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Preparing for a 'stress interview'

Some job hunters who have been invited for interviews tell me they've been shaken to encounter what's known as the "stress interview."

That's when you're not just one-on-one with a human resource person or a front-line manager.

It's when you're put in front of a panel of interviewers, or you have a series of back-to-back interviews with several company managers.

An interview series is easier to handle. It's even predictable, especially if you're a serious candidate. Applicants should be prepared to be moved up the company hierarchy for interviews.

What's more stressful is when several company representatives sit across from the applicant and conduct a group interview.

In panel interviews, it's hard to know where the next question is coming from, and it's unnerving to have other eyes boring in on you when you're trying to answer one person's question by responding directly to him or her.

One of my favorite human resource advisers, Nick Corcodilos, who writes the Ask the Headhunter blog, suggests ways to prepare for and handle stress interviews. He says:

Try to learn ahead of time who will be on the interview panel so you can anticipate the questions they will ask.

Breathe. Place your hands one on top of the other in a relaxed position. Speak slowly and calmly when you respond.

Don't be afraid to stand up, walk around, or use a board to draw diagrams or make points. This helps you take control of the room.

If the session "starts to turn into a psychological crock," stop it by saying, "If you want to stress me realistically, put one or two problems or challenges you're facing on the table and I'll show you how I'd tackle them."

This kind of group interview isn't to be confused with interviews that bring in groups of applicants to interact with interviewers and each other.

That kind of interview, popularized by Southwest Airlines, is designed to see how people deal with each other and who would fit a company culture.