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Cocky vs. Confident Job Applicants

I’d like to begin this post by giving the dictionary definition of the word “cocky”.  I’ll then tell you why this is relevant.



adjective: cocky; comparative adjective: cockier; superlative adjective: cockiest

Conceited or arrogant, esp. in an overconfident or boastful way.

            Synonyms: egotistical, presumptuous, boastful, overconfident, bold, insolent


Okay, here’s where I’m going with this.  For the past two weeks I’ve been on several interview panels and one of the things that struck me was the contrast between candidates who came across as ‘cocky’ and candidates that came across as what I’ll call ‘confident’.  Here’s the difference and why you should care as you prepare for interviews.

The cocky candidates often spoke using vague generalities that described themselves in glowing terms.  The confident candidates gave specific examples of their accomplishments, letting the results speak for themselves.

For example, here’s how a cocky candidate for a mid-management position might answer the question: Describe your strategic planning skills.

“I’m always a strategic thinker.  I have an innate ability to see the big-picture and work that into my plans to provide maximum results for whatever organization I work for.  People frequently tell me I’m good at thinking at the 50,000 foot level.”

See what I mean?  All generalities, described in personally glowing terms…that basically say nothing.  Cocky applicants want you to take their word for it that they are excellent.

Here’s how a confident applicant might answer the same question.

“Well, in my current position I created a three year strategic plan to increase sales by realigning territories and concentrating our best sales reps in areas with large potential but low penetration.   We’re in the middle of the second year of executing the strategies laid out and sales are up 16%, so we’re well on our way to achieving our three year goal of a 25% increase.”

Do you see the difference?  Cocky candidate brag about how good they are, while confident candidate give specific examples that prove how good they are.

Another interesting difference I noticed was in appearance.  Several of the cocky candidates came overly dressed for the interview.  Yes, my advice is always to come dressed professionally, but cocky candidates frequently overdo it by wearing obviously-expensive designer clothes, flashy watches or other jewelry, etc.  They are more concerned with image than with results.  Confident candidates come dressed professionally, in neutral colors, with no designer labels showing and little or no jewelry.  Their goal is to have the interview focus on what they say, not how they look.

Good hiring managers are almost always more interested in results than image and will seldom choose cocky candidates.  Of the three interview panels I was on, the candidates chosen for final interviews all fell into what I call the ‘confident’ category.

So the lesson here is this: don’t be a cocky candidate!  Even if you have specific and excellent results to your credit, present the results and let the hiring manager decide if they are truly excellent.  If they are, you will come across as confident, not cocky, and will likely make the cut to the next round of interviews.

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