interviewer is worried about my “big personality”

A reader writes:

I have a perplexing situation I’m hoping you can assist with. I am still in the beginning of my career in a media agency-related field. I am in the final stages of the interview process at a boutique-sized agency and couldn’t be more excited. Note that a former boss of mine (who has been a great mentor to me) now works at this same company and has given me a glowing recommendation.

It has been a month since the last interview, background check, and reference request, and I haven’t heard a thing. When I reached out to my former boss to see if he had timeline updates, he replied that the hiring manager thought I was an excellent fit, but was somewhat concerned that I had too much personality for his conservative demeanor. The former boss thought it would be a good idea for me to reach out to the hiring manager and set up an informal meeting so we could further see if our work personalities would be a good match. As for my personality, I conduct myself in a friendly professional manner, but certainly am not afraid to laugh at jokes and otherwise be an outgoing person. Until now, though, it has never impacted my professional career (which included working with top name clients and vendors).

There are two areas in which I’m seeking advice. First, if the hiring manager is intimidated/concerned about my “big” personality, how do I let him know that I am professional and can adapt to this personality and management style? Secondly, would it be poor form to follow my former boss’ advice and call him for a follow-up? He has never steered me wrong in the past, but with the concern about my outgoing behavior I’m afraid the hiring manager might see this as me trying to take control of the situation and would definitely not want to hire me.

I know as a rule you advise that the applicant should consider the same areas as the company would that could cause issues later down the line, but due to the economy I have been working a retail job for a year and have unsuccessfully been able to get anywhere near another job that is half as good as this one. I really want/need this job to get my media career back on track. 

“I’m concerned about her big personality” is code for “I’m concerned she’ll annoy me and I won’t like working with her.” And that might not be anything you can change — some people just don’t mesh.

While I’m sure your former boss meant well by suggesting that you call the hiring manager and ask to meet informally, I don’t think it’s a well-thought-out idea. At this stage, it’s really up to the hiring manager to initiate another meeting, and I agree with you that if she already has concerns about you being overly outgoing, it’s likely to come across as pushy and further reinforce her impression.

Ideally, your former boss would encourage the hiring manager to set this meeting up, not you. Can you reach back out to him and say, “You know, I’m concerned about coming across as pushy or presumptuous, especially in light of those concerns. I wonder if you’d be willing to suggest it to her, rather than it coming from me?”  I would also ask your former boss about how he thinks you and the hiring manager are likely to get along, and if he thinks your personalities can work together well, because that’s not the kind of thing you should overlook just to get a job.

As much as you want this position, you don’t want it if you’re going to be working with a boss who doesn’t like you. That’s a recipe for being miserable … for not getting the kind of projects, guidance, feedback, raises, and promotions that you want … or even for losing the job down the road (thus potentially making your re-entry into this industry harder than it is now).

You can read an update to this post here.

{ 95 comments… read them below }

  1. Malissa*

    What I read into this is that you really can’t unring the big personality bell. If you think you must contact this guy, send a very low-key email. Something along the lines of “I was wondering if there was any news on the position or if you needed anything else from me?” Basically leave it open ended and not demanding at all.
    Also after listening to the “Big personality” in my office argue on the phone with her husband for the last 15 minutes, I understand the manager’s concerns.

    1. A Bug!*

      The problem is that any contact at all will be viewed by the hiring manager through the “big personality” lens. What might otherwise be a completely reasonable follow-up will be read picturing the applicant and her “big personality.” It’s hard to avoid once a person’s made a strong impression on you.

      (Are you familiar with the “You are now reading this in my voice” memes? Did this sentence affect how you were reading this comment?)

    2. Lilybell*

      I think you are confusing a big personality with a loudmouth. I am someone that definitely has a “big personality” – but my coworkers love me. I’m not loud, I don’t make personal calls, I don’t annoy people. What I am is charming (well, my mom thinks so) and genuinely interested in other people and good at bringing people together. I’m the life of the party at events but that doesn’t mean I’m not professional in the office. I’ve only had one boss that didn’t click with me, but he had autism and had a difficult time clicking with anyone. In that vein, I think the personality type that wouldn’t work well with a big personality is someone that is generally grumpy – they would probably find them annoying has heck.

      1. Malissa*

        Often I find the two characteristics go together. I know this is not always the case. But if that’s my experience, it might be others as well.

      2. Elise*

        With that definition of “big personality,” my worry would be about how you would react if you didn’t get to be the center of attention. If you always have to be the life of the party–what happens when the party is for someone else?

        Outgoing or friendly is one thing, but “big personality” never really comes across as a good thing.

  2. Jamie*

    ITA that “big personality” is code for annoying. I’ve heard that term bandied about a lot, and never as a compliment.

    That said, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you or the hiring manager – it’s just that it may be indicative that it’s not a good fit between you.

    If you contact him at all I would remain low key – as Malissa said.

