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How to be Confident but Not Cocky in an Interview

I’m going to start this post by showing the dictionary definition for the word “cocky”:



comparative adjective: cockier; superlative adjective: cockiest

Arrogant or conceited in a boastful or overconfident manner. Synonyms: bold, boastful, egotistical, insolent, presumptuous, overconfident    

Why Should You Care

Here’s why I bring this up. I’ve recently been on several interview panels and one of the things that most struck me was the contrast between candidates that came across as confident, versus those that came across as what I’ll call “cocky”. There’s a big difference between the two that you should care about as you prepare for interviews.

The Cocky Candidate

don't be cocky

Candidates that came across as cocky frequently used generic words to describe themselves in glowing terms. On the other hand, those that came across as confident usually gave examples of their experience and accomplishments in an objective manner. They let their results speak for them.

To illustrate the difference, let’s look at how a cocky candidate who is interviewing for a middle management position might answer the following question: “How would you describe your strategic planning skills.”

“I always think strategically. I can see the big picture and incorporate that into my planning to provide maximum results. I like to view things from the 100,000-foot level and people frequently tell me that I have excellent long-term vision.”

Do you see what I see? This answer is nothing but unsupported generalities, delivered in flattering terms that essentially say nothing. Cocky candidates expect you to simply take their word for it that they are excellent in all ways.

The Confident Candidate

be a confident but not cocky candidate

Now, let’s look at how the confident applicant might answer this question.

“Well, I created a four-year strategic sales plan for my last position. The goal was to increase sales in my region by realigning territories to focus our best sales representatives on areas with low penetration but high projected potential. We’re at the end of the second year of the plan and sales in these territories are up 17%, which puts us well on the way to achieve the planned 25% increase.”

Quite a difference, eh? Cocky candidates brag about themselves with few facts to back it up. Confident candidates give specific examples of their accomplishments so that the listener can decide just how good they are. Confident candidates don’t suffer from the interview jitters because they are prepared.

Physical Appearance Differences

Physical appearance was another interesting difference. Several cocky candidates were overly dressed for the interview. While my advice is to always dress professionally and appropriate to the position, the cocky candidates frequently went overboard by wearing expensive designer clothes, flashy watches, jewelry, etc.

They were more concerned with their appearance than with their accomplishments.

The confident candidates for the most part were dressed professionally but conservatively in neutral colors, little or no jewelry, and certainly no designer labels on their clothes. They came to have us pay attention to what they had to say, not how they looked.

I tell you all this to drive home the point that good hiring managers will be more interested in results than image and will rarely select cocky candidates.

In fact, of the five interview panels I was on, four of them chose the confident candidate. The one cocky candidate selected was fairly low-key and did have an excellent background for what was an extremely technical position.

Here’s the bottom line: don’t come across as cocky!

Present your skills, experience, and accomplishments objectively and let the hiring manager decide whether or not they are excellent. If they are, you will appear confident rather than cocky and will have an excellent chance of being the one selected.

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