Mark Levine
Mark Levine
Managing Director: In House

Articles From the Team

The fine line between arrogance and confidence during an interview

This feedback comes up often. Just the other week I received comments along these lines from a client, so it got me thinking about the ‘fine line’ (which has the added complication of being very subjective).

First of all, let’s agree on what both words mean (with help from the Oxford English dictionary):

Confidence: A feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities

Arrogance: Having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one's own importance or abilities

Reflecting on these definitions, it’s the word ‘exaggerated’ that stands out for me.

A real-life example

A UK plc is looking for a commercial contracts lawyer to join the team. The lawyer undergoing the interview process is a four years’ qualified corporate lawyer who’s only ever worked in private practice. The interviewers: a senior lawyer and the plc's commercial director.

The recruiting lawyer came away with no concerns about the person’s legal skills, aptitude and ability to do a good job in the role. The concern was team fit, especially when it came to dealing with the commercial team.

What the interviewee did/said…

The lawyer interviewee highlighted how many "big deals" they’d worked on and how they believed, given the volume of deals they’d experienced, that their level of PQE should be viewed as a higher level than it actually is. Although they recognised that their gained experience to date was corporate and not commercial, they made wide sweeping statements: there were no aspects of the job description that they hadn't come across, and therefore, no reason why they couldn't be successful in the role...

What this left the interviewers thinking…

  • The commercial director thought this relatively junior lawyer would come into the business and tell them how to do their commercial role.
  • The senior lawyer thought the lawyer would struggle to take constructive learning in their stride.

Some of the best (long-term) placements I’ve made have been corporate lawyers from big firms. In my first dealings with them, some will commence the process with the view they’re the best thing since sliced bread; others show more humility.

Don’t get me wrong, both character types can make the move in-house, but it’s my experience that those inclining to the more ‘arrogant’ side, endure a learning experience (in the first six months) that brings them down to earth; where they then get on better with the rest of us mere mortals ?

The overriding message: show some humility during an interview. Recognise that no matter how good you are (and have been) in your current role, there’s always something to learn from new and different experiences.

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