Career Center Blog

January 21, 2014

Walking a fine line between confidence and arrogance


NWjobs

During a job interview, one of the most difficult tasks for job seekers is to appear confident in their abilities without sounding too cocky. A job seeker may be perfectly qualified for a position but still may be turned down for seeming like an arrogant jerk during the interview.

I couldn't help thinking about this issue on Sunday night after watching the ending of the Seahawks' glorious NFC Championship game. A few minutes after the big win, Fox Sports sideline reporter Erin Andrews managed to corral a jubilant Richard Sherman -- the Seahawks' star cornerback who made a season-saving pass deflection to seal the victory -- and asked him to simply describe the play.

Let's just say the interview didn't go the way Andrews thought it would. Here's a link to it in case you missed it during the first 100 replays.

In less than 30 seconds, Sherman's tirade against 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree flirted with the comically absurd as he violated almost every possible type of interview protocol -- shouting belligerently, ignoring the interviewer's question, proclaiming his dominance over all others, avoiding eye contact with the interviewer, trash-talking his opponent and making borderline verbal threats. The only rule he didn't break was the one about swearing on live TV; surprisingly, Sherman managed to keep it clean.

Minutes later, a much more composed Sherman gave thoughtful and respectful interviews with other Fox reporters. Still, an impression of arrogance had been set and quickly hardened into stone within seconds on the web. The responses in the Twitterverse in the hours after the game were mostly negative from fans, colleagues and members of the media. Sherman will now move on to NFL's biggest stage no matter what people say about him, but his brief tirade struck a sour, unsportsmanlike note that may be associated unfairly with the rest of the team.

Of course, Sherman wasn't conducting a job interview on Sunday. Few real job seekers would ever dream of acting this unprofessionally in a real interview. But his response can still be used as a lesson about first impressions. Interviewees can look perfect on paper and give nothing but thoughtful, pertinent responses to questions, but if they fail to exhibit basic communication skills -- such as making eye contact with the interviewer -- their chances of getting a second interview are slim.

As career counselor Damian Birkel writes in his book "The Job Search Checklist," there are a few cardinal rules of nonverbal communication in interviews that can't be broken:

Don't speak too fast. Try to at least match the approximate speech rate and inflection of the other speakers to avoid coming across as pressuring the interviewer.

Don't lean back or fidget. Excessive movements, like shaking your foot or drumming your fingers, suggest impatience and an inability to focus.

Don't touch your face. Scratching your nose or leaning on your hands suggest that you are either trying to conceal something or are bored by the questions.

Don't let your arms drop off the side of the chair. This signals defeat and negativity, Birkel says. Keep your elbows on armrests to give the impression of power and stability.

Don't cross your arms over your chest. This is perceived as a defensive stance and an unwillingness to share information.

Finally, don't start yelling at a reporter on the sideline, even if you're going to the Super Bowl. It makes you look like a crazy person.

Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

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Contributor

Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

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