Appropriate or Unethical?
Certain positions with high levels of responsibility practically demand a stress interview. Law enforcement officers, for example, must be able to remain levelheaded in all situations as a matter of public safety. The Police Department of Midland, Texas openly prepares candidates for stress interviews on their website, stating that this portion of the interview process tests, “reaction to pressure and situational reasoning ability" in addition to other skills.
Very few people would argue the pros and cons of implementing this type of interview for police officers or others working in security-related fields. Healthcare, too, is an area where stress interviews may be employed situationally. A good litmus test to determine whether this technique is a good fit for your business is to ask yourself one simple question:
"Is it a matter of life or death?"
If you deal with serious emergency situations, and the position you are hiring for will be encountering those situations on a regular basis, then it would almost be unethical to not at least consider stress interviewing.
However, experts question the validity of this type of interview for more standard positions. In “Sales Management: Analysis and Decision Making" authors Thomas N. Ingram, Raymond W. LaForge, Ramon A. Avila express serious ethical concerns regarding stress interviews. They describe the process as “extreme, unexpected psychological duress," and caution that experienced, qualified job candidates are often turned off by this interview technique. These disgruntled candidates may then share their experience with others, and your business's reputation could suffer greatly. Ingram, Laforge and Avila conclude by calling stress interviews a, “risky, and ethically questionable, approach."
Paul Powers, author of “Winning Job Interviews," echoes this sentiment, although he is less diplomatic. In fact, at one point Powers refers to stress interviews as “. . . the kind of idiocy you hear from people that don't even have a nodding acquaintance with either logic or human behavior." His harsh criticisms echo the sentiments of other management experts who would likely agree with Powell that stress interviews have little practical value in most situations, and are merely a measure of how someone copes with rudeness during a job interview. Diane Arthur, for example, takes a hard line as well, calling this behavior “subterfuge for ineffective interviewing skills."
When you weigh the pros and cons of implementing stress interviews, consider your industry and your company's reputation. As you can see, most experts agree that these methods should only be used in certain cases, if at all. If you ultimately decide to implement this process, be certain that the manufactured situation you create closely imitates on-the-job stressors to avoid ethically questionable behavior.