We all have it. I'm willing to admit to my fair share; though I can't explain why I couldn't be bothered to care whether people blogroll me (flattered if they do but if they don't, that's OK) but I get a little thrill when my dental hygienist tells me that cleaning my teeth is a real treat. Yeah, the human psyche is a weird thing.
The canine psyche too. Jonas has taken to plopping his head on my lap while I work. He has to be sitting up to do this and while it initially seems to be a "love me" plea, I think that perhaps he's wondering why, if I am home, am I not playing ball with him at that very moment. And did he do something wrong because he's SOOOO insecure (my poor baby). He just now decided to take a rest by the heating vent before he returns his head to my left knee.
One of my blog readers (I hate how that sounds: "my" blog readers) sent me a question that she felt was worthy of a blog post and I agree: "How do you come across as being on the top of your game and a valuable asset that Microsoft would love to have, WITHOUT coming across as arrogant?" Great question, right?
I can't tell you how often I see people crash and burn in the interview due to over-confidence. There's a real skill in self-awareness, especially when you can determine your interviewer's opinion of you and match your hot-shotness to their perception. Frankly, I could do without the hot-shotness (I'm a bog fan of substance over flashiness and I have the wardrobe to prove it) in the first place but if you can pull it off, good luck to you.
There is a level of confidence, though, that needs to be exhibited in the interview situation. A lack of confidence is a red flag in general ("does this person not think they can do this job?"), but even more so when influencing others and managing relationships is part of the job. And by the way. show me a job where that's not part.
So what we come down to is balance, as the blog reader suggests; appropriate confidence in the absence of boorishness. The former will help get you the job, the latter will mark you as "not a team fit" or "hard to work with". A little cockiness kind of fits at Microsoft (we'll probably tolerate more of that than some other corporations) because we feel that we hire great people and sometimes that greatness is known to it's owner. But if it goes too far, it's hard to see past it.
Some people interviewing at Microsoft might be intimidated by our brand, our reputation, the smart people that they are going to interview with. Some might feel the need to overcompensate. I can't change peoples' personalities. Some people have a level of arrogance that is going to sneak it's way out no matter what I say, or what anyone else says. But for the rest of the people out there that feel reasonably confident and want to make sure to get that across in the interviews without coming off like a jerk, I think I can help with some pointers (these are general pointers, not just for the Microsoft interview):
1) Be cautious of matching your interviewer's level of confidence. You may have heard about mirroring behaviors and while I think that demonstrating that you can fit well into a culture is important, consider that you are being tested. It's a pretty unsophisticated interviewer that conducts an interview session as Q&A without using some "tactics". For example, one tactic could be to test a candidate's composure by regularly interrupting them during their answers. It may not make the candidate love the interviewer, but it will give the candidate the opportunity to demonstrate how they may handle challenging interpersonal situations. Anyway, keep this in mind when you are interviewing. Sometimes a question is not just a question. Sometimes a "Wow, that's an amazing accomplishment. Who else was involved?" is not as simple as it sounds.
2) Always think about why the interviewer is asking what they are asking. When I have been the interviewee in the past, I have done this by anticipating potential questions, writing them down, deciphering their intent and creating a brief elevator pitch of an answer. The best example of this is the "greatest weakness" question. If you think that the interviewer is simply curious as to whether your weakness is significant enough not to offer you the job, think again. It's to assess your self-awareness and how you communicate unpleasant things and how willing you are to make changes to adjust your work style. It's hard to analyze the questions on the fly, but give it some thought before hand. That way, when an interviewer asks you about the secret of your success, you'll consider that they may be wondering whether you are going to step on their neck as you try to get the attention of your business leader.
3) Acknowledge others. It is almost always the case that someone else has played a part in your success. Acknowledging that is a sign of maturity. I think back to the times in my career where I have felt most successful. All of those times had something to do with a positive partnering situation; the time when I weaned a client group off phone interviews because I had built the credibility to select candidates for interviews, the time when I broke the team record for hires in one month (because the hiring group was willing to put in the extra time if I was...we made a deal), a record that I am sure has been broken since. The time when I managed an event that resulted in twelve hires even though a partnering staffing manager thought it was a bad idea (but was willing to support it anyway). Being able to talk about what others contributed to your success allows you to display some humility along with your ability to kick butt.
4) Acknowledge challenges and how you have overcome them. People who will tell you that their success has come easy are boring and, more often than not, liars. They also don't grow professionally a whole heck of a lot. I have learned more from my challenges than my successes and when my successes are a result of overcoming challenges, well, all the better. Take the example of the hiring group I weaned off phone interviews; this was a group of incredibly bright strategy folks. Building credibility with the truly brainy is a challenge. But I figured out who were the opinion leaders on the team and how I could build relationships with them, I determined that they would trust me if I demonstrated that I truly understood their business and I knew that I had to get a few good hires under my belt before I started to ask them to trust me. If I were asked about this in an interview situation, I could easy explain to the interview why I had success, what roadblocks existed and how I overcame them. Being able to do that in an interview situation will make you look insightful and bright, not cocky and insecure.
5) It's OK to be proud. In fact, I think that taking pride in accomplishment is a sign of humility. Reveling in the rewards of accomplishment is a sign of arrogance. Also, comparing ones self to others might come across as overly competitive and needy. Let the accomplishment stand on it's own and let them know that you are proud. And if they ask you why you are proud, feel free to revert back to point number 4, above.
6) When in doubt, stick to the facts. Driving sales up by x percent, executing against goals under a tight deadline, etc. At the end of the day, the company wants to hire someone that can get the job done. It's all good if they ask you about what you are proud of or how you feel about something, but consider the fact that they might simply be asking you what you accomplished and whether it was just what was asked or you exceeded expectations. If it's hard not to let a little self-love into the conversation (and I know some people like this...boy is it hard to manage my facial expressions sometimes...my eyebrows have a mind of their own), then stick to the facts.
I'm sure there are some other seasoned interviewers out there that may have some interesting anecdotes or advice to offer as well.
(And to the person that submitted the question, sorry it took me so long to get this out...I felt it deserved some time and thought).