is my strong personality keeping me from getting jobs?

A reader writes:

Since I graduated with a PhD in Biology in 2011, I have had 15 interviews for research positions but no offers. In five of these interviews, I was the reserve and one candid employer told me although I was fantastic in the interview, he had to choose the person he “liked” best to work with, which was not me, of course.

I was wondering if it is fair at all to be judged on likability? I mean, how can they really know from a 40-minute interview if they like someone?

I have to admit that I have a VERY strong personality, but I’m a friendly, optimistic and hardworking character. I prepare for interviews very well and study the work they are doing, prepare questions to ask, and answer questions vividly with real examples from my work history. Can you please give me advice on what can I do to be more likable for employers at interviews and start getting job offers? I would really appreciate your help.

I wrote back to this reader and asked her to tell me more about what she meant by “very strong personality.” Her response:

Well, I think I can come across as being overconfident with my opinions, but I always back them up with evidence and examples from my past work. I challenge interviewers with the way they are running their research and put my ideas forward. In my last interview, I stupidly disagreed with a scientific view the head of the panel put forward about a new technique used in the lab and I sensed he was embarrassed. I’m direct in my speech, my voice tone can be high, and if I thought an idea proved to be rubbish I will quickly dismiss it even if it is from my boss. Having said that, I’m also open minded to others’ views and if another opinion proved to be better than mine, I will quickly accept it and take it on board.

Okay, yeah, that’s probably the problem.

First, about whether it’s fair to judge candidates on likability — sure, it’s fair, and it’s really common. Hiring isn’t just about skills, after all; that’s a big part of it, of course, but it’s also about how you’ll fit in with the office, manager, and coworkers and what you’ll be like to work with. If an employer has two candidates who are both well qualified to do the job, and one seems like someone who’s easy to get along with and who they’d enjoy working with and the other seems like she’d be less pleasant to work with, why wouldn’t they pick the first one?  In fact, sometimes even if the pleasant candidate is a little bit less qualified, she’ll still get the job, because most managers don’t want to work with someone who seems likely to be a pain in the ass.

You might not be a pain in the ass, of course. But if you’re coming across as “over-confident” in interviews (and that often means arrogant), and arguing with them about the way they’re running their research, you’re almost definitely being perceived as one.

Look, it’s not that you shouldn’t speak up with you think there’s a better way to do something or that your ideas are right. You should. That’s a valuable thing in an employee. But there are people who know how to do that well, when the right time to do it is, and how to pick their battles, and there are others who manage to annoy and frustrate everyone around them because they don’t quite get those things. The former are much, much more marketable. (They’re also more effective in getting their ideas heard and implemented.)

And on top of that being annoying in anyone who does it, it’s going to be especially off-putting in your case, because at only two years out of school (and no work experience since then), you haven’t built up the professional standing and credibility that can sometimes make people willing to tolerate it.

It’s probably time for some humility in how you approach and interact with people.

{ 285 comments… read them below }

  1. Colette

    Something for the OP to keep in mind is that the person who is already in that job knows a lot more about why they’ve chosen the direction/tools/processes they have than you do – you have no way to know what’s appropriate to their business, no matter how well you may know the theory.

    I’d add that the interview is not the place to challenge their way of doing things – although you could say something like “I’ve had good experience using X – was that one of the options you looked at?” or “I found using Y made it difficult to do A, B, and C – has that been your experience?”

    And as far as this goes: if I thought an idea proved to be rubbish I will quickly dismiss it even if it is from my boss – that is disturbing. You can, of course, point out the issues with what your boss is suggesting, but once you’ve done that, you need to get on board.

    1. Kelly O

      I do think the missing piece here is tact, at least in an initial assessment of this based on the post.

      The other thing to remember is that just because you perceive an idea to be rubbish the idea may not actually be rubbish. We are all human, and come at problems from our own angle. It’s based on our knowledge, experiences, and all the other things we carry around with us every day.

      An idea may seem “rubbish” in theory, or from an academic standpoint, but when viewed through the lens of hands-on, practical application, it might wind up being the best course of action. Or it might be the path of least resistance. Or the path that gets you to the next, more important, step.

      I would challenge you to think about whether you’re really being open-minded and friendly, and if that open-mindedness and friendliness is based on how well others fall in line with your ideas and beliefs. I see way too many people who are great, until you present a different idea or suggestion, and then the “strong personality” comes into play and causes a problem.

      Just consider other ideas. Mull them over, even if they initially don’t seem right to you. Because I’m reading a fairly caustic undertone – and granted I’m just reading the post – but that could very well be the problem.

      1. Colette

        This is certainly true. It’s also important to realize that business decisions aren’t made in a vacuum – cost (of the solution, of development, of training, etc.), legacy systems, customer impact, etc. are more important than the hypothetical “best” solution.

      2. Anonymously Anonymous

        ++ on tact and open-minded until others disagree. Definitely two things for the op to consider evaluating.

    2. mas

      Does anyone else think this is an “interview tip” that some colleges are teaching? I’ve had a few people who have come into interviews and criticized the way we do X or Y, and say how they would do it better – I think the concept is that they are telling you what their good ideas would be and you’re supposed to hire them based on that, but it really ticks me off, because often they are criticizing something I’ve developed and handle without any knowledge of our overall business strategy.

      1. Elizabeth

        It isn’t just colleges and recent graduates. I’ve gotten the same thing from people who have been in the workforce for 20 years who want to move from direct patient care to IT, and they are insistent that their way is better. Having to stop them and make them back up to understand why the solution has to fit into the whole, not just work for one small area, is time consuming, and it can be extremely frustrating if they don’t have the personality to understand that The One True Way doesn’t exist.

        If I start hearing & seeing that attitude in interviews, I throw a red flag. I don’t have the energy to expend on that kind of personality and dealing with them.

        1. Kimberlee, Esq.

          I know Nick Corcodilos and others of his sort of school of hiring thought promote something like this… obviously, he doesn’t promote arrogance, but he does say you should come into an interview with ideas about what you would do differently, what problems the organization needs solving and how you would solve them, which I can’t imagine being anything other than annoying by except for very high level positions.

          It’s a kind of advice that really is good advice for those people that Alison mentioned, that can promote their ideas tactfully and mindfully, and is horrible advice to the (Id’ argue) majority of people, especially entry level people who can’t do it well.

          1. Jane Doe

            Yep, I can see that sort of thinking being appreciated/useful for someone in a high level position (especially if they’re being brought in specifically to overhaul a process), but for your average entry-level applicant it would seem incredibly presumptuous.

            1. Anonymous

              You only come in ready to criticize how the company does things if you’re being brought in specifically because there are problems. Sort of surprised that anyone thinks this is a good idea in an interview.

    3. Jessa

      I love the idea of writing stuff down and making a proposal when you have a lot of ideas like that. I’m going to steal that some day I just know it.

  2. Ash

    From the OP’s description of themselves, I can’t understand how they would not see why people wouldn’t want to work with them. They admit that they can be loud, forceful about their opinions, challenge everyone regardless of seniority or common sense, and overly judgmental. I would not want to work with them either.

    People I work with know me as a direct, honest person who will tell them the truth about their work/ideas/whatever, but I am calm, thoughtful and helpful. I don’t just say, “Your idea sucks.” I say things like, “Well does this improve useability?”, “Why do you think that doing X would help with Y?”, “I like that you did A, but what if instead of B, we did C?”, etc. If you are just loud and obnoxious, of course no one will want to work with you, let alone be around you.

    There is something to be said about being direct, clear cut, honest, etc., but there is a way to deliver those kind of thoughts and opinions, and you’re clearly not grasping that part of it.

  3. Runon

    OP one thing to ask yourself before you raise these questions is do you want to be right, or do you want to create change and improve the world. If you want to be right, continue on in your path.

    If you want to improve the world, create change, and really get people to alter the way they work you need to step back. Listen a lot, listen 80% or more of the time. Speak when you notice people might be interested in other options. Bring them information in a way that will allow them to feel good about the change and be willing to drop it if they balk at it.

    You might be right every single time, you may be the only person who is 100% evidence based in every thing you say and ever action you take. But you are the only person and that means you need to work within the framework of everyone else.

    1. Leslie Yep

      “Do you want to be right, or do you want to create change and improve the world.”

      Brilliant. This is exactly the way to look at it.

      1. Jazzy Red

        Actually, it’s Dr. Phil all the way. Sometimes that guy gets it right; other times, not so much.

        1. COT

          Haha I apply this to my marriage as well: “I can be right, or I can be married. Is fridge cleanliness (or whatever other petty issue) really the hill I want to die on for the sake of principle?”

          1. Andrea

            Yep—this something I do as well. And I’m sure my husband does, too! Being right is nice. Being loved is better.

          2. Jessa

            Yes, sometimes you really do have to phrase it “Is this a deal breaker?” and if not just do it yourself or forget about it.

          3. Runon

            And there are some hills you do want to take your stand on because they matter. But you have to pick your hills. And all of them isn’t going to be an acceptable answer to anyone you’d want to love you.

            Also I had no idea I was giving out Dr. Phil advice?!

                1. Chinook

                  Problem is, you never can be sure which two times of day are the correct ones unless you can verify it with an outside source.

      2. Runon

        I struggle with this all the time. And each time I go to say something I check to see if this is going to actually change someone’s mind. If it isn’t then I’m just going to make myself look like a jerk. And then the NEXT time I go to say something I will be less likely to change someone’s mind.

      3. Dr. R

        this is based on the assumption that the OP is actually “right.” OP– I’m in the same position as you, two years out of my PhD (although I’ve been postdoc-ing since then). There are times when you will be right and an established, senior investigator is wrong. However, these times are in the minority. My educated guess is that most times you are not right, there is some nuance or complexity that you don’t understand. It’s not because you’re stupid, but it is because we are still young and inexperienced.

  4. Liz in the City

    Having said that, I’m also open minded to others’ views and if another opinion proved to be better than mine, I will quickly accept it and take it on board.

    In my experience, rarely do people with “strong personalities,” especially ones who are openly arguing with the way an organization is doing business doing the interview, truly “open” to another’s opinion. In fact, OP, you may be quite open to others’ ideas, but your entire demeanor of “I’m right, so just try to convince me” is probably so off-putting that interviewers (your potential future coworkers) are just saying, “No, thanks, I’d rather not have to argue about every little point with this guy.”

    Dial it down a notch — or 3 — and see how all of your relationships change as a result. And, even, you could let someone with the WRONG idea be right for once.

    1. Ash

      This is a really good point. The OP is probably only open-minded insofar as it gives him another way to dominate the conversation or argue about some other point. He doesn’t really want to listen to what other people say or think about their points, he just wants another avenue with which he can show off how evidence-based his arguments are and how factual and objective he is.

      1. Carrie

        The person with the question was a woman. It’s funny you assume that it’s a male.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          People assumed the OP was a man originally because I had incorrectly thought the name on the email was male, and thus referred to her as “he” in the post. I’ve since changed it, after she let me know she’s in fact a woman.

    2. Anonymous

      This sounds like someone who might be a Meyers Briggs INTJ personality type – the rarest of all personality types. It certainly is possible to be strongly convinced of your opinions and open to changing them based on new/better information.

      1. Jamie

        Ahem. :) I’m one of those and there are two more in my family…but I wouldn’t call us strong personalities by any stretch.

        Stubborn, irritatingly quiet, reserved, and judgmental…those I’ve heard…I prefer to think of it as having strong convictions and a great deal of self-confidence in specific areas.

        Your last sentence is so important – and it’s important not just for getting along with others but for personal growth. If I didn’t learn from others feedback and input I wouldn’t know half as much as I do today. It’s about ideas building on each other and soliciting opinions and input from people in a different position so they are seeing a different side of the problem.

