Have you ever faced an interviewer or a panel that seemed to fluster you by asking gotcha questions? Welcome to the stress interview, which tests a candidate’s composure and ability to perform under pressure. Opinion is divided on whether they serve the purpose or just intimidate a candidate.
But earlier this week, an interview that Olivia Bland, a 22-year-old from Manchester looking for a job in communications, had with tech firm Web Applications UK left her in tears, according to a BBC.com feature. In a viral tweet, she alleged that chief executive Craig Dean degraded and humiliated her about everything from her music taste to her parents’ marriage. Bland was offered the job but declined, likening Dean’s behaviour to that of an abusive ex.
Her tweet was shared tens of thousands of times, and prompted Dean to post an apology saying it had not been his intent to see anyone hurt. Web Applications UK has publicly denied Bland’s claims, but did not respond to BBC Capital for comment.
“There are certainly different kinds of stress associated with many positions - achieving results, meeting deadlines, dealing with difficult clients, for example,” says Neal Hartman, senior lecturer in managerial communication at MIT. “The stress interview can create conditions to see how an applicant would handle those challenges.”
Stress interviews can also be used to simulate certain situations, such as testing customer service agents who need to be prepared to deal with abusive phone calls, says Kim Ruyle, president of Inventive Talent Consulting. In such situations, the candidate would need to be told in advance.
In any case, there’s a clear difference between asking a tough question and slighting a candidate, Ruyle says, adding that verbal abuse in any workplace setting is inappropriate and should never be part of the interview.