is "by using time management tool/process _______, ________ and ________ to break my work into more manageable chunks and reduce pressure from deadlines", they are not looking for "I binge on chocolate and drink myself to sleep".

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/01/11/how-to-ace-the-50-most-common-interview-questions/#48d8ac9e4873

As to the other points, I feel like you might not be being honest with yourself:

Interviews are short, and if they ask you to accomplish a task (which they possibly underestimated how long it would take), they would rather see how you would approach the entire problem than see you solve part of it in full detail.

As for them saying a particular part of your experience isn't relevant, I can see possible scenarios under which that would be a kindness - they can't pass you through an interview unless you demonstrate meeting certain criteria. If you misunderstood a question, or gave a wrong answer, it's better for them to tell you that doesn't meet the criteria, and that gives you an opportunity to answer again. The alternative is they say nothing, and you don't get the job because your example wasn't relevant to the skill they were looking for.

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    Or you could answer like Keith, in The Office, and just put Eczema... – Oscar Bravo Jun 15 '16 at 13:45
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It might be a red flag and it might not be. It might be they're not used to interviewing people and read some sites about whiteboard coding and standard interview questions. There's no way to guess. But you can ask.

If it is a company that you would like to work at ask them for the reason for the stress interview. You can either do this during a follow up interview, or during a second interview.

You can either ask directly why this type of interview, or you can ask for the red flag you feel it raises. Preferably even combined in something like: "During the last interview I got the feeling your were testing my capacity to deal with stress. Is being able to work well under stress important for this position, or are there any probles with stress within the department?" If they say that stress isn't a part of the job inquire why they did the last interview as they did.

This way you're both showing your powers of observation about the last interview, and it gives you information that will allow you to determine if the last interview actually was a red flag. And finally, people like to hear themselves talk. If you keep your interviewer talking they'll have less time to ask hard question and they'll feel like you're more like them. Which will help you get hired.

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