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Competence Or Confidence: What’s More Important?

By Simon on

I have spent the best part of two decades trying to decipher what makes someone more successful at interviews than others. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been asked by candidates how to ace an interview. There is no formulaic answer. It is a quest that has made me research a fair few books, attend several events, and listen to many authoritative speakers within this field. I have also interviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of candidates, and followed their careers over many years. This has given a pretty fair insight into who does well at an interview. And it’s enabled me to draw up a few conclusions. In particular, about competence and confidence.

Interviews Are Strange

In my opinion, an interview is a pretty surreal experience! This is because you have two complete strangers meeting each other for the first time. One has the upper hand. The other is on the receiving end of a dozen or so pretty testing questions. Unless you have a skilled interviewer on the other side of the desk that is trained to listen, don’t you think it’s a little one-sided?

I would hazard a guess that you suspect the most confident people succeed at interviews and get the best jobs. This is one myth that I will now debunk for a start. Confidence may get someone past the first post. But it is the people with the more considered traits such as honesty, willingness, manageability, and kindness that tend to do well in the long run. It is worth bearing in mind that most employers are looking for two things: whether you perform the job well, and whether you’ll fit seamlessly into the team culture. Above all else, it is candidates that can demonstrate a high level of competence that tend to do well at interviews and go on to have rewarding careers within their given field of expertise.

Confidence vs. Competence

I have fallen foul on many occasions to people that have been very confident at an interview. I’ve even hired a few! But, in reality, I’ve not seen many over-confident people go on to have a long, rewarding, and successful career. It is worth bearing in mind that many successful people are not that confident, but are, in fact, very competent! Consider one thing: would you prefer a confident or competent surgeon? I know in a heartbeat what my answer would be! More importantly, think about your previous bosses, or colleagues for that matter. Who did you learn most from? I am pretty sure there will be some overlap between confidence and competence but how many do you think owe their success to confidence alone – not many!

The most important attributes that successful people tend to have are trust, kindness, and empathy. How do we know this? Because over the past fifty years there have been more than 500 scientific studies assessing the profile of successful leaders across all types of industries and all over the world. The bottom line: arrogant or over-confident leaders are disliked by their bosses, peers and subordinates.

Display Your Competence

There is nothing wrong with confidence. It’s an admirable trait. However, candidates that can convey competence in their abilities, mixed with personal traits of being honest and considered, tend to be hired more than others that don’t possess these respected traits.

Although there are many intangible things you can display in an interview, your employability can depend on a small set of criteria, with competence being quite a big one. Ultimately, it is about being proactive in communicating your competence and your ability to do the job well. I’m not saying it will lead you to winning over every potential employer, but it makes perfect sense to practice interviews and become an expert in talking through your competence and skills.

Too much confidence, without ability and expertise, will hinder your career chances. You can significantly boost your chances of being hired if you display trustworthiness, honesty, integrity, and competence.