Let me introduce you to Mr Know-It-All. At a glance, he seems to have everything you’d want in a new hire. He’s young, ambitious and eminently qualified in terms of both education and experience. With his impressive resume, he gets plenty of calls for first interviews, but no job offers. Why isn’t he able to close the deal?
“The interviewer said I was arrogant”, – he tells a friend while sipping his Starbucks favorite. “Is it possible that I’m not getting offers because I’m overconfident?”
Know-It-All wasn’t always so brash. He was humble, even self-effacing in his early job hunting forays, but as he advanced in his career, his healthy confidence tilted toward arrogance and conceit. After successfully climbing the corporate ladder for the last several years, he was blindsided by a recent reorganization and mass layoffs at his firm. Now he’s looking for a new job for the first time in years.
And he keeps failing.
Interviewers don’t come across conceited and cocky applicants that often. But when they do, it raises some serious red flags. 🚩🚩🚩The usual epilogue: the rejection letter.
In this article, we’ll:
- explain the difference between self-confidence and arrogance,
- give you some real-life examples of arrogance in interviews, and
- show you how to not be arrogant the next time you sit across from an interviewer.
What Is the Difference Between Confidence and Arrogance?
The main difference between confidence and arrogance is that confidence stems from self-assurance and understanding of your strengths, abilities and qualities. This makes confidence one of the most sought after soft skills in a job applicant.
Arrogance, on the other hand, originates from low self-esteem and involves an exaggerated idea of one’s importance, abilities, and qualities. Arrogance is considered a toxic trait that, unless addressed, can hurt your professional life (no matter what technical skills you possess).
Let’s examine the difference between confidence and arrogance in more detail:
|A feeling of trust in your own qualities and abilities.||An excessive display of your own qualities and abilities.|
|Confident people are able to admit mistakes and hold themselves accountable.||Arrogant people rarely admit mistakes and blame other people for failure.|
|Confident people are assertive, yet humble.||Arrogant people are aggressive and cocky.|
|Confident people feel no need to brag about their achievements.||Arrogant people have a strong need to brag about their achievements.|
|Confident people give credit where credit is due.||Arrogant people take credit for team efforts and belittle other people’s achievements.|
|Confident people are great team players and can become excellent leaders.||Arrogant people are unlikeable and can negatively affect team spirit and collaboration.|
More about confidence: Some people exude confidence and trust – they understand that they’re qualified for a position, but manage to be convincing and deliver their answers with warmth and credibility. In interviews and at work, they are agreeable and aware that they don’t know everything. They are aware of their weaknesses and are good active listeners.
More about arrogance: With arrogant people, their overconfidence usually goes hand in hand with a condescending attitude, open display of superiority, denial of weaknesses, and bragging. They are known to downplay the abilities of others and exaggerate their own. They can make others feel inferior and rarely own up to their mistakes.
Before you think that your arrogance can’t be cured and that you’ll never ever get a job again, stop for a moment. Remember that the root cause of arrogance is low self-worth and your need to be accepted by people.
You CAN turn your arrogance into confidence, but before we teach you how to do that, can you think back to your professional life and job interviews for a second?
Are you guilty of the following behaviors?
Six Arrogant Behaviors to Avoid in Interviews
A big issue with arrogance in interviews is that candidates are not even aware that they were coming off as arrogant (case in point: this “cocky, judgy, self-proclaimed genius” who turned to Reddit for help).
So if you’re wondering “How do I know if I’m arrogant in job interviews?”, here are your six signs.
1. You ignore the interviewer’s questions and share irrelevant opinions
Imagine you’re in the middle of a technical interview for a Sales Development Representative role and the hiring manager asks you to name 5 companies you would contact for a demo based on their ICP. Instead of answering the question, an arrogant person would say something like this:
“Your ideal customer profile is definitely ill-conceived. I don’t know who worked on that, but… Also, the fact that you’re still sending cold emails… When I get this job, I’m gonna shake things up a bit…
What the interviewer is thinking:
Instead of answering the question, the candidate is focused on putting down the very company they’re applying for. They are pretentious in that they already see themselves getting the job, and brash enough to suggest future changes. Such answers will raise concern with the interviewers and get you disqualified instantly.
2. You don’t give credit to others
There are very few victories that happen in a vacuum. Think back at your achievements – chances are that they are the result of collaboration and team effort. Here’s how you can ruin your chances of getting a job by taking all the credit for a past achievement:
“I single-handedly organized the last 3 team-building events in Company X. Since I know everything about active holidays in our area, I didn’t need any help from other HR team members. It’s not like I value their input, anyway.”
What the interviewer is thinking:
The interviewer is rolling their eyes internally. Even if the candidate really organized everything on their own, there are much better ways to deliver that answer than boastful bragging and gloating. So the interviewer is thinking “It’s a no from me”, Simon Cowell style.