    1. fposte*

      Well, it’s code for “annoying to this person,” anyway. We’ve got a lot of quiet introvert types here who may not respond well to the notion of a big personality, and I think it’s important to differentiate “You are a problem” from “You work differently than I do.” I mean, you and I aren’t going to fit in at Southwest Airlines or Zappo’s anytime soon, either.

      And that’s why I particularly liked Alison’s conclusion about a mismatch–you don’t want to be stuck having to change your normal way of being, which has worked fine for you, every day you go to work just in order to succeed.

      1. Jamie*

        I agree, what I meant was that the person using the phrase is using it to indicate annoying. Not that it’s true or even a fair assessment.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, I just am sensing a tilt towards “Stop being that way” in the comments that I was hoping to counterbalance–I didn’t mean to single you out (except as fellow party-office Kryptonite).

          1. Ellie H.*

            I totally agree – I think it’s unfair that some commenters are assuming that there is actually something wrong with the OP’s personality or behavior, and that she must actually be annoying in some way. I don’t think there’s any reason to assume this, in fact, we have more evidence that she IS a thoughtful and self-perceptive person given that she has been concerned by this and is addressing it as a question to AAM!

  3. bingo dauber*

    Ask people you have worked with in the past, people you can trust to be fair and objective, for an honest evaluation of your personality. What is outgoing to one person can be overbearing to another.

  4. Anonymous*

    Can the OP talk to her mentor/former boss to get information how others perceive her “big personality?” Does she just talk loud, is annoying, etc.?

  5. Wilton Businessman*

    In the back of my mind I was saying “Why doesn’t your former mentor suggest the three of you get together for an informal lunch?” The hiring manager’s mind sounds like it’s already made up, he’s just not that into you.

  6. Danni*

    Nobody wants to work with someone that they clash with, but I think it’s unfair to deny someone a job that they could otherwise excel at. I mean, would AAM hire someone who was less qualified just because they were super nice? I doubt it.

    1. Marie*

      I think it’s more than fair to consider personality when your are hiring someone who will be working close to you. A bad match will make both parties miserable and is not likely to end well.

      I’m nor saying that it is the only criteria, but it sould be part of the equasion.

    2. A Bug!*

      It’s not necessarily a matter of being “nice” or not. I know lots of very nice people, but I can also recognize that many of those very nice people would not get along together if I invited them to the same party.

      When you have to work closely with someone, it’s important that those people are able to “click” on at least some level. If you have to spend eight or more hours a day struggling to tolerate each other’s personalities, it makes your work a heck of a lot harder.

      I get along well with my current boss. But I’ve met one of his previous employees, and she couldn’t believe I’d managed to stay longer than a year without jumping ship. She’s very nice, and very capable, but I don’t think you could pay her enough to work for my boss again. Me? I can’t imagine working elsewhere right now.

    3. Another Jamie*

      I agree with Danni. This letter reminded me of interviewing candidates with my former manager. After the interview, my manager always made some judgment on the interviewees character, and that first impression was the biggest factor in her decision. They were always so off the wall, too. “He just seems like the type of person who will one day snap and go off on everyone” when the guy was soft spoken, friendly if a bit shy, and well-informed. “I just get the feeling that he’s got some dark secret past.”

      I would do my best to probe a little deeper and find out where she was getting that impression, but it was always “just a feeling.” (Well, in the case of that second guy, I found out he looked JUST like her son-in-law who did have a dark not-so-secret past.) Our hiring manager agreed that “feelings” were often the best indicator of a person’s suitability to the job. (Though not my feelings, apparently. Because I wasn’t the manager.)

      The thing is, in every other respect that woman was an excellent manager and mentor. We are still good friends even though we no longer work together. I guess I don’t remind her of a serial killer.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s someone who did it chronically though — at that point someone needed to have a talk with her about it. That’s different than a very occasional “this person and I have very different approaches and I can tell I won’t get along with her.”

    4. K.*

      Probably not, but that question assumes that there are no other candidates that are qualified for the job AND whose personalities would mesh fairly well with Alison’s. All things being equal, I think we’d all hire people who are qualified and who we like being around. If you knew a candidate was going to get on your nerves and there was another candidate who you thought was less likely to get on your nerves and was qualified and capable of doing the work, you’d probably hire the one you’re most likely to get along with.

      Working relationships are like the saying that “good friends don’t always make good roommates.” In college, I declined living with one of my best friends because I knew if we lived together, our friendship would be over. Nothing wrong with her or me (she’s still one of my best friends), it’s just that we aren’t compatible in that way.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I definitely wouldn’t hire someone less qualified just because they were really nice, but I also wouldn’t hire someone who really grated on me, unless they were absolutely incredible at what they did in a position where that was hard to find. Hiring isn’t about being fair; it’s about finding the right fit, and that does include considering what it will be like to work with someone (on both sides).

      And really, that’s to the candidate’s advantage too, as I wrote in the original post. You don’t want a boss who doesn’t like you, even if that person tries to be fair about not letting their personal feelings get in the way of how they manage you.