        Like the old fable of the blind people feeling certain parts of the elephant. The one at the tails thinks it’s a rope, the one at the side a massive wall, the one at the ear a big floppy thing (I don’t remember the specifics) …but that’s how I look at professional development. I could be the best tail person in the world and the most renowned expert on elephant tails – but my knowledge will be vastly greater (and my value to the Elephant’s Inc. greater) if I also take into account what the ear, trunk, and foot people have learned.

        1. NCL

          I completely agree about being confident in certain areas. I’m the same way. I’m generally reserved, but there are certain topics that I know a whole lot about, and I’m really confident in those areas. I think it makes people think I’m arrogant, either because when I DO talk, I’m very assertive…or when I’m not talking, it’s because I think I’m better than them.

          It’s really not that at all, though; I just happen to think that small talk is dreadful, even though I know I serves a useful social function. lol. I just have to make sure I read up on the weather and I’m up to date on certain TV shows or local news so I have something to talk about at those times.

      2. Bess

        Hey, now. I and my husband are both INTJs, and we’re not “strong personalities” by the definition of the OP. INTJs do tend to be very confident in what they do know — but they also tend to be very aware of what they don’t know, and are usually open to new ideas as long as they’re explained in a logical manner. “Logic above all” is the catchphrase of the INTJ, not “me being right above all”.

      3. NCL

        I’m an INTJ, too. I can kinda relate to the OP in that I also have a strong personality, and have a tendency for bluntness that can be perceived as being critical. Like her, I *am* open-minded to other people’s opinions, as long as they make sense. I also have a dry/sarcastic sense of humor that I know not everyone responds well to.

        I’ve really had to work on it over the years, being less blunt (or trying to sound more tentative or like I’m making a suggestion), and letting people be right, even if I know that they’re factually wrong. I have to make a point to try to see it from their perspective. I try to ask myself, “Do they really need to hear my opinion? If so, do they need to hear it RIGHT NOW? Will I be a total jerk if I say it exactly like that?” Also, I have to try to make my jokes be more obvious as jokes.

        It’s hard, though, when it’s just your personality. Just something I have to keep working on. My “emotional intelligence” has definitely improved with time and effort! I still have those moments when I say something, and don’t realize until hours later that it could’ve totally been taken the wrong way (and probably was) by someone who wasn’t me, or who didn’t know me that well. lol

        Still, I’m kind of a polarizing person. People tend to either really like me, or really not like me. Not much in between there. lol

        1. David V.

          Me too, I recognized myself a lot in the OP’s writing. I often disregard other’s ideas, not because I think I am always better, but because I immediately see the pitfalls and unlogical sides of their ideas. At those moments, I cannot cover up my voice and facial expressions saying “are you really that dumb that you cannot see those things yourself?” “Do you honestly believe it is a good idea when it that obviously has so many loose ends?”
          Next to that, I am over critical to myself, my capabilities and my ideas. That makes me often immobilized because I tell myself I still need to work on things more before taking it a step further. However, that means that when I do take a step further, I am obviously 100% confident that I am right, that I have gathered all possible information, that I have done all the practice needed, etc. Funny that this comes accross as arrogant when the basis of the behaviour is uncertainty and doubt.
          And then, to complete the circle, yes, I am open to anyone else’s ideas. I will always be the first one to acknowledge that I might not remember it 100% correctly, that I might have missed an option, etc. If someone else can uplift my own ideas, I recognize that immediately. This also explains my immunity for hierarchical authority: I you want to be my boss, you should be able to let me do my work better than if you wouldn’t be around. I have an incredible amount of respect for people who can contribute to my ideas. People that come up with some loose ends and thinking they have a solution … I really cannot hide my dislike for them.

          @NCL: have you followed any training to learn to change these behaviours you mention? Reading about it and putting it into practice is a complete other thing for me… So if you could point to some trainings, the subjects and how they dealth with, that would be great!

        2. Mary

          You sound a lot like me , but what can I do to manage this attitud better as you seem have managed to do ? I ‘ m highly qualified, senior in my position but my personality affects my job.

  5. theotherjennifer

    and do you honestly think you should be “challenging interviewers…” – that seems a sure way to piss someone off. and certainly everyone is entitled to an opinion – there is a time, a place and a way to express it. Sounds like you could really benefit from some role playing and perhaps even videoing an interview to see how you are actually coming across.

    Frankly, you can usually tell in the first 10 minutes if you like someone or not and if that person will be a good fit into your existing organization.

  6. Yup

    May I make an observation about one aspect of your description that stood out to me? “…if I thought an idea proved to be rubbish I will quickly dismiss it even if it is from my boss.” In academic study, we’re encouraged to evaluate ideas strictly on their own merit. Is this idea clear, logical, groundbreaking, etc. So in that sense, I get where you’re coming from. But at work, particularly in business, the frame is broader. Ideas need to be cost effective, politically palatable, organizationally sustainable, in line with branding, and so on. And these are nuances that can be very subtle and difficult to suss out on a first reading or hearing. The technically “best” idea may lose out to a workable solution that reaches the broadest possible audience. So if your inclination is to “rubbish” ideas quickly, then you might be coming off as arrogant because the listener isn’t hearing you evaluate those subtler elements. Consider pulling back on how you phrase these comments, so that you convey an open-mindness and willingness to learn. A response more like “Hmm, my first reaction would have been to use the ABC framework because it accomplishes XYZ. Can you tell more about how you chose this 123 framework?” will generate conversation rather than shutting it down (which sounds like what’s happening now). Being more collegial and deliberate in your reactions might help you get the more positive responses you’re looking for.

    1. Emily M

      Well-said, Yup. I trained a lot of new hires who came to my former organization out of graduate programs (usually Masters degrees) who could brilliantly tear apart any theoretical framework, data, or project design I put in front of them. They tended to struggle on the job since as they were better at criticizing than collaborating. In the Ivory tower, the ability to dissect the work of others and design hypothetical projects under ideal circumstance is highly valued. That’s why I love my graduate courses; I can often re-design frustrating work projects in a theoretical space where budget limitations, management’s priorities, and logistical issues can’t compromise my vision. In the working world, critique is healthy, but it better be accompanied by an ability to make things work within the parameters of reality. To echo Runon above, I was told by a very wise woman, “sometimes you have to choose between being right and being effective.” Given the choice, I’d take the effective candidate over the candidate who will waste my team’s time looking for personal validation of her ideas and intelligence.

      1. Kaz

        “better at criticizing than collaborating” – that seems like a 100% accurate description of the OP.

      2. saro

        Emily, do you work in international development? Because that’s what I do and I come across this ALL THE TIME. It’s so frustrating.

        1. Emily M

          saro,
          Funny that you were able to spot that. Yes, I worked in international development.

            1. saro

              Emily and Alanna, It would be great to have an international development open thread, no?

              Alanna, I love your blog!!

  7. Karthik

    Likeability matters since no one wants to hire someone who will make them dread going into work. There are plenty of smart people who are easy to get along with.

  8. Di

    I would be interested in hearing how people close to OP would describe him and compare that to the OP’s self-assessment. The way he paints himself now is too overconfident for me.

    1. Anonymous

      Interesting. I asked my sister only yesterday to give me one word that springs to her mind when she thinks of me. I didn’t like the answer and we had a friendly ‘row’, but it was instrumental.

  9. Em

    There are ways you can convey to an interviewer that you are not someone who will never disagree (good managers don’t want that anyway!) without proactively and passionately disagreeing during the interview itself. Tell the interviewer, and provide an example, where you have disagreed with leadership in the past and how that lead to a more desirable outcome. But don’t act like you know better than the interviewer and judge their decisions based on what you’ve heard in a 30 minute conversation.

    1. Anonymous

      I’ve been asked in interviews to explain how I’ve dealt with my boss being wrong or how I manage my boss.

  10. The IT Manager

    LW, I sympathize with you because I was essentially selected for lay offs after nearly 15 years on the job and I think my likability or lack thereof was a contributing factor. I’m not good at small talk and have never formed close, intimate relationships with those at work. I never really had a mentor so … when the time came to pick who would stay and go, I had no one who really wanted to stand up for me even though everyone agreed I did a good job and were shocked that this happened to me.

    I’m a geek. I wish that technical expertise was the only factor in job selections and promotion. But that’s not the case. Likeability or rather the ability to get along with others is absolutely a key to success in you job. You sure don’t sound like you would be able to get along well with the rest of your team. If you think of it that way maybe you’ll see that it is a critical factor.

    Although I sympathise with you from your description of yourself (which is no doubt biased in your own favor), I wouldn’t want to work with you. You definately need to work on improving your ability to get along with others, learn how to disagree nicely, and actually be opened minded (because you sure don’t sound open minded).

    1. Anonicorn

      Considering he has a PhD in biology, he’s a bit more like Amy Farrah Fowler. ;)

      1. Jazzy Red

        Amy’s not that arrogant, just kind of “stiff”.

        Except when she got a tiara, and became a beautiful princess!

        1. Lily in NYC

          They made her really obnoxious in the beginning – I just watched a repeat one of the first episodes after they met and his friends couldn’t stand her. I like the new horny Amy.

  11. Marmite

    One of the best pieces of career advice anyone has given me was, “sometimes you’ve got to play the game”. I had a hard time with that when I first went into the work world, but it is important if you want to do well at work. Sometimes it means being right isn’t the important thing, not questioning your boss is the important thing. Not always, by any means, but sometimes. It’s similar advice to “choose your battles wisely”.

    In your case, OP, you need a job, therefore you need to impress people interviewing you, not show them that your intellect is superior to theirs. Even if your interviewer says something completely scientifically flawed, during the interview is not the time to say, “That’s rubbish!” You might be able to get away with, “Oh wow, I didn’t know that” or something similar, but embarrassing your interviewer is not going to win you a job. You can revert to your usual personality around your friends, they’re presumably your friends because of, or at least in spite of, your “strong” personality, but in work you might need to tone it down and play the game, at least a little.

  12. Mike C.

    For the OP: Honey attracts more flies than vinegar. You may be right, but at the basest level folks don’t like to be embarrassed or made to look like they’re dumb. In an environment where it is the norm to constantly challenge and question things, it’s refreshing to see someone with a softer touch.

    For the thread: In the science and/or academic and/or research world, questioning and challenging things is a cultural norm. If you aren’t at least acting confident in your abilities, knowledge and research, you’re dead in the water. You will be constantly challenged from above and below and you need to be able to handle that or you need to find a different job. Keeping that balance is incredibly important, but at the same time don’t be surprised.

    1. fposte

      Sure, but if you’re unable to even consider the possibility that your own ideas are wrong or “rubbish”–which is what the OP is currently conveying–that’s a problem in academia, too. I mean, he even argued with his sister over her own opinion of him–he’s not prepared to let anybody else be the expert on *anything* without a pitched battle. And that’s a real problem when he’s trying to get a job with a bunch of experts, most of them more experienced than he is.

      OP, you’re not the only person to struggle with this, and I think your willingness to reflect is an excellent sign. But I think you’ll do yourself and your career a favor if you realize that some of what you’ve treating as an asset about your character can be a flaw, and if you start practicing the fine art of letting stuff go rather than taking things to the mat. The only workplace where you’d be the sole authority is a one-person one, and in all the others, people don’t have to earn from you the right to do something differently than you would.

      1. Victoria

        Totally agree. Even in the academic arena, in my experience (I go to a top 5 PhD program in my field) we are courteous to one another. Sure we critique things but not in the off the cuff, cut throat manner the OP is describing. That is NOT the cultural norm in my field

        1. fposte

          Could be–I was mainly reacting to what I saw as the suggestion that academics was a special case, when honestly, I think this comes up as an issue in just about every field.

  13. Katie the Fed

    You can ABSOLUTELY tell within 40 minutes if you like someone, especially in an interview context. You can tell in about 3 minutes, to be honest.