3. You talk over the interviewer
This is a major faux-pas – in life, at work, and especially in a job interview where you’ve only just met the person. Confidence is about being able to listen and showing respect to the other person by letting them finish, even if you’re enthusiastic to answer their question or have just had an inspirational idea.
Arrogant people are self-centered and love to interrupt and dominate conversations. Some may even openly disagree with and correct the interviewer. Here’s an example from a real job interview:
Interviewer: “The knowledge of on-page SEO can really help you as a content writer. Is this something…”
Candidate: (interrupting) “I’ve worked with MOZ, Ahrefs and SEMRush, so there should be no problems there.”
What the interviewer is thinking:
They obviously have the knowledge of the key SEO tools. Still, the candidate interrupting the recruiter is disrespectful and rude. Be sure that the interviewer is making a mental note and will continue to scan for other signs of arrogance before inviting you to the next round of interviews.
4. You complain about your past work experiences
Even if your last job was a disaster, bashing your employer and colleagues is bad manners and arrogant. And so is complaining and badmouthing your boss, your coworkers, or the quality of food at the canteen. Here’s some arrogance 101 – exaggerated statements, dirty laundry, and inflated ego.
“Company X wouldn’t have survived the pandemic without me. Nobody has made half the sales I did. Despite that, I never got any praise from any other Sales Reps or my boss. I guess he was too busy yachting with his secretary.”
Or this gem:
“A time when my actions translated into big bucks for my employer? I could bore you with numerous examples, but I’d say me just being there, as a filter for the incompetence that abounded there, was priceless. Before I got there, nobody knew what they were doing.”
What the interviewer is thinking:
Interviewers know that a whiny person will bring tons of negativity into the workplace. This person turns off potential employers by bragging about himself, criticizing everybody else, and generally acting like a pompous jerk. Is this the kind of guy you’d want to work with every day?
5. You can’t accept feedback
It’s difficult to accept negative feedback gracefully, especially when you’re young and inexperienced. Criticism, no matter how constructive, can easily leave you feeling defensive and emotional.
Let’s say Tom is interviewing for a Software Engineer role. In his interview, he exaggerated his abilities, made a few snarky comments, and had a general aura of arrogance and superiority. He leaves the interview feeling confident he’ll get the job, but a few days later, he gets a rejection letter saying that one of the reasons why he was eliminated was his haughty attitude, making him a poor culture fit.
What the interviewer is thinking:
The interviewer is never screening for technical expertise only. Technical skills can be improved relatively quickly. What can’t be is your friendliness, team spirit, and willingness to help and collaborate.
6. You are too demanding
An arrogant applicant may also display a strong sense of entitlement and be quick to inform the interviewer about what they DON’T want to do. This is common with senior candidates that have a great track record. Here’s how one interview went downhill because of the candidate’s attitude:
“Yeah and I have two rules – I never work overtime and I need my desk to be next to the window.”
What the interviewer is thinking:
The interviewer can tell that they’re dealing with a difficult person who wrongly believes that their expertise can justify their behavior. This could be a dealbreaker because HR and hiring managers are also analyzing your attitude when evaluating your interview performance. You could be the best candidate technically speaking, and you’ll still be eliminated if the hiring team believes you’ll turn out to be a rotten apple who doesn’t get along with others.
More examples of arrogance in interviews
I remember a story a recruiter friend told me about a candidate whose overconfidence turned her off the moment he opened his mouth in their pre-screening phone interview. The conversation went something like this:
Interviewer: “This is just a short call to exchange some information, no reason to be nervous.”
Candidate: “I’m not nervous. I knock every single interview out of the park.”
She was completely taken aback – ”I couldn’t believe how hung up he was on demonstrating his intelligence and superiority. So much so that he forgot about some basic human values like decency.”
Another scenario – imagine answering the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” with “In your spot”. Some hiring managers can view you as a threat to their own career aspirations. They don’t want an aggressive upstart, but someone to help them look good. That may not be entirely fair, but it happens all the time.
- In a job interview, it’s never a good idea to make your interviewer feel stupid, defensive, or annoyed. You want to make a connection, establish rapport, and make a positive impression.
- An interview is not a competition to see who’s smartest, but an opportunity to show who you are and how you can benefit the organization.
- Despite your expertise and impressive background, people will just not want to work with you if they think you’re obnoxious, demanding, confrontational, or full of hot air. Interviewers will worry you have an attitude problem, and you wouldn’t be a good team player.
- Can arrogance be cured? Yes, granted that you have the self-awareness to recognize it and you’re willing to work on improving your soft skills.