    6. fposte*

      I’m another voice for fit being a hugely important criterion. If somebody fits well, that *is* raising their qualifications–it’s not a separate thing. On the same front, if I have to work harder to work with somebody’s style–or train them to change their behavior to work with mine, which isn’t going to be a treat for either of us–then that’s a dent in their qualifications for this particular position.

    7. BCW*

      I agree with most people that its about the “fit” in the existing group. I had a job once where 5 of us worked extremely close together, and to a point hung out socially as well. Now we didn’t always get along, but we had a great dynamic of working together, which was needed. Well when one guy left, and they were hiring his replacement, he would always invite a couple of us to sit on on the interview. It was to get our opinions on how they thought the person would fit in with our current group. We were all early to mid twenties at the time and unmarried. We had one woman who clearly could do the job, however was about 10 years older, married, and had kids. The 2 of us who were in her interview both said no because we could tell it wouldn’t be the right fit for the existing situation. Sometimes taking someone with less experience who fits is the better option.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hmmm. I’m actually a little wary of that, as it’s described here. I’d caution you against rejecting someone just because you wouldn’t want to hang out with them socially (because they’re older or have a different lifestyle than you). It should be about how you’ll work together. Otherwise that’s a good recipe for losing strong candidates, having a group without diverse types of thought, and possibly various forms of illegal discrimination (age, race, etc.).

        1. Piper*

          In my opinion, this was discrimination, bordering on the illegal. They rejected her because she was female and had kids but was otherwise qualified for the job. I’d be outraged if I found out I was rejected because of those reasons.

          Sorry, but I’m not at work to broaden my social circle. I get along quite well with my coworkers and my immediate team members, but none of them are necessarily people I’d immediately gravitate towards in a social scenario. But do we work well as a team, have fun, and create good work? Yes. That’s what matters. Interviewing for a new happy hour companion doesn’t seem like the smartest business practice.

        2. BCW*

          In re-reading what I wrote, I understand how it could come off that way. Trust me, it wasn’t discrimination. I had no power to hire anyone, we just gave our input, our manager made the final call, and the person we hired was plenty qualified. There were also people I liked a lot better as people that I didn’t necessarily think would be great to work with either.

          On top of that, honestly, we were a very diverse group of people with very different backgrounds. And we didn’t necessarily reject her because she had kids or was married. It was just her personality just wasn’t one that we saw fitting in with our group. Part of that may have been that we were all sorta young and still a bit immature (most 1-2 years out of college) and she as a parent had a level of maturity that we could see really just making her an outsider in our group. They later hired another person to work with us who was older and married, but had a personaility that would fit better with what we had.

          I guess this is how I see it, if you hire someone that is vastly different from everyone else, you are inviting the chance for them to not assimilate very well into the group, which could make the chance higher that they would leave.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The key is why you think they wouldn’t assimilate. If it’s because they’re annoying or a jerk or pushy or not assertive enough, that’s totally legitimate. But if the reasons stem from other sorts of differences (age, marital status, kids, national origin, race, etc.), that’s where you really get into dangerous territory (both legally and in terms of having a homogenous group that misses important info that other viewpoints can bring).

            1. Piper*

              Exactly. And I disagree that dissimilar people (as far as gender, age, race, familial status, etc) won’t work well together. I’ve worked on a variety of teams in my life and it’s a very rare occasion when I’ve worked with someone who I’d say is “similar” to me. Diversity in the workplace is a great thing and allows for a broader range of ideas and perspectives. It’s not a fraternity.

              1. Nichole*

                Agreed-While I’m sure BCW simplified the discussion to get to the point, demographics isn’t necessarily the best way to gauge fit. My two closest coworkers and I are each about 10 years apart in age from 28 to 45, with me being the youngest, and demographically have almost nothing in common. Our personalities, professionally and personally, are a great match, though, and we’re a machine. We’ve been told that aside from basic qualifications, fit was the biggest reason we were hired- they could teach us the rest. I must say, our HR team are amazing matchmakers in that sense.

          2. Anonymous*

            BWC – I’m sorry if I seemed to attack you. I hear what you’re saying. Fit is definitely important and there are many subjective things involved in the decision. When making any comments related to hiring (whether you’re a decision-maker or not) refrain from saying or writing anything that, if an outsider were to look at it, looks like you’re not hiring someone that belongs to a protected class. Gender, age and family status are just some of those groups.

