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Did the Interviewer Cross the Line or Just Use an Interview Strategy?

Posted by Elaine Varelas  November 13, 2013 10:00 AM

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Q. At a recent interview, the interviewer became verbally abusive. Not only did he doubt the facts listed on my resume, but out and out told me that I was a liar, stupid and an idiot. I was totally stunned, and though I would never want to work for that person or the company he represents, I wondered what recourse, if any, I should consider.

A. Most people find interviews to be stressful, even the hiring managers conducting them. It seems your interviewer may have been under a lot of stress or deliberately subjected you to a stressful interview to see how you would react. For certain kinds of roles, and to find the best new employee, interviewers often try and create the type of environment a potential employee might find themselves in when on the job. Most effective interviewers use behavioral interview questions to learn specifics about how you have dealt with challenging work related issues in the past. By prompting you to provide real examples of how you handle stress, they will get more accurate insight into your skills and demonstrated experience than the typical “What would you do if…” style questions.

Other interviewers believe adding the type of stress inducing behaviors and language you experienced in the interview process will push candidates to show who they really are, and make them react the way they would in an actual stressful work environment. Perhaps you interviewed for a role in the complaints department, or customer service, sales, or a help desk.

This style of interview is often used by one interviewer who is part of a series of interviews, or as part of an interview by one recruiter. Interviewers can keep you waiting, yawn, act distracted, snicker or express disbelief or condescension – or any host of behaviors designed to incur anger, impatience, frustration or any other emotional response that you may indicate that you are not be able to handle the situation.

Interviewers tend to use this behavior as an interview tool to be able to asses your reactions as they believe these are be good indicators of how you would behave under similar circumstances on the job. Every candidate should be prepared to deal with some stress style questions, so professionalism and confidence can be displayed in response.

There are many different levels of stress displayed in stress interviews. If you are prepared, you may find a similar experience less annoying or bothersome. Many people believe stress interviews do not provide the best opportunity to discuss their skills, and if you want to provide that feedback to the hiring manager or recruiter who arranged the meeting for you, do so. Just remember to be professional and recognize this method may work for them.

If you find yourself in a similar situation in the future, you can always decide to go along with the style of interview calmly and answer the questions so they represent you at your best, or you can decide stress interviews just don’t work for you and say so. Should you choose to end the interview, and leave during the process, recognize the result that choice will most likely produce.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.

Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.

Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.

Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.

Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.

Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.