How Do I Stop Being Arrogant in Job Interviews
The balance between being confident and self-assured and arrogant can be a really hard one to strike, especially if you’re young and inexperienced, insecure or shy, or simply haven’t had the opportunity to develop certain people skills.
Sometimes arrogance is more subtle than the examples above. Sometimes it hides in body language – in a smirk, your posture, or a raise of an eyebrow. Here’s how to approach your answers to strike a perfect balance and how to not sound arrogant in an interview.
1. Calm those pre-interview jitters
Being nervous before an interview isn’t necessarily bad. To our brains, a job interview is just like any other performance (think Novak Djokovic in the locker room before the U.S. Open finals or Beyonce waiting to go on stage at Coachella). The feeling in your gut has one message for you – ”this is going to be exciting, you need to be prepared, stay pumped, we’ve gotta win”.
If you’re inexperienced and don’t know how to manage your nerves, you may end up overcompensating and come across as aggressive and arrogant. To prevent this, try some breathing exercises, think about what you’re going to say, and practice for your interview in advance.
2. Be specific and stick to the facts
Instead of saying “I know everything about email marketing”, try to be more specific about your expertise and experience. It’s difficult to sound authentic if you’re all about self-praise and generalizations.
Here’s an example of a confident answer that demonstrates competence without tooting one’s own horn:
“I’m familiar with various types of email marketing like newsletters, lead nurturing emails, cold emails, milestones, surveys and so on. Over the years I have experimented with email strategies and personalization, and am happy to say that some of my cold emails had an 85% OR and 42% RR. I’ve worked in tools like HubSpot, Autoklose, Lemlist, Reply, and Mailchimp.”
3. Acknowledge your team members
When discussing your wins, avoid taking credit for team effort. There’s nothing wrong with owning your success, but bear in mind that showing off and minimizing other people’s contributions won’t get you far.
For instance, a hiring manager knows what goes into building a website, so instead of saying “Everything on the website was my idea, from how it is organized, to design, color schemes, branding and copy”, try a more realistic approach where you sound less cocky but still explain your contribution:
“I think my experience in website design definitely helped, and I’m proud to see the website winning an award. I was in charge of branding, icons, color scheme and other design elements, but I also need to give credit to the other designers and the marketing team for having a shared vision and contributing to the win.”
4. Answer the weakness question strategically
The wrong answer to the “What is your greatest weakness?” question can be a showstopper in a job interview, and there’s nothing recruiters like less than arrogant answers such as “I can’t think of any right now, sorry” or “My only weakness is that I work too hard and have to iron out my colleagues’ mistakes”.
Not being able to speak about failures and weaknesses will raise a few red flags. Truly confident job seekers know that failure and struggle are integral parts of work and life, and they’re not afraid to share a story of a setback and what they learned from their past mistakes.
When you’re asked “What skills are you still missing?”, don’t dismiss the question by answering that you’re “still learning to disconnect from work”.
If you’re not sure how to answer these questions, we’re gladly sharing some tried and tested examples.
5. Prepare questions from the interviewer
Every time an interviewer asks you “Do you have any questions for me?”, your response should be an eager “Yes”. Asking insightful questions is sending the message to the hiring team that you’re genuinely interested in the role and their company.
It’s possible that some questions will emerge naturally from the interview itself, but it’s also wise to prepare a list of questions in advance in case nothing comes to mind on the spot.
If you’re wondering how to not sound arrogant in an interview when asking questions, remember to refrain from asking any questions about senior duties that do not concern you, as well as mentioning the salary too early in the process.
6. Practice before your interview
Let’s go back to the Novak Djokovic example – the GOAT has 21 grand slam titles and surely has all the the confidence and technical skill to win, but the guy still practices before every match.
You could start practicing by going over the most common interview questions and jotting down a few key points you’d like to say as an answer.
Remember that you may not even be aware of your overconfidence and haughtiness. It may not be traceable in what you’re saying, but in how you’re saying it.
To see what you look and sound like, you could use a tool like Big Interview’s Mock Interviews, where you can record yourself giving a video answer and then play it back to analyze it. You’ll also get AI feedback on a number of criteria, including body language, friendliness and attitude.
If you’re feeling rusty, this crazy useful Interview Preparation Guide can be a great place to start.
Final Things to Remember
- When it comes to nailing a job interview, personality and attitude play a bigger role than you think.
- While confidence is praised as one of the best character traits in a candidate, arrogance is considered rude and offensive.
- You may not be aware that you’re coming off as arrogant because of your lack of experience, too little practice in selling yourself, or because you have been praised numerous times before.
- If you’d like to leave a better impression in your next interview and learn how to not be arrogant, you should practice being more humble and prepare specific examples to back up your claims. Working with an interview coach or communication specialist could also help.