    I was on a panel and we interviewed a guy who we all pretty much couldn’t stand by the end of the 30 minutes. We asked several “tell us about a time…” type of questions, and I kid you not, for EVERY answer his response was something like “well, I had this idea and boss didn’t like it, but I ended up yadda yadda yadda and in the end I was totally vindicated.”

    Erm. Awesome. You should like a peach, sir.

    He could have been the most competent person in the world but he was just obnoxious.

    1. AMG

      Obnoxious was exactly what I was thinking while reading the OP’s post. I always wondered what was going on in the minds of people like this.

  14. Rob (Bacon) Bird

    I love that part: Look, it’s not that you shouldn’t speak up with you think there’s a better way to do something or that your ideas are right. You should. That’s a valuable thing in an employee.

    It is a valuable trait…..when you an employee! If you are displaying that attitude, and openly arguing with the interviewer, you will never get to be an employee.

    1. Another Emily

      I agree. Interviewers are expecting that candidates are on their best behaviour during the interview, so being argumentative in this context will not make them feel confident that you’d be someone they want to work with.

      There’s a lot of advice in this thread and it’s hard to read a hundred comments that you’re doing something wrong, but hopefully this thread will help you get a job that you’re happy with. :)

  15. Anonymous

    Doing research is very, very different then organizing research, which is what OP is probably looking to do now they have a PhD. And it sounds like OP hasn’t realized that yet. It sounds like the OP has no idea how research is actually done. OP sounds like they don’t understand budget, running a lab, or how knowledge is acquired. A lot of what the OP is calling “rubbish” is because of: 1 there isn’t any money to actually do exact things the OP thinks should be done, 2 there is previous unpublished research either in the lab they’re applying to or from other labs that shows what the OP thinks is rubbish is actually not or 3 that isn’t how that lab is run, or setup to run.

  16. Beth

    Yikes! You have to sort of earn your right to act this way, and even then, it can be off-putting. It’s one thing, once you’re in a job and you have a rapport with your boss and coworkers, to challenge things (tactfully.) It’s another thing to be a complete outsider, with no real insight into the realities of the work and the factors which affect it, and challenge things! I’m the kind of person who WANTS people to challenge how things are done, but even I would wonder, “if this person is already acting like this at the interview stage, what kind of a nightmare will they be when they’re actually working here and more comfortable?”

    I want to throw one other thing out there which is sort of marginally-related. People can’t always tell in just 40 minutes whether they like someone, especially when those 40 minutes are in an interview situation. People can act really differently in interviews than they do in real life, because they’re nervous, or they’ve been told to put on a show, or whatever. But, people can tell whether they like the interviewing behavior, and they usually don’t look beyond that. If they don’t like it, it’s not like they can be sure that “in real life,” you’re so different, even if you are.

    People also go by appearance. Only marginally related, but unfortunately it is also very much the case that attractiveness and even types of facial features affect people’s perceptions of you and what you’re saying. I, unfortunately, have a face which reads as “critical.” I’m not unattractive, but I have a pointy nose and small eyes. I’ve had people who have never even spoken to me before tell me that based on my appearance, they thought I would be a … witch (with a b.) I’ve also had people admit that some other hypothetical person with baby features is generally perceived as warmer, and could raise the exact same issues I’ve raised, in the same tone of voice, and be perceived in a more positive light than I am. People might dismiss this idea because they don’t like to think they judge people on appearance, but they do. I have come to the conclusion that the only way to counter my “hard and critical” appearance is to err on the side of acting very warm and soft.

    1. Alicia

      I so agree on the facial impressions thing. I have a round face, but then I also have a straight mouth, so if I am concentrating, or just have my natural relaxed face, I look a “tad bit grumpy”. My fiancé asks me on a regular basis why I am giving him death glares. I’ve been trying to reign that habit in. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t walk around with a fake perma-smile, but I try to be aware of my expression to appear a little more inviting/friendly (which I am, by the way!).

      PS, I am also a recent PhD graduate who has made the transition from academia to industry… I think it is good to be assertive in interviews, but your approach seems a little more aggressive than might be desirable…

      1. CathVWXYNot?

        I have the same kind of “grumpy cat” face – because of the shape of my mouth, my neutral, relaxed expression looks unhappy. Which is strange because I’m generally a pretty happy person, so it’s always quite jarring to hear things like “I saw you yesterday but didn’t want to stop and say hi because you looked so miserable”, or “you’re a much more positive person than everyone who doesn’t know you thinks you are!” (both direct quotes from friends).

        1. Kelly L.

          I call mine my basset hound face. At rest, I seem to come off as utterly dejected.

        2. NCL

          I have what a friend of mine calls “resting witch face” (that would be witch with a b lol). I apparently always look mad, even when I’m not. The corners of my mouth just point down in my neutral expression or when I’m concentrating really hard, and I tend to clench my jaw without meaning to. People are always asking me why I’m mad. lol

    2. CatB

      If I remember well from my social psychology classes, “judging” from the looks has less to do with prejudice and more with the instinct, from the times when quickly recognizing the presence (or absence) of menace meant literally survival or death. “Child-face” meant “no harm on the horizon”; other expressions triggered the fight-or-flight response.

      Times changed from when men survived only by being faster than their enemies, but the instincts survived…

  17. BCW

    I’m not going to be as hard on the OP as some people. I understand your point, that you have no problem questioning things. Trust me, I have disagreed on many things with many bosses. I think there is a delicate balance there, at least at the interview stage. A lot of people don’t just want a yes man, but they don’t want to have to justify every decision to their subordinate either. Its fine to say that you have disagreed in the past with a boss, but you need to then follow up on how you were both able to work together to get a compromise. However, if what stands out the most about you is that you have no problem questioning authority, thats not going to be a great way to win points over another qualified candidate.

  18. kasey

    yikes, strong personality is a euphemism here. OP, don’t feel the need to point out where others shortcomings in the interview. You’re smart, they’re smart- but you’re getting in your own way. They need you to not be so hectic. Settle down, breathe – seriously big, slow breathes before the interview (in the car, maybe?) very centering and can help a ton. ( meditater here!)

    1. J.B.

      Working for someone with a strong personality (at least that’s the tactful description) who challenges and pokes logical holes in EVERYTHING…is soul killing. I understand that he means well, but it is really demotivating to everyone else and results in fewer ideas brought up and less hard work from everyone else.

  19. Rob (Bacon) Bird

    Although, you do have to give the OP credit for writting in and asking for guidence. Not everybody asks for help.

    1. Andrea

      Yeah, this makes me think of my BIL. He always thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room, and he goes out of his way to shout people down and make them look stupid. He changes jobs a lot and always has stories about how dumb his boss or coworkers are (he’s a mechanical engineer, and so are his coworkers, and so I somehow doubt that they are all stupid). It’s not even possible to have a pleasant conversation with him about something like whether he is enjoying the city where he just moved. As a result, my husband has pretty much no relationship with him at all, nor do I. He’s just so unpleasant and seems to have no respect for anyone and no desire to have any kind of relationship with another person. I was thinking about him by the time I got to the end of the OP’s question…and I was tempted to rip the OP a new one…but then I remembered something: My BIL would never in a million years ask for advice like this. He would never recognize that there is something wrong with the way he approaches life, other people, and problems. He thinks everyone else is wrong, never him. He will probably never realize that he needs to change and improve. And I get that it’s hard discover that you’re the problem, so that’s why I want to commend the OP for asking for help. He seems sincerely interested in improving, and I hope he does. It will be difficult at first, but I think he will benefit from a new approach, both in his professional and personal life.

      1. Andrea

        hard TO discover…ugh…I would sure love to have the ability to edit comments, even if it only applied for a few minutes after posting.

      2. Ash

        The OP is asking for help yes, but I think it’s being done in more of a “it’s their fault, not mine and it’s not fair!” kind of way. For instaance, when he says:

        I was wondering if it is fair at all to be judged on likability? I mean, how can they really know from a 40-minute interview if they like someone?

        It seems to me that he’s trying to have Alison tell him it’s not his fault, his interviewers are big meanie heads and he’s perfect the way he is. They’re just not giving him a fair chance, even though he’s brilliant and open-minded and blah blah blah! I don’t think he’s doing this as a soul-searching exercise.

        1. Andrea

          Yeah, I just read his reply below, and I’ve decided you are right, and that I was both wrong and optimistic.

        2. Runon

          Well the idea that the interview is a “fair” process is a flawed starting point. Life, interviews, jobs, work…none of it is fair. Get used to it.

  20. Liz T

    I really want to have cards made that say, “You’re not House.” On the other side they’d say, “Be nice.”

    That’s the problem with people these days: everyone thinks they’re frickin’ House.

      1. Chinook

        I don’t think Sheldon Cooper thinks he is “Sheldon Cooper.” When he met the younger version of himself, he thought he was annoying too.

    1. Marmite

      I don’t think it’s just House, there are endless TV shows with similar obnoxious genius characters. In all of them the character essentially cannot be fired because they are just that good at their job despite their awful/nonexistent people skills. It’s ridiculous, but I think you’re right some people do have a bit of an idea that it’s cool to be that person.

      1. (Anon for this)

        I’ve worked with several people who are at the tops of their fields and have been described as geniuses, and all of them come across as nice, normal human beings who just happen to make amazing mental connections. Some of them are much nicer and more willing to explain their ideas than “average” people. In my limited experience, the obnoxious-genius thing is exaggerated :)

        1. Jamie

          Yes. Although it’s true that if you have a scarce yet critically needed skill set people will put up with more crap from you. It doesn’t follow that most people who are in those unique positions of power will take advantage of that.

          It’s all relative, but most of us have occasion each day to be arrogant or overbearing or dismissive to other people without consequences. And not to say we are all optimal human beings, but few of us make the effort to belittle others.

          Heck – I can go home tonight and call my kitties hateful names. Tell them I was lying when I said they had beautiful green eyes and that I loved their soft fur. I can tell them that their fur is not so soft! I can mock their lack of opposable thumbs and I can open jars in front of them just to show off what I can do that they can’t. Neener neener. I can refuse to let them play pocket pond on the iPad. Act all supirior because they haven’t learned to read and I can taunt them with my book learnin’.

          It would be completely jerky to be so horrible – but I could. What’s stopping me (besides the human part of my family turning on me and thinking I’ve lost my mind) but seriously – they can’t sue.

          What stops me is that I have no inclination to be a jerk on purpose even when I can. And most people are like that – and we all can. We can be completely shitty to our food servers, the woman behind the counter at the gas station, the old lady that takes 17 years to buy lotto tickets when you just want to get your vitamin water and get to work…but we don’t.

          But people being patient, biting their tongue, and just trudging through the day not as saints but a bunch of flawed human beings trying not to inflict too much pain along the way doesn’t make for great TV.

          You would not watch a show featuring my husband – but I wouldn’t want to be married to House.

          Funny, I seriously asked my family why there hasn’t been a reality show about IT people – because seriously everyone from pawn brokers, people who buy abandoned luggage, and professional swamp people (I don’t want to know) have their own shows. The universal answer in my house is who the heck wants to watch people like you type and swear under your breath. No market.

          Not everything awesome is made for TV and certainly not everything on TV would be tolerable in real life.

          1. CathVWXYNot?

            “I can mock their lack of opposable thumbs and I can open jars in front of them just to show off what I can do that they can’t. Neener neener.”

            I actually do that to my cats sometimes… but then they really are spectacularly stupid, even for cats. One of them falls off the sofa a lot, and gets startled by her own leg.

      2. Chinook

        And that is where BBT got it right. Sheldon has been fired for being to outspoken (and his mother even made him apologize!).

        1. Jamie

          “It’s okay to be smarter than everybody else, but you can’t going around saying that to people.”

          I love me some Mary Cooper. Good thing she had two other kids as dumb as soup…. :)

          Brilliant casting.

