When confidence turns to arrogance

Articles hand shake

You’re prepared, you’ve done your research into the company, you’ve read today’s FT, you’ve printed out a copy of your CV to hand to the interviewer.

You stroll into the interview, back straight, eye contact, a good handshake, a pleasant smile, you’re the person for the job, they want you, your experience and qualifications are sparkling, you radiate calm and confidence...

Okay, a few questions in and… are they raised eyebrows? Was that a look of surprise? Why do the interviewers keep looking at each other? Are you coming off a little strong? But they want a warrior, not some wilting flower, right?

Are you over-stepping the fine line between confidence and arrogance?

‘This is really tricky because whereas you can control yourself, you can't control others,’ says Eleanor Nickerson, a UK-based freelance HR professional. ‘The best laid plans can go sideways if your approach doesn't fit with the person you're approaching.’

The perfect fit

Nickerson believes that finding a job should be a mutually beneficial exchange, in which both the candidate and employer find the fit they’re looking for: ‘Don't waste your time on individuals or companies that make you jump through fiery hoops or who don't give you the same respect that you are giving them.’

And while there is plenty of research into how best to conduct oneself in job interviews, the best policy is to be yourself, says Nickerson.

‘You can learn from others, by talking to them or by reading about their experiences online. However, you should find your own mojo. If you try to pretend that you're someone, it can backfire. Get to know yourself. Figure out what makes you tick, look at your strengths in communicating and play to them.’

Nickerson talks from experience: ‘I've spent a lot of time trying to be the person who I thought that I should be at work, only to realise that I was most successful when I was myself. I am quirky and I have fun at work. That's not going to fit with every environment, so when I find one in which it gels, I gravitate towards it. Likewise, I move on quickly from those environments where I can see I won't fit in because they aren't going to value someone like me.’


(1) Over-promising, under-delivering
You need to have the courage of your convictions and be confident in your own ability because if you’re not convinced that you’ll be great at the job, then neither will the person interviewing you. However, you will need to be able to deliver on any promises you make, so over-inflating your skills, qualities and achievements could trip you up in the long run.

(2) Greatest weakness or failure – avoid the cliché
One of the most hated by candidates, but beloved by interviewers – what’s your greatest weakness?

Do not say – I work too hard!

Take the opportunity to address a genuine weakness or failing and talk about it openly. Describe the situation and how you learned and developed from it. Confidence is showing your shortcomings; arrogance is pretending you don’t have any.

(3) Taking all the credit
You didn’t get to this interview alone. You were part of a team, you contributed, perhaps you even led, but you were not alone. Companies do not want to hire someone who talks about past achievements and projects as if they were the sole reason for success – less ‘I’, more ‘we’.

(4) Suggestions, not criticisms
You may be asked to offer suggestions for improvements you’d make in the role based on similar things you’d done in the past. Don’t criticise or talk about problems at the company. Offer suggestions to processes already in place, say you like them but you can see a way to cut costs or streamline. The interviewer may have designed the business process you’re talking about, so don’t upset them.

(5) Not being prepared with questions
You’ll always be asked if you have any questions for the interviewers, so have some prepared. To have none seems like you know it all, or that you’re not very curious, or just plain arrogant.


  • Be genuine confidence, leave your ego behind, gauge the person you're interacting with and adjust.
  • Don't tell people how great you are, tell them about the great things you've achieved.
  • Don't tell people that you're a great communicator, show them.
  • Don't tell them you're passionate, get excited about the topics.

This article was first published in the May 2018 edition of Student Accountant magazine

Back to listing