          3. Anonymous*

            I find this interesting that you might think someone would not fit because of their age or lifestyle. I wrote a post here awhile ago and people could not understand why I kept referring to my family. On my part, I was just trying to express that I was just someone not knowing the best way in the professional world. I wanted people to know I was not a Mrs. Know-It-All or doing things to be mean to others or get my way. I got misunderstood and I also misunderstood others.
            I really appreciated Alison pointing out to me that people don’t know you and judge you by how you come across. Sometimes people have no idea how they are coming across because they are totally different. Maybe, this married woman was not in her 20’s but she might have still been one of the best co-workers you ever had. I get along well and enjoy a lot of different age groups. I am in the process of reading Alison’s book Secrets of a Hiring Manager and even though I am not in my 20’s I am still starting over.
            I agree with the statement though you cannot make a second first impression. If this person has made this impression right or wrong, it probably will not change. That is kinda of a shame, if they gave her a chance they might be pleasantly surprised they were wrong.

            1. A Bug!*

              Hey, I think I recall who you are, and I just wanted to say, you are coming across really well in this comment, and I’m very glad to see you still reading and commenting.

              If I may make a suggestion, select a “name” for yourself other than Anonymous. It doesn’t have to be your real name (I’m not actually a bug!), just something that you can use on all of your comments to create a continuity. It’s just as anonymous as using “Anonymous,” but his way, the regular commenters can sort of “get to know” you and the discussions can sometimes be less shallow.

      2. Anonymous*

        BCW – the reasoning you provide in this post to decline a candidate is a highly likely to be a prima facie case of gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. If you are ever involved in a hiring decision again, especially if you are the one who is responsible for making the decision, get yourself educated immediately. If you think that it is ok to deny someone a job because they are a woman and/or have children and/or are older, then you are a liability to your organization.

        Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, but have close to 10 years of hiring experience.

        1. BCW*

          I don’t know where you got that we didn’t hire her because she was a woman. Once the other guy left, it was me and 3 other women in the core group. Plus, the person we ended up hiring was a woman

          1. Anonymous*

            We had one woman who clearly could do the job, however was about 10 years older, married, and had kids. The 2 of us who were in her interview both said no because we could tell it wouldn’t be the right fit for the existing situation.

            1. Anonymous*

              And I didn’t say that you didn’t hire her because she’s a woman, but because she is a woman who is married and has kids.

      3. BCW*

        Since apparently this is being looked at way differently than intended, as many have said, personality matters. If there is a certain “old school” mentality at a job, where most people are in their mid 40s and have done things a certain way, the person who most likely will work best with the rest of the group will have similar ideals. Hiring a 22 year old, even if qualified, may not really be the best fit. Even if he or she knows a lot. There will probably always be a separation between that person and the other staff, and thats not good for anyone.

        1. Piper*

          I think you need to take age completely out of this equation here. It’s where you’re stumbling every time. A stodgy, old school office, no matter what the age range of people who work there, is not going to be a good fit for a more forward thinking person (no matter what their age). And by the way, forward thinkers and old schoolers come in all age ranges.

        2. fposte*

          Just to be clear: it’s a breach of federal law, if your workplace has at least 20 employees, for a candidate’s being over 40 to be held against her. State laws have a lower threshold, with some having no minimum number of employees at all before considering this woman’s age in hiring would have been illegal.

          Marital status isn’t federally protected, but approximately half the states make it illegal to discriminate based on marital status.

          Being a parent is a protected category in a few states and a few large urban areas.

          And I think it’s useful that this got brought up, because the version of “fit” that rejects people not in our own category is why these laws were passed. The laws are there because left to our own devices we’re not, overall, fair, and some of this unfairness is really socially destructive. The stuff you’re talking about with fit? That’s stuff you should practice pushing aside if you’re involved in hiring, because it’s going to get you into serious legal trouble–and because it’s going to blind you to superior candidates. (And if you really don’t think you can work as well with people because of differences of age, marital, parental status–then the fit issue actually isn’t theirs.)

    8. Ellie H.*

      I was once fired from a position during the training period because the manager didn’t like my personality and didn’t think I was outgoing and personable enough to be a receptionist. This was based on meeting me for ~45 seconds while I was sitting in a chair behind the assistant manager, “shadowing” her to learn the position, and quietly observing. (Meanwhile I have worked the same retail job for 8 years and get rave reviews about how personable and friendly I am to customers.) So she had the assistant manager dismiss me in a voice mail and did everything she could to avoid having to see me in person for the explanation I wanted. I have never been more pissed off about anything else in my life and I totally hate this woman because of it. I would spit at her feet if I saw her on the street (although I don’t live in that city anymore). Yes, I know that I sound certifiably insane, but that’s how much I hate this woman! Obviously, though, I would have despised working for her, so I came out ok after all. I guess this is a pointless story, but it proves that “personality” is really important to people and that different people can have radically different (or inaccurate) assessments of others’ personalities.

      1. B*

        It sounds like she really didn’t give you a chance. What a horrible reaction for her to have, especially after you were already hired and had mentally prepared to make a huge shift in your life! I would be upset about that too.

  7. merc*

    I made that mistake of accepting a position where our personalities clearly didn’t mesh and it was miserable. I am outgoing and bubbly and I was with very introverted software engineer types, including my boss.

