When coaching my candidates for an upcoming interview with one of my client companies, I always tell them to be confident in the interview — right to the edge of cockiness.
But don’t cross that line.
Confidence vs. Cockiness
Cockiness is typically not a characteristic a hiring manager is looking for.
For example, I once had a candidate tell my client that he was so good that he could teach them a thing or two.
Even if he was right, no one wants to be told they are inferior (especially when they are the ones already in the company doing great things).
The “Right” Amount of Confidence
So how does one show confidence without sounding cocky? I always tell my candidates:
Don’t say you’re great. Talk about great things you have done, and describe the great ways in which you got them done.
Anyone can say they are a great communicator. A great multi-tasker. A great mentor.
[Related: Dress for Job Interview Success.]
Telling Stories Versus Empty Adjectives
Rather than claiming to be a “great leader” or “excellent planner,” telling stories of things you have done that led to great results — demonstrating that you have those skills — is much more effective!
Talk about not only the results, but how you got there:
- Was it through brainstorming sessions you led?
- Was it through getting the ideas from multiple, unique resources?
- Was it through helping the “quiet voices” in the room participate in solving the problem?
By describing the situation fully and highlighting the “intangibles” in your abilities, your interviewer can learn more about you. The more they learn, the more likely they can conclude that you are indeed great in these different ways.
Being Confident Versus Acting Confident
What is interesting about confidence is you don’t necessarily have to “will yourself” to be confident in the interview. Many are so nervous, they can’t feel confident.
The neat thing about telling stories about yourself is, if you truly have pride in what you have achieved, you will APPEAR confident.
Hiring managers want authenticity. They want someone who is real and has gone through similar real-life experiences and challenges as they have.
Being Well-Prepared for the Job Interview Versus Over-Confident
A way to naturally feel confident is to be prepared for the interview. By already knowing what you want to cover in the interview, you’ll feel ready for it.
Don’t think of a job interview as a series of questions that you must know the answer to (like a test).
Think of a job interview more like a conversation that will cover several topics (ones that you should have already planned stories around).
Those candidates who enter an interview ill-prepared, thinking they will “ace it by winging it,” are often overly-confident. These candidates tend to make a bad impression.
Good preparation shows you care about the interview, but also gives you peace-of-mind that you are ready and have a reason to be confident.
Admitting You Are Human
Although it may seem like a negative message in an interview, it is acceptable to say you failed at something in the past.
An interviewer is more likely to believe your stories when you share that you’re not perfect.
They’ll want to know that you’ve overcome that past weakness or learned a lifelong-lesson from the experience.
Admitting failure is an obscure display of confidence. It is like saying, “I believe I’m perfect for this job even though I won’t be perfect all the time.” That’s reality.
The hiring manager is just looking for the best possible candidate, not necessarily the absolutely perfect candidate.
Avoid the “Contest”
Cockiness can also lead to a contest — a contest you can’t win because the hiring managers are the decision-makers.
The contest is “who’s better.”
If you make them feel inferior, they may feel obligated to put you back in your place. Ultimately, they may not even do this in front of you. They may simply decide they don’t like you.
If you know ANYTHING about interviewing, you know the goal is to get them to like you — as in, like you as a person, not just a candidate.
The Bottom Line:
Be confident. After all, most likely you’re going to spend a lot of time talking about a few things you know a lot about. One is your expertise whether it be finance, IT, marketing, or whatever. And the other is something you know the most about — yourself.
More About Succeeding in Job Interviews:
- 3 Steps to Interview Success: Build Your Interview Checklist
- Smart Answers to Interview Questions
- The Starting Salary Question
- How to Ace the Dreaded Phone Interview
- Smart Answers to Interview Questions
- Convert Job Interviews into Job Offers
- Sample Job Interview Thank You Email
More About Working with Recruiters:
- How to Be Found by Recruiters on LinkedIn
- How to Add Recruiters to Your LinkedIn Network
- How Your Social Media Reputation Impacts Hiring Decisions
- How to Manage Your References to Close – NOT Kill – Opportunities
- Over 50: Managing the “Age Issue”
- How to Gracefully Leave Your Old Job
- How to Find a Job While You Have One
About the author…
Job-Hunt’s Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz is a 20+ year veteran in management, hiring, and recruiting of all types of business and technical professionals. He has worked in industries ranging from telecom to transportation to dotcom. Jeff is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a Dallas-based recruiting and employment consulting company. Learn more about him through his company site alistsolutions.com. Follow Jeff on LinkedIn and on Twitter (@JLipschultz).
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