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The difference between confidence and arrogance

Celine Jacques and Emma Trenier

A man smooking a pipe, looking arrogant

In a competitive job market, companies often favour confident candidates who stand out from other applicants. But confidence can sometimes be arrogance in disguise, say Celine Jacques and Emma Trenier from global business psychologists Capp

With more applicants applying to fewer jobs, the employment market has become increasingly competitive in recent years.

As a result, companies are seeking new ways to identify the best candidates while job applicants attempt to stand out from the crowd.

One important quality in today’s job applicants is confidence. This can be defined in different ways, but includes characteristics such as good self-presentation, having a positive impact on others and dealing well with challenging situations.

Assessments are quite artificial - all the candidates are on best behaviour. This means that many of the confident behaviours we see are simply exaggerated.

However, as confidence is such a broad concept, it is difficult to assess. Furthermore, at what point does confidence become arrogance?

In a typical selection process, assessors will have one, two or three opportunities to see a candidate, usually by means of an application form, an interview and an assessment day.

The challenge of seeing what somebody is really like through these short experiences is very difficult – especially when trying to identify confidence.

Capp works with thousands of job applicants each year and has found that confidence is often hidden by fake, or exaggerated, assessment behaviour.

Fakery: Assessments are quite artificial. All the candidates are on best behaviour, and try to impress. This means that many of the confident behaviours we see are simply exaggerated.

Shiny happy people: At almost every assessment event, someone in the group tends to ‘shine’. They shine in the group exercise, deliver a brilliant interview and are chatty, engaging, smiley and loud.

Interviewers are naturally drawn to them as it seems that they are displaying all the signs of confidence. With assessors running lots of assessment centres back to back, these shiny happy people stand out.

Behavioural scoring: Scoring applicants relies on what you see and what you hear. Confident people will be more likely to excel, giving them a higher assessment score.

As a result, assessors see this confidence and imagine the graduate in front of clients and senior internal staff.

They think, “If they are confident in this selection process, then they will be brilliant in front of clients.” This means that confident candidates get through.

However, this is where the problems start. When these confident candidates begin work, some common problems can occur:

  • They are unhappy with the level of work they are given: it is too dull, too boring, they don’t have enough responsibility.
  • They speak inappropriately to senior members, speaking ‘too’ confidently about a topic area that they don’t know enough about.
  • They alienate their peers because they are too up-front.
  • They struggle to take constructive criticism on board.
  • They expect fast progression.
  • They find listening to others difficult, as well as reading situations and adapting their social style accordingly.

All of these can be the flip side of confidence – which is arrogance.

Here lies the issue. Is what comes across as confidence in a selection process actually disguised arrogance? And how can we change the selection process to avoid such issues?

Strengths-based selection

Competency-based approaches are too broad and make it difficult to distinguish between confidence and arrogance. For example, confident interpersonal skills can have so many components and be interpreted differently by assessors.

A more accurate and effective technique is to use a strengths interview and assessment centre.

By testing and measuring the specific components of confidence such as self-awareness, efficacy, humility and personal responsibility, rather than looking at simple visible behaviours, it is possible to avoid arrogant applicants.

A strengths-based selection process allows you to look at values, motivation and organisational fit – all things that enable you to see if someone is right for the role.

They also help you steer clear from the confidence trap by measuring the components of confidence, rather than a broad impression of it.

This way, you have a much better chance of assessing for genuine skills, rather than falling for the fake displays of confidence that so easily become arrogance shortly after candidates begin work.


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