How to deal with stress (Hiring, Sales and Startups)

I’ve always been fascinated at human behavior – even before I moved from Engineering to Sales almost 20 years ago, I was always watching how people reacted to situations. Many people get their motivation (and persuasion) from getting angry, or passive, or funny. This fascination continued to grow as I moved into sales, and particularly when I got into a position to hire. Hiring salespeople is particularly challenging because good salespeople know exactly how to handle most interpersonal situations and can interact extremely well with different types of people.

This got me to thinking about how people deal with stress in various situations – when hiring, in dealing with sales, and with startups in general. In fact, just the other day Mark Suster wrote a great post on this exact topic with respect to startups. So, I’ve decided to do another themed set of blog posts around dealing with stress – this first one focuses on determining a candidates stress tolerance when hiring, and the next 2 posts will focus on sales and startup related issues.

The devil is in the details when evaluating people and situations. This is an area where I am constantly evolving and learning. I know this will be a life-long endeavor. Here are my current thoughts on how to measure/manage stress when hiring. Next up will be dealing with sales people and situations, and the last post will be dealing with stress at startups (where you are likely dealing with all three of these stressors!

Hiring is certainly much more of an art than a science. There are so many things that go into hiring the right candidate – culture, ability, timing. These are some great tips to avoid when hiring. But even this list doesn’t take into account how the prospective candidate will handle stressful situations. How do you find out how the salesperson will react when the customer tells me their deal that was “in the bag” has died? Or the developer who gets a customer call at 3am for something that she doesn’t feel is worthy of being woken up?

What things can you do to test “ability to handle stress”? I believe it’s one of the most important attributes an employee brings to the company. Unfortunately, I’ve determined that there is no silver bullet – no single “answer” to this question. Putting a job candidate in a bit of a stressful situation during the interview itself can help – but this “tactic” can’t measure all the different stressors an employee will face on the job. In addition, part of me feels a bit disingenuous doing something in an interview I’m highly unlikely to do in real life.

To address this, I like to listen carefully to certain interview questions and try to expand on their answers to go deeper into their emotional depth:

  • What’s the worst thing that has happened to you in your career?  How did you deal with it?  How long did it take you to reach a resolution?  What would you do differently if you could do it over again?

  • Describe your day – are most days similar or different?  Describe your “routine” – or lack thereof.

  • Name the attributes of the people you tend to get along with the best in your company, and the attributes of the people you get along with the least.

I’m very interested to hear other ideas/thoughts on how to understand a prospective employees “stress management fit” within your company. What interview questions or other tactics do you successfully use?

Next up will be dealing with stress in sales situations and with sales people. If you have any specific questions in this area, send me a note and I’ll address them in that post.