    In my one and only review, my boss told me the CEO thought I was “too familiar” when answering phones, which really read “you’re too bubbly.” I lasted 6 months. I learned my lesson that chemistry and personality is super imperative to your success at that company.

    If possible I’d try to look for someplace else that appreciates and welcomes your big personality.

    1. Piper*

      Absolutely! Personality, and also by extension, company culture and fit with that culture, are so important when offering or accepting a job. I’ve been told in more than one job that my personality was the tipping point for why I selected over other candidates. Personality and fit matter, and it’s a two-way street.

      1. merc*

        Agreed. I think they liked my personality, but since it was a new position they didn’t know what they really wanted. And what they wanted was someone far more reserved. And that is not me!

        It was tough to recognize at first because I thought I was doing something wrong. I tried to change my demeanor, and that just made it even worse. So it wasn’t me, it wasn’t them, it just wasn’t a good fit. Goes to show that even though you may do the job well, culture is just as important.

    1. Another Jamie*

      Ha! As I was reading that, I wondered what AAM would say about that. Prudie is a big fan of anonymous notes.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ugh, I would almost never recommend an anonymous note; I don’t know why she loves them so much. She’s also very pollyanna-ish in her view that you can just report things in the workplace and they’ll magically be fixed.

  8. Anonymous*

    This reminds me of my final interview at my current firm. The president said I “clearly had a zest for life” or something like that, which I took to mean I was being a little too big-personality (I am an energetic, happy-smiley person and it can get amplified when I am nervous!). I got the job anyway, but culturally it is a really bad fit. I don’t have much in common with anyone here, and I have no work friends here, which is unusual for me. With that said, I’ve been here for three years and I’ve been promoted once and may be in line for another at the end of the year so it hasn’t necessarily harmed my career or anything, but it makes it hard because I don’t always know how to relate or be effective with some people, and I just sort of feel like a space alien many days. My supervisor, the one person I had stuff in common with, recently left, so I’m actually not sure how long I will be here after I finish up some major projects. So, I guess my advise is to think about whether YOU have any concerns with a conservative personality as well.

  9. Tami*

    A lot of people that have “big personalities” don’t think that they are annoying. They think they are charming and everyone loves them. Honestly, how many people with “big personalities” really think they might be irritating? I can tell you, not one that I know of….they all think they are fabulous, just ask them.

    The fact that someone brought that to OP’s attention is a rare opportunity for self-reflection. Is it possible that your personality may annoy rather than charm others, but no one has ever told you before? Maybe; or perhaps this is just a case of two people who do not mesh, and nothing more.

    1. AMG*

      I think that’s a very interesting insight. I have met a few ‘big personalities’ who think that everyone loves them, when the reality is that nobody can stand them.

      In all fairness, I know some wonderful ‘big personalities’ that are the most warm-hearted, fun, love-to-be-around that person you could ever meet. Just make sure you are the kind everyone really DOES love, and not the one everyone tolerates because it’s not worth having to talk to you for one second longer than necessary.

    2. Liz*

      Honestly, who thinks about other people’s personalities that much?

      I notice if a person is likely to act in a mean, judgmental, or inconsiderate way (talking too much when I need to work, demanding his or her own way more than is fair, criticizing other people) But for the most part I wouldn’t be thinking “Oh god I hate this big personality person” while he or she is just being normal.

      It doesn’t seem fair to demand others fit my personal standards for personality. I can judge their actions but now how they ARE.

      1. AMG*

        I interpreted the comment as self-reflection, not so much the other person’s personality. And I do that daily. It sometimes requires taking a look at the comprehensive situation in order to see where I may have something to own.

        Of course, you can’t expect others to modify their personalities to suit you, but you can modify your own if you notice an opportunity to grow and better yourself.

      2. Malissa*

        I think about other’s personalities a lot. There are plenty of reasons for doing this. In my case it’s so I can choose the best approach for asking them for something or getting them to do something. Some people will do anything if you phrase it as a request. Some people, like me, just want what ever directly and with out the BS.
        Personality plays big into working relationships.

        1. Liz*

          Of course. I agree that you should pay attention to people’s preferences and how they prefer to communicate. I just thought there was a judgmental tone in the first post, and it seemed a little unfair, at least at work.

          People are different. I think accepting that and learning to just deal is part of being a grown up.

  10. J.B.*

    I have used “big personality” as code for “overbearing.” This may not be the right fit.

  11. K.*

    I had an interview when I was about 24 where we hated each other on sight. We wrapped it up in 10 minutes because we both knew – and the job would have entailed us working very closely together on a team with only one other person, so it would have been a disaster. The job I ended up with was wonderful as far as my boss and coworkers were concerned and I was there for years, so it worked out, but wow, I’ll never forget that feeling. You ever meet someone at a party and think “I cannot wait to get away from this person”? It was like that, in both directions.

    I’m not saying that’s how the hiring manager feels about you, OP, but you really don’t want to work with someone who you won’t get along with, if you can help it. You’re with your coworkers 8+ hours a day.