  21. Hlx Hlx

    Man, this strikes a nerve. OP reminds me of my (unlikeable to many) former PI. He was brilliant, but refused to “play nice”. Made a lot of enemies, along with conducting some great research, publishing a ton of articles, and being a leader in the field. For a long time, his attitude and behavior was tolerated because of his intellect. But there’s been a sea change. You not only have to be smart now, you have got to get along with others in your institute, or lab, or field.

    One of his enemies rose to power, and promptly shut his lab right down. Everyone who worked for him? Just some collateral damage.

    1. Hlx Hlx

      You’re at a great point to examine yourself and make changes, and the fact that you have asked for advice indicates much potential for success, IMO. My PI was so set in his ways – he was warned by all of us, but ignored our well-meaning advice. His career basically has ended. It’s really sad.

      I wish the best to you, OP. Good luck.

  22. Anonymouse

    I work with someone who scoffs at every decision made and openly derides colleagues for their opinions. Just about everyone hates him. You may be nothing like him, but the tone of your writing and insistence that you know what is “right” reminds me of him. If I were to serve on a hiring team and you displayed this behaviour at all, I’d write you off almost immediately. You don’t come off sounding like you really understand how to work as part of a team.

    Also, the person who seemed embarrased when you challenged his decision in an interview setting probably was embarrased for you that you seem to lack tact and understanding of acceptable interview behavior. I’ve been on teams where the interviewee seems completely oblivious to how they represent themselves, and it is embarrasing to watch.

  23. Just a Reader

    Smart doesn’t matter if you’re combative–and that’s how it sounds like the OP is coming across.

    Is challenging the status quo a good thing? Sometimes. Is it smart to keep your mouth shut? Sometimes. Nobody should go charging in 100% of the time, trying to shake things up. Pick your battles.

    And a job interview is not a battlefield–it’s a runway. You want people to buy you. So quit hitting them with shrapnel focus on selling yourself.

    As others have said, SOME people get away with this when they already have a reputation for brilliance. OP isn’t there yet. So get the job, be a collaborative worker bee and build your reputation–THEN try to “challenge” what you think needs changing. Change is created based on influence and merit, not force.

    1. Diane

      “And a job interview is not a battlefield–it’s a runway. You want people to buy you. So quit hitting them with shrapnel . . . “

      I love this.

  24. W.W.A.

    Alison makes a couple of great points here, especially about knowing HOW to disagree and make your opinions know. If you’re the type to immediately say “well, that’s rubbish” or to aggressively challenge something that’s core to how an office works, no one is going to take your opinions seriously.

    Also, I have done a fair amount of interviewing, much of it for internships, and it consistently surprises me how often a recent college grad or current graduate student will affect an air of knowing everything about my work or even my whole industry. It is incredibly off-putting, especially because in my opinion, my industry can only really be understood by working in it, not by taking a handful of classes.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      There’s also no faster way of revealing how little you truly know that acting like you know more than you do. It’s like wearing a sign reading “I am incredibly naive about myself and the work world, and I will probably resist being shown what I don’t know.”

      1. Jamie

        One of the best questions I was asked in an interview was what do I do when someone needs information and I don’t have the answer.

        “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” I’ll tell them when they can expect to hear from me and then I follow up with the information.

        Huge pet peeves of mine are when people state things as fact, but aren’t sure and people who make stuff up just to have an answer.

        There is no shame in “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” My mom told me when I was a kid that intelligence isn’t knowing stuff…it’s knowing how to learn what you need to know.

        I know people hate qualifiers, but I use them. For me ‘I think’, ‘I believe’, or ‘it’s my opinion that…’ tell people that this is what I believe to be true. If I say X=Y – it’s a fact to me. I may be wrong, but I’m sure enough to bet a paycheck.

        Like when someone said Corey Feldman wasn’t in Lost Boys. I said he was. He totally was and I had to pull up IMDB to prove it…but few things in life are as absolute as Corey Feldman trivia.

  25. Anonymous

    A strong personality is not an excuse to have a lack of tact or arrogance about your skills and opinions. Sure, you can be outgoing and friendly and loud and boisterous, which aren’t necessarily bad traits, but what you describe is nothing but obnoxiousness and arrogance. Typical of a know-it-all personality.

    So please keep those things in check and realize that just because you may have the book smarts and know the literature doesn’t mean you have the experience or the street smarts of your interviewers and people who have spent years in the field.

    But you’re lucky in the sense that you are still early in your career, so you can learn how to do be a team player and use your skills and knowledge effectively. You also asked for advice, which shows that you may be open to change. The first thing is accepting that you do not know the answers to everything and that you should not constantly question and diffute the knowledge of those with more experience. Listen and accept it, though if asked, you can share your own opinion on a matter.

  26. Athlum

    My company has been working with consultants the last couple years to change the company culture, and I find most of what they go on about either tedious or obnoxious or both, but there is one tenet I have wholeheartedly embraced: the idea that situations are best approached from a perspective of curiosity or better.

    OP, even if you *are* usually (or always) right, can you approach these interviews or conversations with an eye toward always learning? Even if what you want to learn is how someone in a position to interview you can hold such a ridiculous idea, coming at the problem from that angle can lead you to say “wow, I wouldn’t have thought of it that way, can you tell me how you arrived at that process/solution?” instead of “that’s moronic, you should be doing it this other way.” You start to look interested, and therefore more likeable, and it opens the door for you to (gently!) ask some more pointed questions — “that’s interesting; I’d always thought X, but your system contradicts X. How did you resolve that?” — that might either help these people see the light, or (shock) teach you that you are missing some essential context that was instrumental in their decision.

  27. Jen in RO

    I usually read “strong personality” as “arrogant”. Thing is, my boyfriend is one of those. I’ve told him he is arrogant; he says he’s just smart and he knows it. The thing is, he knows *when* to be arrogant and when to be diplomatic… and he has 20 years of experience to back it up with. He does argue with interviewers and he does get rejected because of it, but he can afford it since he has very desirable skills and a lot of great references. OP is not quite that far along into his/her career, so I’d suggest he/she tones it down a little.

    1. Anon

      There are a lot of comments leaning towards this type of behavior being acceptable if one had the intelligence, experience, or other qualifier. I have to disagree with this. While there are personalities abound in the world, I would have to assume the the personalities that are not abrasive, obnoxious, arrogant, or otherwise are favored in the workplace, especially when the intelligence and experience is comparable. Even for people who know how to turn it on and off. Because when it’s on, all of the comments in this thread apply. Why hire someone who works well with people most of the time vs one who chooses when they will be collaborativebased on their own prerogative? There is always someone else out that can do your job, regardless of your level of experience and intelligence.

      1. Jen in RO

        You might be right, I haven’t worked with my boyfriend so I have no idea how he behaves at work. He can be very charming and he’s extremely funny – I guess that helps people get over his arrogant moments. But yes, I definitely agree with you, I would much rather deal with someone non-brilliant but easy going than a genius with a bad personality.

  28. OP :)

    Well, I have to admit after reading most of the comments I do feel like Sheldon Cooper :). Nevertheless; some eye opening views that came across are very helpful. Yes, I am arrogant as some of the replies suggested and that is something I have to work on for my next interview. There is a fine line between being confident and arrogant and I’m obviously not keeping the balance.
    I’m amused to say the least with some replies as it seems they were very intimidated by the phrasing of my question and lashed back strongly at me; which reflects real life situations where I must have intimidated interviewers.
    Thanks a lot everyone,,, this has been really helpful :)

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Where are you seeing people sounding intimidated, exactly?

      Because this comment is really incredibly arrogant and probably indicative of the problem — people disagreeing with you does not mean they are intimidated by you. It means they think you are wrong.

      1. Anonymous

        It’s clear OP was not “amused to say the least” by the response. Her feelings were hurt so she’s lashing out. In my experience, people who are arrogant like this are also very sensitive to being criticized themselves. Because they come off as insensitive to others, it’s easy to assume they themselves aren’t sensitive people, but I think the opposite is true. Do you really think someone who was genuinely amused and not bothered at all by the negative comments would feel the need to say so? Unlikely. So take it with a grain of salt; when people feel hurt, they hurt back. (even jerks get their feelings hurt is basically my point).

        1. Cat

          This reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon College, in which he said:

          ” If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.”

          I find that the italicized sentence is something that those of us who have always been praised – and derived a lot of our personal value – from being “smart” or “good at our jobs” or anything in that line do well to keep in mind. Because a lot of our reactions to things stem from that in ways we don’t realize.

        1. Anonymously Anonymous

          Oh op. Do you have a close friend that can do a mock interview with you. It seems like the ESL divide is rearing an ugly head. It could be that you’re using incorrect words in your interview to express yourself as well. Do you see how one slip between intimidated and irritated can turn things sour really fast? While you may have a good command on written and verbal English, do you understand the subtle differences in some words? I guess it’s good thing you found this blog.

    2. Andrea

      Wow. Please disregard my previous comment wherein I commended you for asking for help, which I thought/hoped was sincere.

    3. Elizabeth

      real life situations where I must have intimidated interviewers

      More to the point, you’ve probably annoyed & frustrated them.

      1. Meganly

        I’m betting interviewers were intimidated… by the prospect of dealing with someone so arrogant. =/

    4. Colette

      I don’t actually think anyone was intimidated by you. If that’s what you’re taking away, you’re missing a lot of what people have said.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Also, how weird is it to think someone would be intimidated by a stranger’s three paragraph email about not being able to get hired and potentially being unlikeable? There’s some serious disconnection from reality here, I think.

        1. Jessa

          This yes. I don’t see how it’s intimidating at all. The OP just seems arrogant.

          1. A Bug!

            Yeah, it’s not intimidating. It is off-putting, period. I would not want to hire a person who is literally incapable of considering others’ input impartially and reassessing his position. I don’t care how competent he is; if he has to work with others he needs to be able to work with others.

            OP, you do not have a “strong personality”. You are a conversational steamroller. Put on the brakes.

    5. Just a Reader

      You’re not intimidating. You’re coming across as both cocky and delusional. My best advice is to try to find some self awareness before deciding that you’re not getting hired because your awesomeness is intimidating people. Trust me–it’s not.

    6. fposte

      This may indicate another aspect of the problem–you’re not reading other people very well.

      1. fposte

        Expanding on this, actually–OP, is it possible that you’re somebody who either doesn’t see or struggles with admitting their own weaknesses? Because people who can’t see or admit their ignorance, flaws, and errors are not only difficult to work with, they’re a freaking menace in research. That right there may be what’s concerning people.

      2. Ornery PR

        I was just thinking as I read through all the comments that the OP is probably flattered by all the comments about him. He’s being compared to brilliant people (House, Sheldon, etc.), and that’s what’s important and being emphasized to him – not that those people are insufferable or difficult/impossible to work with, which is the actual point everyone is making. The value he finds is in people who he believes to be inferior thinking his intellect makes him superior, regardless of whether people like him or not. I don’t know that anything anyone says will make any kind of impact on the OP, other than to reinforce his already held beliefs that he is a brilliant misanthrope.

        1. fposte

          Sometimes people take a while to process and still find value, though. I always think it would be tough to be an OP and get all this judgment, no matter how fair and justified it is, and it might take me a few days before I fully came to terms with its validity.

        2. OP

          Not at all,, I read all the comments so far and a lot are really valuable and I’m quite keen to work on the given advice.

        3. Lily in NYC

          I would bet money OP is a woman. Just by the wording and writing style…

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            A woman. I’d actually written “he” at first because I’d mistakenly thought the name on the email was male, but I corrected it.

            1. Rana

              That may be another factor here, as well. I’ve found, based on my own experience, that being outspoken as a woman sometimes got me in trouble when my male colleagues were praised for their proactiveness. I’m not saying that it’s impossible or bad to present yourself as strong and confident if you’re female, but rather that the line between that and arrogant and unlikeable can be much finer than it is for men.

