Study: Employers Want Confidence, Not Arrogance

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Your behavior during a job interview might matter even more than your skills. A recent study from TopInterview and Resume-Library found that 70% of employers view personality to be among the top three factors to consider when selecting candidates. And while confidence is appealing to employers, arrogance is not.

Forty-two percent of the nearly 200 HR professionals in the study rated confidence as one of the most admirable traits in a candidate, 72% rated over-confidence as “the biggest personality turnoff.” This leaves many job seekers with a dilemma: where does confidence end and arrogance begin?

“Historically, assessing job seekers was contingent on two factors — experience and skills — but our new survey reveals that more intangible qualities, such as personality, are determining which candidates rise to the top,” said TopInterview career expert Amanda Augustine, a certified professional career coach and resume writer, in a statement. “Today’s hiring managers are tasked with assessing whether a candidate will fit in with the company culture, and this determination is primarily based on how the candidate behaves during an interview. The fine line between ‘confidence’ and ‘arrogance’ when making that first impression is everything — one’s personality can make or break an interview.”

How Much Confidence Is Too Much?

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Speaking to PayScale via email, TopInterview career expert Amanda Augustine explained how candidates can avoid veering into arrogance:

It’s important to be confident in your skills and clear on the value you can offer to an organization during a job interview. However, if you take it too far, you may be perceived as arrogant, which will only hurt your credibility and candidacy. If you find yourself doing any of the following, you’ve likely crossed the line from confident to cocky:

– You discuss your skills in generalities (without offering proof as backup). When you talk about your abilities in sweeping statements (“I’m great at sales! I can sell anything!”) without citing evidence, you come across as smug. Instead, share information that demonstrates your mastery of a skill, such as an award you recently won or a measurable result you’ve achieved.

– You stretch the truth. There’s no room for false modesty when you’re looking for work. However, avoid overstating your qualifications or abilities. No one likes a braggart, and most hiring managers can see through your exaggerations with a few follow-up questions. So, if you assisted on a project, don’t take full credit; instead, explain your role and the contribution you made to the team.

– You deny any weakness or failure. No one is perfect, so don’t try to pretend you are during an interview. If you’re asked about a weakness, don’t dodge the question or provide one of those faux weaknesses (“I’m a perfectionist.” “I work too hard!”) Instead, share a work-related area that is non-essential to the job, and explain the steps you’ve taken to improve. Demonstrating self-awareness and a desire to develop is much more attractive to employers than pretending you are perfect or have never made a mistake.

How to Project Confidence (Not Arrogance)


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1. Come to the Table With Data

As Augustine said, making sweeping statements won’t convince anyone. You need to be able to back up your assertions — and the more specific you can be, the better. “I increased sales by 10% last quarter” is always more persuasive than “I’m the best salesperson on the team!” Percentages, numbers and dollars will help employers understand your accomplishments.

Provide the hiring manager with data, and then let them come to the inevitable conclusion of your greatness, all on their own. If you have the skills and achievements, it won’t be hard to make your case.

Looking for a new job? Get the salary data you need to get the offer you want. Take the PayScale Salary Survey and get a free salary report in minutes.

2. Let Others Do the Bragging for You

You can’t always toot your own horn without sliding into arrogance. So, find some people to do it for you. PayScale’s research shows that referrals can significantly increase the chances of getting hired. Therefore, it’s not surprising that 33% of interviews come from a referral.

However, when it comes to getting paid, not all referrals are created equal. Per our report:

Averaged out across all respondents, there is no significant pay difference between those who were referred to their current jobs and those who were not. However, when we group people by the source of their referral, it becomes clear that some referrals can have a major impact on pay.

Contrary to what one might expect, friend and family referrals can have a negative impact on pay. When we control for variables such as industry, occupation, location and other factors, such referrals decrease worker’s salaries by about $1,600.

Referrals from business contacts led to the highest offers for both men (+$8,200) and women (+$3,700). Referrals from extended personal networks resulted in a $3,200 bump in pay for both male and female applicants.

Beyond that, it’s important to know what a contact will say about you, if they’re referring or recommending you to a prospective employer. A lukewarm endorsement may be worse than none at all. It’s a good idea to ask contacts whether they’d be able to speak to your strengths before locking them in as recommendations or asking them for an introduction.

3. Remember That It’s a Conversation, Not a Monologue

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Entitlement and closed-mindedness were among the qualities rated least desirable by employers in the TopInterview/Resume-Library study. So, don’t waltz into your next interview like you’re already due for a promotion before you’ve even received an offer letter.

Instead, come to the interview prepared to talk. You’ll likely have time to present your (brief, to-the-point) sales pitch. But you’re also there to learn about their needs for the role … and to pick up on cues about the company culture that will tell you whether you’ll be a good fit.

The best job interviews feel like conversations. You’re both trying to figure out whether you’ll work well with the team — and you can’t do that if you’re talking at each other.

4. Don’t Stretch the Truth

Dishonesty also made the list of undesirable qualities in a prospective hire — understandable, when you consider the risks an employer takes when they extend a job offer. Especially if you would be trusted with large sums of money or credit, it makes sense for an employer to ensure that you’re someone they can depend on.

But obviously, hiring teams are concerned with more than just making sure you’re not a thief. They also want to see that you’re honest about yourself and your abilities. If they hire you and you can’t do what you say you can do, they’ll have wasted time and money and find themselves right back where they started.

Further, employers told TopInterview that they were impressed by candidates who displayed authenticity. In other words, they want to know that they’re talking to the real you. Being yourself — or the best version of yourself — during a job interview is in your best interests, too.

At Forbes, Shaifali Aggarwal explains why authenticity is so essential to your success:

In an increasingly interconnected world, it’s easy to get caught up in the herd and try to emulate what others are doing. But almost every single time, that doesn’t work. Why? Because it’s increasingly difficult to copy someone’s else’s branding, value proposition, positioning, and strategies. All of those factors are ultimately derived from that person’s or organization’s experiences and value systems; no two people or organizations are alike. By focusing on what makes you unique, you will be memorable and stand out, which in turn will draw people and assignments to you and help you succeed.

5. Do Be Polite

Finally, the employers surveyed said that they were disinclined to hire candidates who were unreliable — and that they valued those who displayed self-discipline.

While some of these factors speak to your character, they also reflect your understanding of how to get along with others. In other words, common courtesy goes a long way in job interviews … and long after you’ve been hired.

There are several easy ways to signal reliability and self-discipline in a job interview. Start by being on time and prepared for the conversation. If you’re unfamiliar with the location of the interview, do a trial run in the days before, so that you can anticipate any problems with traffic or public transit.

Make sure you do your research on the company before the meeting, so that you can ask questions that are a good use of both your time. (A job interview is not the time to ask the hiring manager what the company does.)

Give the interviewer your full attention during the conversation. Don’t look at your phone, fiddle with your watch or jewelry, or sip your coffee. (In fact, don’t bring any food or drink at all.) And watch your body language. It can project confidence or arrogance just as clearly as anything you’d say out loud. So, sit up straight, shake hands and do your best to relax.

Tell Us What You Think

Where do you draw the line between confidence and arrogance? We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.