May 26, 2021

Introduction

So are you just a boring person? a, so an interview where your interview partner deliberately tries to put you under stress.

Dear candidate, we usually only hire people with stellar GPAs. Yours is obviously not that great, so why do you think you even ever chance of working here? You’re a young graduate, fresh out of university. How will you be able to add value to a senior client? You do not seem to have done much beyond your academic achievements.

The article will be structured in the following ways. So first, I will provide a bit of context on stress interview. So do these really happen? Is this what you need to expect when you sit in a consulting interview, or maybe also in an interview for another type of role or position in another company or business. And then, I will share three tips or reflections of how I think about stress interview and what you can do to prepare and handle these situations in the best way.

Context

So let’s first talk about the context. Does this really happen? Will you need to sit in a stress interview when you apply to consult? And here, the good thing for you is actually that many firms have policies to not do this. But of course, the truth is also that interview cultures differ by region and, of course, also by the firm. So it might be that in some firms, you are facing these situations, and for sure, outside of consulting, there are firms where this is taking place.

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You better be prepared, because even for MBB firms, often especially the later stage interviews are conducted by partners or senior partners, and they do have some flexibility of how to conduct these interviews. So I would never be sure that this is not something that might happen to you as well, so better be prepared for this.

Why Stress Situation and Stress Interview?

So what is the why? Why am I people decide to do that? Why is anybody putting you in such a stressful situation at all? And here, it might be helpful for you just to take a step back. Think about what these interviews are trying to test after all anyway. And I would argue that the number one question that consulting firms want to answer when they interview you is this person able to potentially next week be with me on a team at a client?

Potentially very early on, in the first one, two, or three weeks, sit alone with a client, in a room, having a conversation. Will this person be able to handle stress interview well, to represent the firm well? This is the main question that consultants will ask themselves when interviewing candidates, in case of interviews, in personal fit interviews, and any other conversations that are taking place during interviews. And here, this is just the truth, that in a client environment, if you are a consultant, you will face stressful situations where clients would try to go after you, will try to attack you, will try to put you under stress.

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Why Stress Situation and Stress Interview
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Get ready to fire with questions

Situations like this literally happen every single week on most projects. You will regularly sit together in meetings with clients where these clients might have a different agenda than you have. Maybe they don’t like the project. Maybe they have a general bias against consultants and they don’t like you. And they will take everything that they find to make you look bad in front of others, to put you in a stressful situation, to question your competence, to question your work results.

And of course, this is not only the case as a consultant, but things like that happen in almost every company. This is what is called politics, after all, right? But I would argue that as a consultant, you’re a little bit more prone to situations like this compared to other people who are just regular employees of that company. Now to close the circle, right? This is the reason why this might be tested in interviews. The interviewer might be interested to see how you react if somebody tries to put you under pressure. So this is why it’s done. This is why it’s tested stress interview.

How to handle the situations?

And this is now a great transition to my three reflections and tips on how to handle the situations. And my one tip is to understand the intention. Why are people doing this? Because many candidates, if you are in an interview situation with them, and this is happening to them, feel personally attacked. They feel like, oh, this interviewer does not like me.

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Apparently, this interviewer doesn’t want to hire me. And they instantly get nervous, getting defensive, and so on. But this is, of course, not the intention in almost all of these situations.

In the vast majority of cases, you can assume your interviewer to be a professional after all. Because if you think about it, the fact alone that you are sitting in the interview means that you passed the first screening, right? So the CV screening.Clearly your CV is considered good enough to work in this company. So if any interviewer is implying that maybe your GPA, just to pick this example, is not good enough for the job.

Obviously, he or she cannot be serious because otherwise, you wouldn’t have been invited to the interview if your CV would not have been good enough on paper. So tip number one, understand this. This is not about an attack, but it’s a test.

Understand the intention of why this is happening.

Now my second reflection is on what to do. So how should you respond to that? And here I say that even more important than what exactly you say is how you say it. Many people who get such a question will instantly turn defensive. They will be nervous. They suddenly will start to speak much faster. Their head will turn red, and so on, right?

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And of course, I understand that this is very difficult, and especially in a stressful situation than an interview per se already is, then you’re facing such a thing, it’s really difficult to control yourself.

But the first step to improve is to at least intellectually understand what you should avoid. And for sure, do not be defensive. Do not perceive this to be an attack, but rather try to continue the conversation in the very same tone of voice, in the very same body posture, just as you behaved before this question was asked. Because after all, this is exactly what ideally you would be able to do in front of a client as well.

Handle everything professionally to overcome Stress Interview

You don’t want the conversation to escalate in any real direction whenever you get a comment that potentially catches you off guard. You want to be perceived as handling this professionally, as finding a very calm and to the point answer to that and not instantly getting nervous. And this is exactly the confidence that you should at least try to radiate. So if you are able to do this is almost already everything that then the interviewer will be looking for.

And then, of course, try to also say a couple of things that make sense. Now, again, the GPA example, when somebody is accusing you of the GPA not being good enough. You can just say that, yes, you acknowledge that potentially other people might have higher GPAs, but you still believe that you have other things that you can bring to the table.

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Then maybe you can mention a couple of other achievements in your academic life or in other areas of your life that, from your perspective, might compensate for that. Again, I strongly hold that what exactly you say isn’t even that important, but rather how you say it.

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Practice

Now my third tip is practice because the number one reason why usually seasoned consultants will be quite good at defending comments like this in client situations and so on is not because they are geniuses or super great at this from the beginning, but because they already experienced situations like this in a very, very frequent way. And if this happened to you lots of times, then it’s not even a big deal to you anymore.

You know how to handle it. You know how to reply. And the very same thing is true for job interviews. So if you never thought that this might happen, how would you react? If you’ve never experienced anything like this, of course, it will be extremely difficult then to react and reply in the right and correct way. So my tip would be that you try to expose yourself to these kinds of situations.

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Leadership position

So if you still have a couple of years before you really apply, try to get yourself into a leadership position, into an operational role, maybe at an organization, at a social cause that you really care about at your university. Try to get some things done there. Collect some leadership experience because, in these settings, you might also face situations like this, where maybe people attack you, have another agenda than you. And this is a great playground just to develop these skills.

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If this is now already too late and now you’re really just a couple of days, weeks, or months before the interview, then maybe try to role-play these situations with another person, where he or she deliberately asks you questions like this, and then you try to respond. And then another way how you can practice this, probably especially applicable for introverts like me, is rather to play around these situations in your head. So try to imagine sitting in such an interview situation.

Conclusion

Think about some questions that the other person might ask you that will really catch you off guard, and think about how you would react, how your blood pressure and pulse would increase, how you will feel uneasy, not really comfortable, how you would feel scared, that maybe this is now the end of your interview.

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Try to really visualize all this, and then try to relax and think about how you could find a good answer to that. I’d argue that if you really mentally go over these situations in a regular way, this will also potentially help you to handle these situations all right in an actual setting in an interview.

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