              That said, the OP came across as cocky and brash even before I knew their gender, so that’s more in the way of additional information, not mitigating information.

            2. Ornery PR

              Oh good, I thought I had read “he” at some point. And the House and Sheldon references helped shape the picture I had of the OP being a man. I do think that changes my thoughts on this situation a little, and I realize I was a little harsh to to OP, so I’m sorry for that. OP, I’m glad you are trying to become more self-aware, as evidenced by writing in with your question, and I hope you take the good advice Alison and others have given. I agree with Rana that this issue can be more difficult to overcome as a woman than it would be for a man, so I wish you well. I truly hope you realize that your working relationships can be just as valuable to your career as your intelligence, if not more.

    7. Anon

      Oh jeez. You can’t be serious..?

      Cue the collective eye roll of everyone here.

      1. Alicia

        That’s really quite pompous, to assume you are intimidating to the readers here. I think we can all see exactly why you’re not getting hired…

        And, the comparison to Sheldon Cooper isn’t necessarily a compliment in real life, as you seem to be taking it.

        1. Elaine

          I think OP, above, said he/she meant to say *irritated* rather than intimidated…

          1. Tasha

            I think that this slip is a good example of what’s discussed above. Yes, OP may well have meant “irritated,” but in failing to catch the error in proofreading, she gives the wrong impression. Thinking twice about what one says, especially in an interview or other professional context, is a lot like proofreading.

          2. Alicia

            Yeah the way the thread replies originally went this comment made a lot more chronological sense 3 hrs ago

        2. Chinook

          I agree that being compared to Sheldon Cooper is not a compliment. As well loved a character as he is, he would be horrible to be around in real life. Also, his chacter has had realistic responses to his demeanor. He was fired in an episode because of his arrogance, he was replaced (ever so briefly) by someone younger and smarter and his friends have even had enjoyable times when he decided to boycott them because he didn’t perceive himself as the centre of the group.

          It is only when someone (ironically, since he is a chauvinist, it is usually the stong women in his life who do this) flat out points out that he is harming only himself with his actions does he change his behaviour to be within the social norms.

          1. Jamie

            I don’t know that he’s a chauvinist – I think he’s an equal opportunity tool at times. Leslie Winkle thinks so, but I never liked her.

            I don’t think he has a problem with women – I think he has a problem with muggles.

            Topic: even if he was real his natural instinct is off putting so he put his own rules in place to mitigate some of that. He does obey “non-optional social conventions” even if he has to be told what they are.

            I think most people have a little bit of that inside. I know I have to go to the holiday party…but it will never make sense to me. Sometimes you just have to suit up for the dog and pony show.

            1. Runon

              If you’re really that smart you should be able to create a set of social convention rules and obey them even if you have to be told what they are and when they apply.

              Social interaction math.

    8. Anon

      Yes, we’re so intimidated by three paragraphs from Holden Caufield about how he’s so much better than everyone else and they can’t understand his genius.

      You’re like Scrooge, except for money, you [supposedly] have smarts. Do you want to be old, unloved, and hated but have been right all the time?

    9. Runon

      One thing worth noting OP is that you aren’t likely presenting any science to people in interviews, you may be presenting your interpretation, but you have no trust and no authority with people when you walk in the door so even if you say, “And I read this paper which was published in this respected peer reviewed journal that say this thing which makes the way you are doing this wrong.” Even if all of that was true you are asking them to take you on your word. Which as someone who is always looking to approach things in a scientific manner I’m sure you’d find it abhorrent if they just took you on your word when they have no way of knowing anything about that paper/article/journal. Keep that in mind. They know nothing about you. You start with no credibility, which is how it should be. If you want to bring up something in the future maybe you should bring in copies of all the journals you intend to reference to back you up.

    10. A Teacher

      Seriously? You’re coming across as almost childish–and I’m a high school teacher so imagine the childishness I see on a daily basis. You don’t come across as intimidating, if anything it comes across as elitist or entitled. Your opinion is the only right one, you get defensive, you won’t listen to any “wrong” (in your opinion) information, etc… There is so much good take home advice that I see on a daily basis from many posters on this site and your take home is that we’re intimidated? I think not.

    11. Slave

      “Yes, I am arrogant as some of the replies suggested and that is something I have to work on for my next interview.”

      No – this is something you have to work on for your LIFE, not just interviews.

      You think you are better than everyone else, and everyone can tell.

    12. Emily M

      WHOA! OP, I think you’re undermining some of your own claims. People are citing examples and evidence to back their opinions and I’m seeing a lack of evidence to support your statement that:

      “I’m also open minded to others’ views and if another opinion proved to be better than mine, I will quickly accept it and take it on board.”

      Between your hiring issues, your own comments and this candid feedback, I think you have enough data to suggest that it’s time to revise your hypothesis that the world is “intimidated” and “embarrassed” by your brilliance. Maybe there’s an unexamined variable (you) that could better explain this phenomenon. Along those lines, might I suggest that your arrogance issue not be something you work on just “for your next interview.” I suspect you’ll find other areas of your life in which valuing others’ thoughts and ideas as much as you value your own will enrich your thinking and bring you more success.

    13. J.B.

      Wow. I will note that my husband is a really brilliant guy who just didn’t get workplace norms for a few years and struggled. He has improved with experience. And with actually having good bosses who pointed a few things out.

      (In conversations with me he will tell me “that’s stupid” and I will push back. But then I know him well enough to know his good qualities. Coworkers don’t have that kind of patience or care.)

    14. Nutella Nutterson

      I think that you’re coming at this from the wrong side – it’s not about balancing confident/arrogant, it’s about balancing humility and openness to others ideas and experience.

    15. Katie

      This is kind of alarming and disconcerting to me.

      I don’t mean to be hostile, and this is genuinely coming from a place of concern about your well-being, but if there is any way you could see a counselor or access some kind of mental health services, I would strongly recommend doing that.

      Good luck in your job search!

    16. David V.

      May I just say that I feel so connected to you. I have exactly the same problem(s). I know myself I need to work on making people see for themselves that their idea is not the best imaginable, instead of just stating it. I often use strong phrasing, like you, because I think it conveys the message better, but often I put people off by doing that. So in the end, my message isn’t heard at all.
      I think the best advice is to understand that other people think and reason differently from you, that not all people have analytical minds, etc. Their way of approaching problems might actually be better than yours in specific occasions. You need to try to understand in which occasions your reasoning is better, and in which occasions other people’s reasoning is better. (But that’s easier said than done :-))

      1. OP

        Hi David, great to ‘hear’ from you. You analysed the whole picture and read through the lines. Thanks a lot for sharing! It’s quite challenging to have an analytical brain that sees all the variables, analyse all possibilities and study each step before coming to conclusions. It’s exactly like playing chess, you see all the possible moves and consequences, analyse them in your brain and then after thorough thinking you make your move. To be more tactful when coming across to others before speaking is very challenging and demanding. It’s like explaining a detailed image in limited vocabulary words, which is something I’m not articulate in and need to hard work on mastering it.

        I totally understand why this can be encountered as being arrogant, obnoxious, delusional and stiff. Although, as you said, I also have an ability to recognise a valid point from others and swiftly change my whole opinion upon this.

        In this thread for example I thought being judged on likability in an interview was just an excuse to not hire someone who the hiring manager anticipate to be ‘personally undesirable’, which I though was unfair and unprofessional. But then a lot here explained the importance of being ‘fit’ in a work culture which is something I disregarded at first as a major factor in hiring, but now clearly see how it can easily trumps competence!

  29. Emily K

    Re: the right way, place, and time to challenge or defend an idea, I recently read a fantastic book called Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. I can’t recommend it enough for teaching you good communication strategies to ensure that when you’re discussing important points, you and the people you’re discussing with are working towards a shared goal of finding the best solution for everyone, not opposing each other in a contest of whose idea will win. It teaches you how to challenge ideas without coming across in ways that will make the other person feel defensive or insulted, which is a skill I think would serve people in almost any workplace.

  30. Bryce

    When it comes to presenting new ideas, recommending different courses of action, or refuting an argument, some helpful phrases to remember and call on are:

    “Have you considered Option X?”

    “Do you think it would make sense to take Action Y?”

    “That’s a good question/observation/point. Another good question/observation/point is Z.

    “Have you approached this issue from Perspective Q?”

    These phrases make your inputs sound a lot less bossy and overbearing, and allow for the possibility that your suggestion was tried and didn’t/wouldn’t work.

    1. Leslie Yep

      These are great. I think it’s so important to allow for the possibility that your suggestion has already been tried and put out to pasture, especially when you’re new. Not necessarily a reason not to air it, but definitely a reason to make sure you know as much as possible about the context and history of the problem you’re trying to solve so that you’re providing a suggestion that’s actually useful.

      It’s also helpful to tie your suggestion to your team’s vision or stated values – e.g., “We’ve talked about consolidating our procedures with X vendor, and it seems like this is introducing a separate stream from that. Do you think there’s an opportunity to integrate this with the consolidated stream?” Not even because it softens the criticism, but because it contextualizes it.

  31. Anonymous Accountant

    In my opinion, writing AAM to ask for advice shows maturity and a willingness to change. Please do consider taking the advice posted and try to count to ten silently before responding in an interview, especially when you disagree with the interviewer.

    Although you may have success with different research methods, there can be something to be learned from others’ methods. It’ll take some work but maybe try to keep an open mind and try to listen more than you speak, especially in interviews and on the job.

  32. Tinker

    “I’m amused to say the least with some replies as it seems they were very intimidated by the phrasing of my question and lashed back strongly at me; which reflects real life situations where I must have intimidated interviewers.”

    I notice you seem to have a tendency to flatter yourself in the way you describe your issues — you have a “strong personality” that “intimidates people” rather than, say, “a tediously arrogant streak” that “irritates people”.

    Not that self-flagellation is the solution either, but maybe that talent for bluntly telling other people what they’re doing wrong needs another target?

    1. OP :)

      Yes, hhah,, I actually ment to say ” my arrogant personality IRRITATES people” but I used a wrong wording. Thanks for pointing this out.

      1. Jessa

        You know the above phrasing doesn’t leave me with the impression that you actually mean what you said literally, it sounds like you’re putting Tinker down really. Acting like you’re above all this talk. And I realise that tone is hard to tell in print but…the “hhah,” kind of leads that interpretation.

        1. Kelly L.

          Yeah, I’m thinking the “wrong wording” thing is just backpedaling, what with using it twice. Especially from someone who claims to be so direct in speech and so perfectionistic. I think the OP didn’t like the pushback she got on “intimidated” and is trying a different tack.

          1. soapyme

            Exactly. Because “I’m amused that others were *irritated*…” makes no sense!

      2. AMG

        1. Thank God I don’t have to work with you. Good grief!

        2. Keep it up, OP. It won’t bother anyone here if you remain unemployed. You will continue to reap what you sow.

  33. Oxford Comma

    OP, I’m not clear if you’re in academia or not. If you are, well, when we hire people we’re going to be working with them for potentially a very long time. You may be the most brilliant person ever, but we’re going to have to work with you day after day, week after week, year after year. And if we don’t like you, most likely we’re going to have to suck it up and deal. So yeah, likeability and fit become important.

  34. Anonymous

    My nephew is on this “showing people up/throwing things in people’s faces” kick with the concomitant snear and nose perched high in the air, arrogantly dismissing everyone as stupid and everything as inconsequential. When I bring it up with my sis, she says he’s just overcompensating, but at the same time, does not want to crush his ‘natural’ level of confidence. To his credit, he’s a very dedicated student with very high marks in every subject, yet no teacher ever remarks on her personal traits, ever; even the English teachers. That’s a sign to me. If teachers like you, regardless of your grades, they say so. If not, they’re smart enough to know not to say anything.

