The job interview technique that's leaving people in tears.

A few weeks ago, a UK woman named Olivia Bland caught a bus to a job interview.

It was for a travel software company, and Olivia was nervous.

Two hours later, Olivia found herself at a bus stop in tears, shocked and distressed by what she had just encountered.

So, what happened in between?

It would seem Olivia was subjected to what has been termed the ‘stress interview‘; a situation designed to intimidate, upset, embarrass and provoke an interviewee.

The theory is that the stress interview tests resilience, particularly for the ‘snowflake’ millennial generation who have a reputation of falling to pieces in the face of a crisis.

The young woman said, via Twitter, that she was humiliated by the company’s CEO. She says she was told why she “wasn’t good enough,” called an underachiever, and was asked excessively personal questions.

“I would like to thank you for the offer, but I have decided to decline,” Olivia wrote in an email that has since gone viral.

“The interview process yesterday was very uncomfortable for me. I understand the impact that Craig was trying to have, but nobody should come out of a job interview feeling so upset that they cry at the bus stop.

“There is something very off to me about a man who tries his best to intimidate and assert power over a young woman, and who continues to push even when he can see that he’s making somebody uncomfortable to the point of tears.

“I’m not going through that again, in any capacity. I suppose I’m supposed to feel privileged enough to be good enough for the job. I don’t.”

She later likened the “brutal interview” to “being sat in a room with my abusive ex”.

Sophia*, 29, experienced a stress interview first hand in Sydney last year.

She had applied for a job at a large media organisation, and was through to the final round of interviews, with two of the most senior people in the business.

We discussed the ‘stress interview’ on this week’s episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below.  


“I knew what it was within the first five minutes,” Sophia said.

“No questions were prepared, there was some judgement about my employment history, and they were dismissive of the skills that I had acquired.”

She was required to put together a portfolio which took her more than a full day of work, that the interviewers refused to glance at.

Sophia casually mentioned at the beginning of the interview that she had a cold, and one of the interviewers deliberately sat at the other end of the room, and mentioned a number of times that he was worried she’d get him sick.

Phone calls were answered, and both were distracted and impatient.

“I felt insignificant, incompetent, inexperienced, stupid, dumb, like they were doing me a favour,” Sophia said.

As soon as she walked out of the interview, she cried, but soon realised she could “never work for a company like that”.

“I knew that if I felt like that in the interview, then a bad day at work would look really awful.”

Sophia decided to send an email, polite and respectful, letting them know that she would like to withdraw her application.

They replied, informing her that they were moments away from offering her the position. The team had been incredibly impressed.

At that point, however, there was nothing they could do to convince her to take the job. Sophia knew she was at odds with the culture, and had been interviewing them as much as they had been interviewing her.

Months on, Sophia says she will never work somewhere that uses techniques like the stress interview in recruitment.

“Interviewing is a time when you’re going to make yourself vulnerable, put yourself out there and essentially sell who you are,” she said. “Being nervous and feeling pressure is part of the human condition. The stress interview eliminates any hope of bringing on someone that is going to care about your brand and live out its values. Businesses and people don’t work in black and white.”

The way to ‘win’ a stress interview is relatively simple.

Stay calm. Deal with it.

But the question employers might want to ask themselves is if a non-responsive candidate, who is content with being insulted and ridiculed, is really someone they want on their team.

Sensitivity, emotional intelligence and self respect are qualities that are much needed in any workplace.

To weed them out during recruitment is surely a mistake.

This story originally appeared in Mamamia’s Deep Dive newsletter, written by Clare and Jessie Stephens. You can subscribe to Deep Dive right here

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