  12. Ask a Manager* Post author

    It’s also worth noting that we’re not sure that the hiring manager said “big personality” — that was actually the OP’s phrase. She wrote that her old boss said that the hiring manager was concerned that she has “too much personality.” Could be the same thing, but it could also be the hiring manager paraphrasing something like “more social and high-energy than I’m comfortable around” (which I think was the OP’s interpretation of it).

    1. AD*

      I want to add that it’s also totally possible that the OP was “on” in the interview in a way that he/she wouldn’t normally be, either because of nerves, or because she felt she needed to convey a certain image, or whatever. That doesn’t mean he/she is just universally annoying.

      1. Malissa*

        That is an excellent point. I know that the nerves could turn an otherwise normal person into a nammering nelly that could come across as to much personality.

        1. B*

          So true! I tend to stumble over my words during interviews even though I always take the time to prepare and think things through ahead of time. The pressure can make you behave a little differently than you would normally.

  13. Liz*

    People who don’t mesh don’t mesh. It’s not you, OP. (And I wonder if he’d have the same complaint about a guy who is as assertive).

    I moved from D.C. to a low-key city on the west coast, and all during the first six months everyone said, “My you have so much energy” in a way that pretty clearly indicated they wished I didn’t have so much energy.

    The funny thing is that I’m soft spoken, and I’m friendly but a little reserved. I think it was just talking a little bit faster, like people on the East Coast do, and the eye contact. You could see it made them nervous when I tried to talk eye-to-eye but it was a habit for me. I kept catching myself wanting to grab people’s arms so they’d look me in the face.

    1. Ellie H.*

      It’s interesting how differently you can be read, or even actually act, with different people or in different scenarios. I was just talking about this with a friend of mine. I am extremely “slow to warm up” and reserved at first, but after the warming up period, I am really open and talkative, probably more so than some people. My friend is the opposite – she’s great at meeting people instantly, but takes a long time to share more personal things. I described it as me having “10 and 90” and her having “40 and 70.” I think that kind of thing can happen too.

  14. Holly*

    Anyone have thoughts on being in a workplace where the majority of your coworkers have a healthy disdain for you? I keep to myself and do what I can in my job, but from day one – yes, day one! – I’ve had coworkers who seemed frustrated by me being there. It felt very cliquey. It’s gotten to the point of not being professional, such as canceling a meeting and not notifying me when everyone else was. When I asked my supervisor about it, her reply was a frustrated “I don’t know, ask X-person”… who was in another meeting. Okay then.

    I’m leaving soon for another job, and that seems to ramp up their feelings; thankfully that means it’ll come to an end, but I worry the next few days will be especially hard.

    1. B*

      Good luck! I’m so glad you are moving on. That sounds terrible. People who act so disdainful are usually really unhappy and insecure themselves, and they get easily frustrated with others as a result. I hope you can continue to rise above and show up authentically no matter how others choose to behave.

    2. Kelly O*

      I can relate, and I’m really glad you’re on your way out. It is really difficult when coworkers are either openly hostile or extremely passive aggressive toward you.

      1. Piper*

        Agreed! Glad you’re getting out as well. I had this issue once at a job and I felt like I had fallen through a time warp to junior high. It wasn’t fun.

    3. Liz*

      I think people mostly just do this for drama. Usually the person picked has nothing to do with anything. It’s just someone who’s there. (Well, sometimes there’s a small slight but not usually proportional to the excitement generated by constant gossip…)

      The less you even notice the better it will be. Just always act as if every weird thing that happens MUST have been an accident, and they usually move on.

      I swear, it’s very unlikely it was you.

  15. Charles*

    hmmm? I’ve never heard the phrase “big personality” before.

    Does this mean I am the one who has a “big personality” and annoy everyone else; yet, mistakingly think that they all really love me?!

  16. Elise*

    Doesn’t “big personality” come from the big five personality traits? The traits are extraversion, conscientiousness, openness, agreeableness, and neuroticism. So someone with a big personality would score high on a test for all 5 traits.

    If that’s actually the origin of the term, that might explain where the bad connotation comes from. And it might help identify what sort of changes could be made (if any are wanted/needed).

    For example: a high level of neurotic behavior is generally frowned upon in most workplaces. And other traits just don’t fit well into certain work environments.

    I just grabbed the Wiki lists for each trait. If most of these fit you, I would expect that would qualify as a “big personality”. Notice how not all are going to fit in well in different environments.

    I have a rich vocabulary. I have a vivid imagination.
    I have excellent ideas. I am quick to understand things.
    I use difficult words. I spend time reflecting on things.
    I am full of ideas. I am always prepared.
    I pay attention to details. I get chores done right away.
    I like order. I follow a schedule.
    I am exacting in my work. I am the life of the party.
    I don’t mind being the center of attention.
    I feel comfortable around people. I start conversations.
    I talk to a lot of different people at parties.
    I am interested in people. I sympathize with others’ feelings.
    I have a soft heart. I take time out for others.
    I feel others’ emotions. I make people feel at ease.
    I am easily disturbed. I change my mood a lot.
    I get irritated easily. I get stressed out easily.
    I get upset easily. I have frequent mood swings.
    I often feel blue. I worry about things.