    Oh, and you should read his college entrance essays! Dripping in sarcasm. And now he’s wondering why he got dinged everywhere except the easiest places to enter, and no scholarship in sight.

  35. Lily

    As an interviewer, I assume that people are inhibited in the interview and they will lose some of their inhibitions on the job, so someone challenging me in the interview about how I run the department is a very bad sign. I would anticipate spending a lot of time persuading this person to do their job. However, I think I can speak from both points of view.

    I’m not opinionated at interviews, because it takes me time to form an opinion, but I can argue too much once I have one. Asking my manager to re-consider his decision repeatedly each time I thought of a new argument was very annoying. His solution was to ask me for a written report explaining all my reasons. It was the perfect solution for me, because I could accept his decision once I felt that I had aired all my arguments. I now voluntarily write reports for each important issue and wait until I can honestly say that circumstances have changed before asking him to re-consider a decision.

    I also try to recognize others decision-making power when I am giving advice. “Based on … I would suggest … but I don’t know what other factors you have to consider. Perhaps if you told me, I could make some suggestions.” Recognition of the others decision-making power is even more important when I suspect I’m about to get bad news. “May I mention 2 points / show you something before you decide?” To conclude, whatever they say should not be ammunition for your argument, because you are on the same side. Winning the debate loses you the job. Can you shift your mindset to brainstorming good ideas together?

    OP, you are knowledgable about the most current research and methods. Can you acknowledge that your manager is going to be very knowledgable about how research labs work in the real world? You were often the reserve; maybe demonstrating an eagerness to learn would tip the decision towards you.

    1. Runon

      Writing up concerns is a great thing. And I highly recommend it to anyone who finds they have trouble communicating potential landmines to management.

      For me part of the trouble was my boss’s boss will suggest something and I’ll look at it and realize it will create a huge amount of overhead. He specifically says he wants to create things with minimal overhead. So I’ll take the idea back, try to rework it into something that would be easier, less overhead. And then I’ll say something like: the initial idea was X it would require all this stuff. Here are a few suggestions that would make it require only this amount of stuff.

      If management wants it the expensive way, it is their prerogative and I’ll do it but at least then they know.

  36. BronxRosie

    Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon who wrote a book called The Last Lecture as he was dying at a very young age of pancreatic cancer. The man truly was brilliant, but in the book, there is a chapter about being a reformed jerk. Basically, he had a professor who said something like, It is a shame that so and so will never hear what you are saying because of the way you say it (total paraphrasing). A great book for all, but especially for anyone who thinks they are the smartest person in the room.

  37. Lanya

    I just turned down a job offer because one of the interviewers was somebody with a “strong personality” like the OP. So…it goes both ways.

  38. ThursdaysGeek

    Being right and getting respect for correctness is something you have to earn, and something that takes time. As others have so eloquently pointed out, tact in an interview is necessary. Even if you disagree, respectfully asking for their reasons is always better than just pointing out they are wrong.

    You have to earn a reputation for being right. First you have to get hired. Then you have to listen and ask questions. If your questions “I see you tried X, but have you considered Y” often result in Y being the correct choice, then eventually, after TIME, you can be more blunt and say “I would try Y over X.” If you don’t get a reputation for being right and tactful, then you’re not right. Because if people don’t hear you, it doesn’t matter if you’re right, and if you’re not respecting them, they won’t hear you.

    I’ve found, no matter how much I know, that I can always learn something from everyone I meet. The student cashier at McDonalds has knowledge that I don’t have, and if I am respectful, I can learn from everyone.

    I would also recommend you read the paper by Kruger and Dunning called “Unskilled and Unaware of it”. The pdf is easy to find. An easy summary: “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. The less you know, the more you think you know.”

    1. Yup

      Virtual high five, hug, and fist bump for the mention of the research paper. The Dunning Kruger effect is my most favorite thing ever. It truly explains every workplace I’ve ever experienced. (And a few personal relationships as well.)

  39. Natalie

    Argh, this is hard to write under my normal handle because it is embarrassing, but here goes. I used to be exactly like this, without even an advanced degree to convince other people I was smarter than them. In fact, it’s something I am still working on and possibly will always need to keep an eye on.

    Without going into too much detail, in my case it was a combination of some internal factors (significant anxiety + coping mechanisms developed during emotionally abuse childhood) reinforced by outside factors (intellectual family full of Aspies that all love to argue about eeeeeeverything).

    In the short term, I found memorizing certain “softening” phrases as other people have mentioned was very helpful in changing how I was perceived. I have also tried to work on my tone of voice but I find that a lot harder for some reason. Long term, I’ve worked on really examining my feelings when I am prompted to act this way. In my case this has been part of a therapy process due to the aforementioned abusive childhood, but there are other, non-therapy options as long as you are willing and able to be really honest and vulnerable with yourself.

    1. OP

      Thanks a lot for posting Natalie and for sharing your experience,, very handy advice. I understand your point about high voice tone. My voice tone is always high, so I really have to be conscious about it being annoying to people.

      1. Rana

        When you say “high” do you mean loud, or do you mean squeaky soprano? I’m assuming loud, but I’m a bit confused by that wording.

    2. Runon

      Growth and change and overcoming difficult situations is something worth being proud of.

      I wonder if this is something that age helps with as well.

      1. Natalie

        I think it probably helps. I was at my “worst” from about 18-23 or so and have mellowed out as I’ve gotten older. But I don’t think age alone would have helped without the focused work on my “stuff”, so to speak.

        1. Laura L

          I know this is late, but wanted to say thanks for sharing Natalie. While everyone has different experiences and different personalities that affect their behavior, that age, 18-24 or so, is also a really common age for that kind of behavior to show up.

          I know I was pretty insufferable when I was around that age. I’ve gotten better, but I still work on it.

          Also, congrats on all your hard work! I hope everything works out well for you.

      2. IronMaiden

        I think maturity more than age helps and that takes time. I agree with you about overcoming difficulties, growing and changing is something to be proud of because it requires courage and commitment.

        OP, you show developing self-awareness and I’m sure you can make yourself into a congenial and valued co-worker with time and effort.

  40. Frank

    In defense of some of the irritating, know-it-alls in the world, there are rare times when the irritating person does not know they are annoying. Many years of bad work history and therapy brought me to a moment of clarity. I am an irritating, know-it all who is too smart for their own good. I am now working on being quiet and not “helping” everyone I see make mistakes.
    In my defense, I didn’t know I was being annoying. I did not know that I have an above normal intelligence. I was never tested and never told that I am gifted. I knew that some members of my family were not as smart as me but I assumed I was normal and they were below normal. Honestly, I really didn’t know!
    I figured everyone in the world was on the same intelligence level I was since I believed I was normal. Then I became frustrated with other people who took longer to learn or made mistakes. I couldn’t understand their problem.
    In my corporate working career, I have been fired, laid off, written up for my “attitude” and told by a boss that “I thought I was better than her.” I lost friends because I was “being obnoxious” with my need to correct everyone. I am so sad that it has taken me so many years to realize that I need to tone myself down and not hold everyone else up to my high standards.
    Since OP has a strong personality and I would guess is intelligent, find someone to help you moderate the way you talk and act so you are not so aggressive and forward. It is a struggle to change but you will find that not only does it make it easier to work with others, it actually helps in your personal connections.

    1. Just a Reader

      So…the advice dumb it down for all the knuckle draggers who can’t relate to your high level of intelligence. They can’t help their subpar intelligence.

      Yeah, I don’t think that’s the OP’s problem, or yours.

      1. Frank

        Wow, just wow.
        I am just being honest about my situation and how I am working on myself.
        Again, I don’t mean to be condescending but apparently even in writing I come across that way.
        I am sorry if it appears that way to anyone who reads my post.

        1. Just a Reader

          It came across to me as an issue of nobody else being intelligent enough to be able to relate to you or the OP–NOT that there’s an issue of communication and collaboration with you or the OP. That’s really the challenge…not that the rest of the world is stupid.

        2. E

          Part of the problem is the implication that the “high standard” to which you hold everyone else seems to be one of impossible perfection, since our “problem” is that we “make mistakes.”

          Cognizance of the different ways people learn and process information is a good thing. The assumption that your particular learning style or speed empowers you to look down on others is not.

        3. Tasha

          FWIW, that post didn’t come across as condescending to me, although you do sound frustrated.

          My experience may be similar: I skipped five grades and received a number of awards for academic work that look impressive on paper. I don’t tend to bring it up in conversation and I’ve worked hard on playing well with others, so most people just come to know my work and see me as a generally smart, reliable person.

          At the same time, I’ve gradually reallized that don’t process visual and verbal stimuli in the same way as people who are closer to average. I can go weeks without talking to someone who sees the world the way I do, and that can get pretty lonely. People do occasionally note that I skip steps in explanations or come across as condescending, and I think about it seriously and make improvements to how I present myself to others. Social skills are something I’ve had to hone through time and practice, and that’s probably true for a number of gifted people.

          1. Tasha

            (And the typo demon strikes again. I meant *realized* and *I* don’t process…)

        4. Someone

          Frank, what you said was lovely and kind – to yourself and others. Don’t doubt yourself because someone (who does not know you) didn’t like what you said. You were fine, and thank you for what you wrote.

        5. Anonymous

          Actually I do understand a bit where you are coming from. Part of it is culture and socialization. I know plenty of very successful people who were told to tone it down- a lot! But they mostly worked in finance or a field where customer interaction was not present.

          Brilliant with numbers or chosen field but they had to learn to get along with others.
          Really the only place where this would be an asset would be a collections job or possibly sales… but even that is changing and people want “relationship builders” and not aggression.

          For some reason I have an ability to scan/read an article and remember stupid facts and numbers. I don’t know how, but as an example, I had a friend in the ER having an EKG done. I could draw the ekg exactly and also what they were looking while doing it. I can probably draw it today, and it’s been 6 months.

          There are people who hate this about me. They think I’m a “know it all” and usually will argue and Google to prove me wrong…
          So I mostly keep this to myself and only my friends and boyfriend (he still gets mad sometimes!)

          By all means I do not have a remarkable IQ. I do read a lot and maybe that has something to do with it.

          I would venture to say that overconfidence turns into arrogance pretty quickly…

      2. Sarah

        Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems like Frank is just trying to relate to the OP through his own personal experiences (which is having a strong personality and being very opinionated) – In his case, he says a lot of it has to do with intelligence. Some people just don’t take social cues very well, yes, its annoying, but I really don’t think he needs to be verbally attacked because he’s trying to help… Some people ARE smarter than others, that’s why there’s a huge difference between a community college and MIT… I’m not saying everyone going to MIT is necessarily condescending, but they probably do have to “dumb down” their conversations sometimes. I really think Frank is getting a bad rap for just being honest and trying to help.

        1. Just a Reader

          If you rub everyone you work with the wrong way, it’s not because you’re smarter than they are. It’s a social issue.

        2. E

          It doesn’t take above-average intelligence to annoy people by constantly pointing out when they’re wrong. I give Frank credit for realizing this, but my irritation stemmed in part from his reluctance to take responsibility for it. It’s enough to say “I used to do this, but I realized how much it bothered people, so I’ve tried to stop.” You don’t need to imply “…but I was justified in doing it because all of those people were morons and now I just bite my tongue and take solace in my superior intellect.”

        3. khilde

          I agree with you. I didn’t get a feeling of continuing condescension from Frank. He seems to be aware of how his past behaviors have not worked out. It makes me think of school when our teacher made us read portions of our textbook outloud. In my 6th grade mind, it pissed me off to no end how horrible some kids were at reading. It annoyed me – I excelled at reading. Now as an adult I realize that not everyone has the same strengths (I was the math idiot and a terrible athlete – I’m sure I annoyed the crap out of everyone that excelled in those areas). Some of us just take longer than others to develop an empathic perspective toward people.

