by Liz Ryan


Dear Liz,

I am not a supervisor at my job but a few months ago they sent me to interview training anyway. They want me to occasionally interview candidates for our department. I really liked the training. I sat through two fake and two real interviews within a few weeks of the training and they were great.

I made recommendations on the two candidates that I met and my boss said my observations were right on target. Now one of those two candidates is my teammate, Sarah. I feel terrific about the fact that I helped Sarah get her job.

I have interviewed four people so far and it’s a part of the job I look forward to. However, one of the other supervisors in our business unit told me that I should do what she does and conduct a “stress” interview. She said that she puts job candidates under stress by asking them rapid-fire questions and answering their questions for her with another question. She says “I start out softly and then I build up the stress level until the candidate is practically sweating with nervousness. Then I can see how they do under pressure!”

I asked my manager Roland about “stress” interviewing and he said that he doesn’t use that approach. I don’t ever want to interview a person that way if I can help it. It seems like the worst way to interview a person. In your experience, is “stress” interviewing helpful or is it a waste of time?

Thanks Liz!


Dear JoAnne,

“Stress” interviewing came into vogue about 20 years ago. Like most lame HR fads, it has stuck around way too long. “Stress” interviewing entails putting a job candidate under stress by asking a lot of questions quickly, challenging the job-seeker to defend their positions and generally behaving as though the job-seeker has to prove their worth at every second of the interview.

People who favor this type of interview never let the job-seeker relax. Their aim is to keep the applicant on edge, instead.

“Stress” interviewing is a brainless and ineffective technique used by bullies and punks.

What do you want when you meet a job applicant? You want to make them comfortable. You want to see their brain working in its native state. You want to get their true opinions and a sense of how they operate when they are feeling free to be themselves. Naturally, the more comfortable you can make them, the more of the real person you will see.

Many people can rise to the occasion and easily slip into whatever role is put in front of them. They can debate a topic in the moment, play a part that is assigned to them and operate well under pressure. So what? A person with this type of skill will sail through a “stress” interview, but that doesn’t mean they will be a great employee.

Likewise, a person who might be completely freaked out and tongue-tied in a “stress” interview could be a fantastic employee. There’s no correlation, but even worse, “stress” interviewing is antagonistic and harsh. Who would ever want to behave that way when you’re trying to attract someone to join your team?

If you put people under stress in  a job interview, you’re saying that their comfort and well-being mean nothing to you. Why should a talented job applicant stick around in your recruiting pipeline once they’ve been bullied? I would advise anyone to flee from a company that treats them badly, at the interview or in any other setting.

“Stress” interviewing is an out-of-date and pointless approach. It was briefly popular at one time, but only among fearful people who have to throw their weight around in order to feel powerful.

Good job interviews make everybody in the room feel relaxed and energized. Now that you are an interviewer for your company — and an ambassador, as well — you’re in a great position to make new friends and contacts for your employer and yourself, and grow your flame in the process!

All the best,


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