    1. Elise*

      Hmm…the format didn’t work right. I tried to save space by making columns and putting 2 on a line, but it squashed them together.

        1. Elise*

          What would you say is a good, general definition of “big personality”?

          I’ve only ever heard it when people are referring to specific people. I’ve not ever really seen it defined. And it has always been used as a bad thing when I’ve encountered it – – mostly seeming to mean “overbearing, must be center of attention or gets upset, needs things their way, won’t adapt, etc.”

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think it can also be less negative than that — high-energy, effusive, really outgoing, always/usually “on.” These things can be draining to some people, but they’re not always bad.

          2. fposte*

            The people that term makes me think of are vivacious and friendly. You often hear them before you see them because they’re laughing, talking, or calling to friends, and they’re often landmarks within their organization (“Of course, then Mary took me under her wing,” you say. “Of course!” everyone says, laughing) . They are unafraid of volume in any form. Perhaps not coincidentally, several of the people I’m thinking of are Texans (though there are a couple of New Yorkers as well, so it’s not just a space thing).

            Some of these people I’d be happy to work with and some of them I wouldn’t–I’m not using this as a good or bad term. It can be the mien of anything from a histrionic nightmare to a savvy networker who’s an organization’s linchpin.

          3. Two-cents*

            I think of “big personality” meaning louder and more boisterous than most and unfortunately, that does have a negative connotation.

    2. Laura L*

      Nope. Psychologists don’t refer to people who score high on all five as having a big personality.

      And, honestly, it’s very unlikely that one person will score high on all of them.

      They’re called the Big Five because they’re considered to be the major traits.

    3. Jamie*

      There is an article today on BNet about how you can allegedly tell significant things about someone’s personality from their shoes. This line caught my attention since we’ve been talking about the introvert/extrovert thing here recently and because I answered yes to 20 of the above questions and I don’t think anyone who knows me would say I had a big personality:

      ” Flashy and colorful footwear belonged to extroverts”

      Since I am at the moment wearing Hello Kitty Vans in black, white, pink, and purple I must be an extrovert. Who knew?! I think I’m going to go around the office right now and chat everyone up – then arrange an office party!

      TiC – just goes to show all of this stuff should be taken with a grain of salt.

      1. Kelly O*

        I wonder if the same thing applies to purses, because I could take my snakeskin bag out and make some new friends. (Heck, I should probably start carrying that on interviews instead of my basic black tote – people would see it and think “gee I bet she’s fun, she carries a colorful bag!”)


  17. Camellia*

    “It has been a month since the last interview, background check, and reference request, and I haven’t heard a thing. When I reached out…[he] was somewhat concerned that I had too much personality for his conservative demeanor.”

    It’s been a MONTH? and TOO MUCH personality?

    I think you are dealing with a passive-aggressive person. He doesn’t like you because he knows you would end up “pushing” him in many ways – to make decisions, do his job, proceed faster, etc. Which is why you want to contact him after all, right? Because it seems as though he is not doing his job, is not proceeding, is not making a decision, etc.

    The “timeline” of a passive-aggressive, if it exists at all, is definitely different, and making a decision by NOT making a decision is their forte.

    He is hoping you will just give up and go away so he won’t have to actually decide to either hire you or tell you he doesn’t want to give you the job.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Whoa. I don’t see evidence that he’s threatened by her. I mean, it’s certainly possible, but I don’t see anything in the letter that would favor this explanation over the more probable one that I described in my initial answer. Keep in mind that it’s really common for employers to take a long time to make a hiring decision and to get back to people after interviews (if they get back to them at all; many don’t).

      1. Camellia*

        I didn’t say “threatened by her”, I said if he is passive aggressive he wouldn’t like her because he would view her as “pushy”. To me there is a definite difference there.

        And the OP said it had been a month since the interview and background check and reference request; in our company we don’t do a background check until we think we want to make an offer. And her former boss didn’t say they were waiting on the background check or anything like that, just that the hiring manager had concerns about her personality.

        If he is passive aggressive I could easily see him saying she is a good fit, which she sounds like she is, but secretly hoping she would fail the background check or get poor results from her reference or something else that would take her out of the running without him having to make an actual decision to do so.

        Of course I am extrapolating the ‘passive aggressive’ part by interpreting the OP’s letter as saying that everything checked out and he still hasn’t said yay or nay, and I freely admit that interpretation may be wrong. 

        1. Camellia*

          That weird symbol at the end is supposed to be a smiley face. Dunno what happened there.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s certainly possible but I don’t see anything here to indicate that it’s likely, so I wouldn’t want to present it to the OP as “this is what’s happening.”

