How can you tell if someone’s arrogant?

I mentioned in my post yesterday that the most common failing I’ve seen in both junior and senior consultants is hubris.  Arrogance.  I received three follow-up questions, all asking me “How do you know if someone’s arrogant?”  The boring truth is that I know it when I see it–we all do.  Though failing that, I do have a method to employ if I get a hint that the candidate may be over-confident.  Because during a 60 minute interview (or two), it’s easy for candidates to mask a trait or tendency, sometimes you need to coax it out.

Fortunately, most arrogant people don’t see their swagger as a failing.  In their minds they replace Arrogance (bad) with Confidence (good).  Yet I see it this way:



Confidence is great, just as charming is, well, charming.  Getting someone to admit they’re confident is easy, and from there (for some) it’s a short putt to arrogance.  All I do is ask a few questions.

  1. Have you ever failed at something?
    1. If Yes, tell me about it
    2. If No, what do you think would happen if you did?
  2. What are you really, really good at?
  3. If I hire 5 people to start in a group with you, what one thing would you be teaching them in the first year?
  4. Are you confident in your abilities?  More or less than most?
  5. Tell me about your most recent job-related performance feedback.

I’ll ask any one or two of those if I get a hint that the candidate may be too secure in his ability to succeed.  Candidate answers will vary, but there are commonalities for those who think too highly of themselves.  Body posture is a key indicator, too.

Overuse of Lingo. (Remember this is for candidates with 0 – 5 years of experience, who aren’t fully indoctrinated into the business culture of buzzword bingo.)  Too much lingo means either A) the candidate has been over-coached in preparation for the interview, or B) he’s trying to talk over the recruiter’s head to impress or intimidate.  The cause is usually the latter, which is a good indicator.

Certainty. This indicator is a little trickier to analyze because there are valid reasons for a candidate to be certain.  When I ask about job experience, or why a candidate went to their college, I expect certainty.  But when I ask about his fit for the position, and he says “I’m certain I’m the best fit you’ll find. . . ” the light bulb in my head goes off.  I also hear people say “I knew I was right,” or “I had the best approach,” etc.  Sometimes candidates say “No, that’s not right.”  Or, “You’re wrong.”  There are statements to which that is an appropriate response, but it comes across as arrogance.  Too much certainty feel weird coming from a recent grad interviewee.

Driving the Interview. Interviews are supposed to be a back-and-forth, controlled mostly by the recruiter, but also in part by the candidate.  Some people take over the entire interview, asking questions, telling you what they’re going to tell you, and generally bulldozing the entire process.

Body Posture. It’s known that the more physical space someone chooses to occupy, the more dominant they wish to appear.  Legs crossed ankle on knee, hands interlocked behind the neck leaning backward is a very dominant “I own this room” position.  Contrastingly, hands in the lap under the table hunched over the notepad is submissive.

I like confidence–I really do.  There’s a line somewhere, and I may not be articulating it very well.  I hope for confidence and screen for arrogance and hire the people who have the most confidence and the least arrogance.  Something to think about.

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One response to “How can you tell if someone’s arrogant?

  1. Pingback: How to hold a phone interview | Get a Leg Up

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