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Under Pressure

eggShould we put candidates under extra pressure at interview? 

Is that a good way of assessing how well they deal with pressure in the job?  Is this also an assessment of their leadership potential?

This is a question we get asked a fair amount, because it is often a requirement of the job for people to cope well under pressure.  Our response, as usual, is a few more questions.

  • In what context is the person in their role likely to be under pressure?
  • What might the experience be like?
  • How can you simulate that particular kind of pressure in the assessment process?
  • What does a good response to that assessment look like?

These questions are critical because they can unearth different assumptions from each of the people involved in the assessment process.  In one example we heard that one assessor thought the candidates needed to remain calm and smiling whilst being fired quick and difficult questions, whereas the ultimate decision-maker was looking for someone who would take charge of the situation and ask the interviewer to ask one question at a time.

This highlights how we can come into a process all wanting different things – and of course the outcome can be a fair few arguments in the wash-up session because one person thought the candidate responded well under pressure and another person thought they did terribly.

Totem Gummi Bears

Let’s explore each of the questions in a bit more depth:

In what context is the person in their role likely to be under pressure?  What might the experience be like?

There is a difference between responding well to a tight deadline and dealing with a really difficult customer.  How we cope under pressure is not consistent across different types of pressure.  Have you ever met someone who works well against a deadline, yet cannot speak confidently to an angry person?

Or have you come across someone who falls apart when there are too many things to get done, yet they seem very happy and open discussing that with their manager or team?  These are examples of the fact that we each respond differently to each kind of pressure.  So we need to understand the kind of pressure a candidate might be under in the actual job, in order to assess the right kind of behaviour at interview.

How can you simulate that particular kind of pressure in the assessment process?

Once you know exactly what behaviour you are looking for, you are better able to design an assessment or interview process that measures this.  If it’s deadline pressure for example that you need people to cope with, then you could ask the interview question, “when have you dealt with a tight deadline?” or you could set up an assessment exercise where the time is tight and see how they cope.

Alternatively if you were more interested in how candidates cope with difficult customers or high pressure client meetings, you might have an exercise that replicates this context or ask, “when have you been in a high pressure client meeting?”

Totem Lollipops

What does a good response to that assessment look like?

With any of the examples above, it is critical for there to be agreement on what a good response looks like.  This is how you can be sure that five different assessors are all using the same criteria to make their recommendations.

Ideally make some notes on what a great response, a good response and a not-so-good response might look like, so that there can be consistent rating of behaviour, rather than a subjective evaluation of “I don’t think they handled it well.”

The point with all of this is that we each have different ideas of what we’re looking for, so we need to get all that out in the open if we are going to be able to trust others’ evaluations and comments.

If you would like support with your interviewers or hiring managers, helping them ask great questions and interview effectively, do get in touch.  We’d love to see how we can help.