          1. Anonymous

            Yes, I think it’s more a social thing.. and if you are super smart in school you usually don’t have the same social connections simply because you are more interested in school! This turns into arrogance very quickly without the person even realizing it.

            Plus there is more than one type of intelligence. I know a lot of people who are book smart, but common sense is GONE.

    2. E

      The last paragraph is helpful, I guess, but this really strikes me as an immensely grating comment.

    3. Kaz

      Did you never, ever ran into a person who is smarter than you?

      It doesn’t sound like you have an intelligence problem.. it sounds like you have an empathy problem. I hope you did not point and laugh at small children who fell off the monkey bars.

  41. JW

    *insert gif of eating popcorn*
    This is turning out to be a fun thread.

    I love AAM.

    1. khilde

      Yes! When I saw 269 comments I was psyched that this was going to be a good read.

  42. Jess

    I used to work with someone who used to brag about her “directness”. In reality, she was just really, really rude. Tact is a wonderful thing and so underrated.

    1. Just a Reader

      And it’s critical to getting things done. Do you want to be right, or do you want to be effective?

    2. Natalie

      And really, one can be direct and tactful, at the same time! It’s unfortunate that so many people believe politeness necessarily means one must be indirect.

      1. Ash

        Not only that, but to be polite, you also can’t criticize at all and must only be positive and praising. It’s annoying.

      2. A Bug!

        It’s true! Tactful assertiveness is absolutely a skill. I cringe inwardly when I hear someone bragging about things like this. “Yeah, I know, I’m a B, but I get things done! Squeaky wheel gets the grease!”

        Yeaaaaah, no. You’re expressing pride in a willful lack of interpersonal skills. Your manner may “get things done” but it’s absolutely not the only way to do it, just the easiest.

        Gracious and effective are rarely mutually-exclusive. But many people see it as a choice between being a meek milquetoast and being an aggressive bully, with the latter being the only way to achieve a goal, when that’s really a false dichotomy.

  43. AllisonD

    People have to want to work with you and if your interpersonal manner is unpleasant (e.g. over-confident, challenging, dismissive, etc.) you will not be a valuable addition to any team.

    I have been in my current position for 2.5 years. It is a senior position and I lead a key function within a 1,200-person company. I work cross-organizationally with a variety of strategy decision makers. People need to trust me and I need to be perceived as a resource.

    It was a lengthy interview process and there were a LOT of candidates. It came down to me and one other person, I was told. I recieved and accepted the offer. After being on board several months, I casually asked around about the selection process for my position because I was curious. I hear the same from a number of people: the other candidate was an arrogant jerk; we were equally skilled and experienced, which brought the decision to personality, likeability and ultimately, who people felt they would be comfortable working with.

    I also heard repeatedly, including from the CEO, that this company has a firm NO A#*holes policy. Once skills and experience are established, this policy strongly guides candidate selection.

    So, think about this and how you intereract with those who are interviewing you. Yes, personality and likeability plays once skills are established. Your interpersonal manner can be the make or break point. Good luck.

    1. K Too

      @AllisonD – Your company has an awesome policy!

      OP, let the AAM comments marinate in your brain because they speak the truth. It’s great that you are smart and know your stuff, but if you are coming across as arrogant and condescending, that behavior may not work too well amongst your future peers – unless it’s a company that hires a lot of people with your way of thinking.

      I worked briefly at a company with a handful of team members just like you. A lot of this behavior trickled-down from upper management, so those who were into “playing the game” acted just the same.

      I began to hate some of my co-workers because of the arrogance and arguments over who was right or wrong.

      To this day, I think turnover in that department is in heavy rotation.

      You’ve recognized the problem, now it’s time to work on toning down that problem. Good luck!

  44. BCW

    Wow. I do think some of the comments on here are pretty harsh. To me the OP seems like someone who is more socially inept (for lack of a better term) than someone who truly thinks they are better than other people. I just think the OP really does believe they are right (and very well may be) and doesn’t think its wrong to let people know that. Its possible they aren’t great at reading social cues either. One of my good friends is like this. He is super smart, and always has to find a way to let people know that he thinks he is smarter than them. It took me a while to warm up to him , because I learned he wasn’t doing it intentionally to be a dick, thats just his personality. With that said, I would hate to work with him, but he’s a good guy.

    1. Jane Doe

      I don’t really care whether someone is arrogant and annoying because they think they’re better or because they’re just socially inept – there’s a point in life where that’s not really a good excuse for being a dick.

      I suspect that people end up acting like this because no one with lots of influence in their life ever told them that X behavior wasn’t okay.

      In a way, however, I think it’s a distinction without a difference. There is something inherently socially inept about this kind of arrogance (especially without the track record to back it up).

    2. Ash

      Wait, he has to find a way to let people know he thinks he’s smarter than them, but he’s not doing it intentionally? Those two things are mutually exclusive. Your friend does sound like a dick.

  45. Sarah

    OP, everyone has give you great advice and I just wanted to second them by suggested you take it and swallow a humble pill at the same time. I’ll give you an example of how much personality matters in the work place. I only have a BA and I got my current position and beat out someone with a PhD from Yale… In my working experience, education comes second to work experience (which you have none). I feel like maybe you’re looking down at the interviewer and everyone for the way their doing things, but they may be looking down on you pretty soon if you don’t join the gainfully employed. I wouldn’t be putting this so directly, but I think it is imperative that you change your way of thinking about yourself and realize that there are a LOT of smart people out there, who are highly educated and easy to work with. You’ve obviously gotten this far in life, you must be in your late 20’s? Is this the first time that your personality has thwarted you? Do you have a lot of close friendships/ a partner? I think really making an effort to be less abrasive and look at other people’s perspectives may help you a good deal.

    1. OP

      Thanks for your advice Sarah. Of course I agree that work experience is very important and frankly I worked after getting my BSc for 4 years at a University. After that I wanted to continued my PhDs. So, I’m in my early thirties, have lots of close friends, married and have 2 kids.
      I’m not abrasive frankly,, my children can testify to this :)

            1. Chinook

              Actually, having English as a second language could be hugely important as there can be some lingering vocal and cultural cue in your accent that come off as brusque and rude in English which aren’t in your native tongue. For example, I have found that those who speak German and Dutch as a first language often sound more abrupt and even angry even if their accent is barely noticeable. It has to do with the sounds of the original language, I believe, translating to something similair in English but not the same to the ear.

              There is also a possibility that your body language is communicating something else completely in English than it would in your own culture. For example, growing up around First Nations kids, I never learned to make eye contact with others when speaking and actually find it very intimidating. But, because I know it makes me look like I am hiding something or that I am bored to most of the people I am around, I have learned to fake it by looking at their mouth instead.

          1. Anonymously Anonymous

            Ah ESL, agreeing with Chinook. I had beautiful Polish twin students a few years ago and whenever they said my name or spoke in general it sounded very direct and authoritative. I would jokingly become startled. :) Same thing with a Russian student–she was so sweet and shy but when she spoke her accent coupled with the few short English phrases she knew, came off very harsh.

            1. Windchime

              I have a co-worker whose first language is Russian. She is a wonderful person, very warm and funny and extremely smart. But she is butting heads with a co-worker (whose first language is Chinese) because her communication can come off as very harsh and bullying, when really she doesn’t mean it that way at all. It’s a real challenge. We are a new team, so hopefully we can all get past it.

              1. Anonymously Anonymous

                It’s easier to forgive when it’s a child. When my Russian student would ask for help with please and thank you pleasantries attached–it didn’t sound so pleasant.

                Funny I was thinking about the op misuse of the word intimidated and a almost similar situation. We use manipulatives in math and the word manipulative is pre-printed, in context to other activities, on sheets we send home. I had a Spanish parent apologize profusely the next day
                about how she corrected her son’s manipulativebehavior. Sometimes even my American born and raised parents will just check to make sure “he/she wasn’t being fresh, right?”

      1. OP

        And to answer your question. No, I did not encounter any problems getting a job after my BSc, my personality wasn’t an issue in 4 years of work!

        1. Tasha

          Perhaps you could think about the styles of communicaiton that you adopted while getting a Ph.D. Did professors encourage you to be more assertive? Did you work a lot with someone who had a “strong personality”?

          If that problem wasn’t present before entering a doctoral program, that might actually be a good sign. You probably used a different set of baseline behaviors at some point as an adult, so there’s something to go back to which 1) feels natural to you and 2) sounds good to potential employers and colleagues. Good luck!

  46. soapyme

    Confidence is great. I lack it, and I’m envious of other people that do have it. One reason I suck at interviews is because the idea of selling myself such a foreign concept to me.

    But OP seems unwilling to consider s/he might not know best, or admit to being wrong. Even with the follow-up comment – trying to explain away “intimidating” by saying s/he meant “irritating” sounds like backpedaling, as someone wrote earlier. Why can’t you acknowledge your words might be an example of why people are turned off by you?

  47. Jamie

    I challenge interviewers with the way they are running their research and put my ideas forward.

    Leaving the personality stuff aside as that’s been covered – this isn’t about challenging them nicely or finding softer phrasing…it’s about the lack of logic in assuming you have the facts to challenge them on anything internal at that point.

    If I were asked in an interview to opine about how they did XYZ I could give ideas in the abstract but I would make it very clear that there is no way to have a definitive opinion on work matters without having the data to draw on. What are the current processes, what factors need to be taken into consideration, are there policy or legislative issues at play…and if pressed I’d send Alison an email bitching about an interviewer wanting me to put a flag in the ground when I haven’t the data.

    IMO this will hurt the OP no matter how deftly she learns to phrase it or how personable she becomes. Because anyone having definite opinions without the knowledge on which to base them will shoot themselves in the foot. It’s naive and bespeaks a learning curve about the difference between the theory’s learned intellectually and the reality of the workplace.

    If someone has already made the point then just disregard – crazy day and I just skimmed the comments.

    1. soapyme

      I agree. I was puzzled by other commenters telling OP to soften suggestions for improvement. In an interview, you do not know the circumstances. You don’t even work there yet and you already know what’s best? Unless you have been specifically asked what you would do instead, don’t tell people how they should do their work.

    2. Nicole

      I could not agree more. Unless specifically asked, an interview is not the place for this type of conversation at all.

  48. ThursdaysGeek

    Intelligence, knowledge, wisdom.

    I have an analogy. Intelligence is how big the gas tank is, knowledge is how much gas is in the tank, and wisdom is the mileage you get from the fuel. You can have a huge tank, and it can be completely full, but if you get lousy mileage, you’re not going to go as far as the person with a smaller tank and better mileage. And when buying a car, people don’t generally care about how big the tank is, they care about the mileage. In fact, most people who talk about the size of the tank are those who tend to get lousy mileage.

    But here’s the cool thing: intelligence is something you’re born with and doesn’t change much. But you can keep adding knowledge and wisdom to the mix, and those will completely overshadow the innate size of the tank. And think how far you can go with a large and full tank, and great mileage!

    1. Jamie

      I love this post so much – every word of it.

      It’s being printed out now and will be go on my fridge at home – next to my “You’ll know you’re a real auditor when…” list (cracks me up – family has no idea why it’s funny. Sigh.)

      Actually ThursdaysGeek’s post will get the highest honor – I will use my Hello Kitty KISS magnet to put it up (and cover the spider…because it’s my kitchen and no arachnids allowed.)

      Such a great analogy.

      1. ThursdaysGeek

        Your Hello Kitty KISS magnet?! I am truly honored. (I really liked the matching gravatar.) I am especially honored because from reading your comments over the last few months, I think you get great mileage.

        1. Chinook

          Add me to the list of people printing out the analogy. It is the perfect description.

  49. ADE

    Here’s the real question, though- some of us are just socially awkward. And this might be what we’re working on. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and I don’t think yelling at the OP is going to help us or the OP, particularly since the OP is AWARE of this issue. It’s those who are unaware who are more problematic.