        3. Liz*

          I know exactly what you mean about the passive aggressive personality type. I don’t know if that’s what happened here, but thanks for describing that dynamic so well.

          I wouldn’t have understood what you were talking about when I lived on the east coast, but the west coast has been DRAINING due to watching people who will drag everyone around them through the sort of situation you’re describing, rather than just SAY something about what they really want.

  18. ruby*

    My two cents (based on hard experience) – It doesn’t matter what specific words the manager used to describe you, the bottom line is, you were yourself in the interview and the manager had concerns based on that.

    Doesn’t mean the way you are is wrong and needs to change or that the manager is wrong and needs to change. It just means you guys probably aren’t a good fit. Working for a manager who is very different from you personality-wise can be extrememly stressful for both parties and has the potential to end badly.

  19. Clementine*

    It’s really important to make the distinction between big personality and problem and how they can become one so quickly. I had worked in a senior level support position at a relatively prestigious Uni through two different bosses, transitioning in a third, my “big personality” turned into “a big problem” and after 6 yrs of being tethered to the BlackBerry and working mostly 80 hrs a week, I was demoted after various instances of being humiliated/marginalized, have to work with the most unprofessional neurotic staff I have ever encountered in my working life (spanning two countries, including local govt/authority offices). I was moved to a different office – ostensibly to carry out my managerial duties out of earshot of the boss who couldn’t have an exec level support person carrying out all of their job responsibilities in earshot. At the same time, senior exec person who I also helped support complained that I wasn’t managing properly either. Talk about caught in the crossfire. None of it to my face.

    I found out I was such a big problem by seeing an email my boss sent about me to the Director of HR –interestingly, as the office manager, I was the one who had nudged the HR Dir. to follow up with the boss, even though I sat right outside their office, to ask how they felt their support was going, as no communication was forthcoming and everyone and his wife was bending over backwards to ensure the office, personal and personal business life was working with zero level of communication and input from said boss) – three staff members could see that email, including one of my direct reports. That employee was switched into my job and, she too became a problem and has been moved on. I am a quiet, behind the scenes (or throne, as we say!) employee. I am not one of the political folks who plays games, gets off on power plays and throws colleagues under the wheels just because I have been working close to the circle of power. I stupidly ignored the small, but frequent red flags along the way, (even made excuses this boss was new, going through a difficult time…….) but did my utmost to make it work. I sought feedback, asked for guidance, and explained I had picked up on unspoken frustration/displeasure and wanted to figure out what I could do to make this boss happy/more productive, what could I focus on etc. I was essentially told I was being negative and they didn’t want to engage at that moment. I then had to sit at a conference table with that boss for 20 minutes until they felt ready to speak to me again. That swiftly led to demotion, and the office filled with inexperienced young women who don’t even know the basics. At this stage, I am quite delighted to leave them to it, but devastated that 6 yrs of effort and round the clock working have come to this as my current growth pattern on my resume takes a serious dive. Albeit an extreme example, I caution anyone not to pay attention to fit/chemistry as the downside can play havoc with your personal wellbeing aside from ruining a stellar reputation within an organization merely because someone has a problem with your personality and cannot make a performance issue out of your standard of work. It’s also important to remember just because they are the boss does not mean they are right, professional or even averse to undermining people very low on the totem pole.

    I wish my first post on AAM out of lurker- ville had not been about this topic, it’s been helpful reading whilst I have been dealing with the above issues. Good luck OP in your decision making, go somewhere where your personality no matter how big (or not), is welcomed and appreciated so you can focus on the stuff that really matters, working together to achieve the organization’s goals.

  20. Eva*

    FWIW, the singer Adele is someone who fits the descriptor by her own admission: “I’m a big personality. I walk into a room, big and tall and loud.” On talk shows she tends to give the host a run for his money, not least by letting out the cutest/craziest cackle you ever heard. (Try searching YouTube for ‘adele laugh’.)

  21. merc*

    I am curious if men have ever come across this issue (assuming the OP is female). I never hear of men having too big of a personality to fit in. Just curious.

      1. merc*

        Oh I agree with you! Definitely more men than women. I am just curious if men have ever come across this issue, with a hiring manager being “concerned” about his personality.

  22. Lori*

    Trust me, do NOT take this job. I realize this post is old, but I cannot stress enough about a personality and culture fit.

    My previous employers seemed to love my “big personality” when I interviewed, as I did not hide it. But then, once in the office that statement got bandied about it such an insulting manner. They never took the time to look into their own personalities, which ranged from heinous to downright dull. The focus soon ONLY shone on my personality. With that, they tried everything they could to tape my mouth shut. From shaming me to disciplining me and I tried and tried to fit their mold, trying to shut down what I have come to appreciate as the most luscious part of my persona.

    The final straw came down to an evil email signed by them stating, among other things, their “combined relief when they realize I am not present.”

    I pay attention very closely now to see if the organization is the right fit for ME.

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