AN EMPLOYEE may have the skills to succeed at a job, but these skills are futile if he is cannot cope with stress. Companies look for employees who can work seamlessly, unperturbed in the face of any pressure - whether it is meeting daunting deadlines or working long hours.

Skills and technical knowledge can be ascertained by tests, but how does an employer test a candidate for stress management? With stress management gaining importance and being recognised as intrinsic for performance, it is being tested via the stress interview.

Cool factor

The stress interview is a tool that interviewers use to deliberately try to cause the candidates discomfort in various ways. They then observe how the candidates react to these difficult situations. A stress interview can be conducted by a panel, by an individual or by a group of people one by one.

Usually, you will not be told ahead of time that you are about to face a stress interview. To create a stressful situation during the interview process, the interviewers adopt one or more of the following methods:

* Making you wait longer than expected before joining you for the interview;

* Firing off questions very quickly without giving you much time to think about your answers;

* Pretending to be bored, distracted and uninterested - rolling their eyes, taking phone calls or doing something on the computer;

* Criticising your answers or your work experience/education;

* Interrupting before you have finished answering the question;

* Asking questions not related to the position;

* Staring at you with a blank expression for longer than the normal pause in conversation; and

* Using aggressive body language and expressions.

Grace under pressure

Your best bet is to remain calm and to try as quickly as possible to recognise that this is not a usual interview. Here are some keys to ace the dreaded stress interview:

* Remain calm and be nice

You have been treated badly, spoken to rudely, challenged, your capabilities questioned, and left with little time to explain yourself.

So what do you do in return? Be rude, cry, mumble and jumble, get nervous and run away?

Well, don't fall into that trap, because this is precisely what you are being tested for. No matter what the interviewers say or do, don't overreact and continue to be as calm and nice as you can be.

Stress interviews are meant to generate anxiety and nervousness. The interviewers want to know how you tackle a stressful situation.

If you remain calm, you can handle any kind of high-pressure job in the organisation.

Remember, stress interviewers are trying hard to get a reaction out of you, so don't take the rough stuff personally.

* Play the game confidently

Try to reduce this interview to a game where you are challenged, scared and intimidated. Your levels of patience are being tested every minute.

Recognise this as soon as possible. With this attitude, you will be able to be objective and feel more confident.

Your confidence will give an impression that you are cool under pressure.

* Reply with ease

The answers matter but not more than how you deliver them. Keep your tone pleasant and watch your volume. It is okay to miss some questions as long as you don't show that you are nervous.

Take your time, collect your thoughts, smile, reply slowly and carefully. Try to be clear on what you say and stick with your opinions. Don't change your answer because the interviewer asks the same question again and again.

Maintain eye contact throughout the interview. Remain focused and relaxed.

Apart from these points, remember that whenever you feel nervous or get sweaty palms, take deep breaths and try to calm yourself.

Stress interviews can seem mean and frustrating. But if they come your way, know that you can tackle them coolly and confidently. Pat yourself on your back when the test is over and consider it your victory.