    So how to socially awkward people get jobs? How do people on the autism spectrum find work? One possibility is just to acknowledge that you are still working on your people-skills in an interview, and that you can come across as arrogant without intending to. Another is to write down everything you think should be changed and save it for an appropriate time. Another is to make sure you’re in a good fit job for you.

    One of my buddies has Aspeberger’s and hides it fairly well on the surface by knowing how to be very, very friendly and warm to people. But even his friendliness and warmth has a fairly mechanical, learned quality to it- in other words, he’s adored by all, but being “friendly” and “at ease” is not his natural state. Hang in there.

    1. fposte

      This isn’t about somebody on the spectrum, though. This is about attitude and beliefs, not wiring.

      1. Cat

        I don’t know that that’s entirely true (I don’t know it isn’t either; I think we can’t make a call from what we know). I think te beliefs expressed by the OP are not uncommon in people who are non-neurotipical because when it’s obvious your mind works differently from other people’s but not obvious why, you are left to sort that out yourself and come to conclusions that may or may not be correct about why other people are reacting the way they are. Which isn’t to say the advice given the OP on this thread isn’t accurate either way – it is – but that the reasons people behave arrogantly are often more complicated than they first appear.

        1. ADE

          Cha-ching.spectrum or no, it isn’t fair to tell OP to be “less arrogant” as if people can change behavior by will alone. we don’t tell people to be sober or less fat and yell at them when they struggle towards a goal.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I’m confused by this, because will is generally the only way to change behavior. Acting like a jerk isn’t the same thing as being fat or an alcoholic; it’s a lot easier to fix, and you would indeed do it by will alone.

  50. Corporate Drone

    I just wanted to add that our most recent divisional president had a “strong personality” too, which translated into despotic rule under which no one could disagree with him. This lead to two years during which very little innovation took place. He was just booted last month.

    It is not an admirable quality in a leader. Coming from someone who not only has no employment experience, but who also is interviewing for a position, it is arrogant at best.

  51. Another Emily

    I get the impression from your comments that you really are trying OP, so good on ya. It’s hard to confront one’s personal flaws and nobody changes a bad habit or attitude in an instant.

    My own fatal flaw is I talk too much. This has impacted my work, but it mainly affects me socially by annoying or alienating my friends. I’ve been working on this issue for years and I’m still not quite there. Talking too much is embarassing and confronting this issue has been hurtful at times, but worth the effort.

    Maybe your sister would be willing to help you? She seemed receptive to your question about the one word that comes to mind when thinking of you. However, if you get someone to help you like this you have to be kind. It’s difficult and awkward to tell the ones we love hard truths. If you get feedback that feels hurtful (been there!) don’t have a row with your sister about it. Just say “I’ll need some time to deal with that, this issue is hard for me.” And then talk about something else or go have some time by yourself.

    Be kind to people helping you, but also be kind to yourself. You are not an obnoxious, arrogant or annoying person. You have some behaviours and attitudes that are these things, and that’s what needs to change. Having a personality flaw that you’re working on doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you as a person.

    So tl;dr… I’ve been in your shoes. Be kind to yourself and others. Work on changing negative behaviours and attitudes. Your effort will pay off and you’ll feel great about yourself.

  52. Cat

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is that I think one thing that can be helpful when your impulse is to argue with people in positions of authority is to reframe the power dynamic mentally in your mind. I think a lot of us grew up with the assumption that we couldn’t do anything to people we perceive as having power over us that would hurt them – whether that be teachers or the popular kids at school or whatever. And that leads to a mental habit that the only reason you then have for pulling your punches with them is so they will like you, not to avoid hurting them. Which then makes pulling your punches feel like a cop out to be nice rather than a way to interact with people like a nice human being.

    So when you’re interviewing someone, you may be subconsciously thinking of them as in a position of power over you – so why would they care what you say about their research? They know they can squash you like a bug so they should want to hire someone who can hold their own even given that power differential. In reality, though, they’re humans with feelings who are looking for someone who will be a peer who they can have a give-and-take with. And a give-and-take involves both sides thinking about how to frame things because they know that it’s going to matter to both parties how it comes off.

    It’s like that 30 Rock episode where Liz went back to her high school reunion and realized she had been the bully in high school; she thought she was just using sarcasm as a defense mechanism against the popular kids but really they were all pretty crushed by her.

  53. Anonymously Anonymous

    All this talk about Sheldon and cats makes me want to sing ‘soft Kitty, warm Kitty, little ball of fur… I love that show.

  54. dilladop

    This is probably going to ruffle somebody’s feathers, somewhere, but this person sounds like they may be on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. I have dealt with many and they can be just like this, appearing arrogant and loud about it. The OP may actually be quite knowledgeable, but their arrogance overrides it all. The sad thing is that the OP probably doesn’t really understand how they appear (and they may never be able to). It is very difficult to raise a child with this issue and teach them how they come across. Not all parents do it equally well, unfortunately, and the children suffer as adults. They may not understand, but you can teach them to mimic others behavior in similar situations. It’s a long, taxing process, but these behaviors can be ameliorated somewhat. Look at Temple Grandin.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      There are many people who display these behaviors who don’t have autism or other disorders. Let’s be more cautious about throwing out diagnoses for strangers!

  55. Michael Hoffman

    I’ve done a lot of biology interviews recently for management-level positions. One of the reasons to hire a new PhD-level scientist is because they will have different skills and expertise from yourself and your existing staff. I believe to most supervisors that would be a plus, and I am pretty likely to offer my opinion in the interviews. Instead of “challenging” the interviewers, however, I am more likely to gently say “have you ever thought about doing X instead?” Their response will then determine my response. Most often they have a very good reason for doing it their way (and the reason may simply be that they have other priorities, which is valid). Sometimes they just seem opposed to reconsidering, in which case I drop it. And sometimes they will ask why I think X could be better in which case we discuss it further. But let them take the lead a little here.

  56. Nicole

    OP, one thing I’d like to emphasize is that you should also think beyond how you can tone down this interviews and focus on how you can approach this just as a general life skill. Because even if you get the job, coming in on your first day telling your boss that his ideas are “rubbish” and suggesting you know how to do everything better than people who have been there for years is not going to go over well.

  57. Cassie

    As to the question about whether likability should play a role in hiring, absolutely. It doesn’t matter how brilliant you are, if people don’t want to deal with you and actively avoid you, it will not be good for the business or organization. There are a few cranky professors in our department (some old and some not so old) and I honestly wonder how they ever got hired. Maybe they were much nicer at the time they interviewed?

    I think I can tell within 5 minutes if it’s someone that I will not or do not like. I’m usually apathetic about most people but some people have an extremely grating personality that you can spot quickly. It’s not just the way they act, but also the words they use. One job applicant who worked at a medical clinic previously called the patients “cuckoo”. Maybe they were, who knows, but it made me wonder what she’d say about difficult faculty or students that she would invariably have to deal with.

    That’s not to say I’m not wrong – I thought a new girl at work would be snobby (just based on her appearance when she was introduced to everyone) but she turned out to be one of my closest friends at work.

  58. Mike

    Take the Meyer-Briggs test. I am INTP with a side of bipolar disorder so I can completely empathize. You can try and use your negatives as a positive. At some point in the interview you will always be asked “do you have any questions for us?” This is your opportunity. Clearly state “I am very excited by your research and would really like to ask some in-depth questions.” Without mentioning yourself or your ideas you can now be as aggressive as you want (tone it down per above) in asking whatever you want. Never use the word “I” in this conversation. Ask questions and listen to the responses but you have now steered the interview in a direction you can excel at – intellectual curiosity. Have a script of five killer questions that show you know that you are poking a stick at the relevant spot. Again, not “I would” but “Would you?”, “Why did you?” “did you try?”. By poking at a relevant spot the interviewer will either see you are genuinely smart, or that you are genuinely interested, you genuinely want to learn, you have genuinely thought about it, you genuinely care the direction the research is going. Use your intellect to learn in the interview but learn the way you learn by challenging.

    And have a script. Have your sister review the script with you. Edit the script. Review the script. Memorize the script. Read the script in front of your husband and sister. Update the script. Use the script.

    1. Mike

      And when you have finished your five questions say something like “how much longer do we have in the interview? I have so many more questions to ask.” Or “I have more questions – could we continue to talk over lunch?”. In the best case you will get a free lunch in the worst case they will see you have social skills

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Hmmm, I wouldn’t say “can we continue to talk over lunch?” If the interviewer is willing to do that, they will suggest it — but normally that’s going to come across as inconsiderate of their time. Certainly if you still have more questions, you should ask them before you take an offer — but don’t ask for more of their time when you haven’t even heard yet if they’re interested in moving forward with you.

        1. Mike

          My wife is on Faculty at a major Eastern State University. As Vice Dean she is the “hiring manager” with the Dean providing the rubber stamp. The Vice Dean and the search committee agree on the job description, the position is posted, winnowed to twenty for phone interviews, and winnowed to three for face-to-face.

          An academic interview in her department lasts two days. The candidate is interviewed by each member of the search committee on day one – the search committee typically takes the candidate to dinner. The next morning the Vice Dean has breakfast with the candidate. This is followed by meetings with the department head in which the new candidate will be working and the Department administrator. The candidate is typically let go before noon on the second day.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            That’s a very different situation than most interviews. Certainly asking to continue the conversation over lunch could make sense in that context.

          2. Cassie

            Academia is different because there’s usually a faculty vote when recruiting new faculty. In our dept, candidates are here for about 1.5 days, which includes a dinner, two lunches and possibly two breakfasts, with a seminar and lots of 1:1 meetings in there. After the visits, the recruitment committee selects a small number of candidates to pursue (depending on how many openings there are) and the chair and dean approve the candidates. THEN the dept faculty have to vote to approve making offers to the candidates – I’m not sure if it’s only tenured faculty that get a vote or if it’s all tenure-track faculty. And I’m not sure by what margin the vote has to be (simple majority?).

            Unlike a “regular” interview where the job applicant has to impress the hiring panel, in academia, you also have to impress your prospective colleagues. It doesn’t matter how much the chair or the dean (heck, even the Chancellor) wants a specific candidate – if the majority of the faculty say no way, it’s a no.

    2. OP

      Yes,, great ideas and impressive use of phrases Mike. I will certainly take this advice on board.

    3. Mike

      Sorry. I must have fat fingered and deleted part of my first response. You are a PhD research scientist. Going into the interview you will have read every paper the lab has published in the last 10 years. You will have read every grant proposal. Looked at every grant reward. Looked at the people who joined the lab and what special skills they brought with them. From this you can use your skills to trace back what they did and project forward what they are going to do next. Look at the jumps in logic, look at the holes, look at the branches, look at the direction of the vector and use that to develop the questions and the script. Have five questions – use two. Have a conversation over the coffee pot over those two. Again if it is a good question they will know you are smart. If it is a bad question they will explain it and you can use it to bridge to the next question.

    1. OP

      Thanks a lot for this Mike. I read the personality profile and a lot of it strikes a nerve :)

        1. OP

          Yes,
          Introvert(89%) iNtuitive(25%) Thinking(75%) Judging(78%)

          I might be ISTJ rather than INTJ!

          1. Eva

            Hmm – very interesting! With those test scores you are very likely S rather than N; the bias on that particular test is towards N so almost all errors are in that direction.

  59. Eva

    Wow, I read this post yesterday and thought, “OP sounds like a textbook case of INTJ, but I already posted enough about MBTI here,” and went on my way. Upon returning to read the comments I’m happy to see others have brought it up!

    Shameless plug: Click on my name to go to the INTJ page on my site. It’s filled with examples of “strong personalities.”

        1. SW

          The site design is cool, too. I’ve only looked at a few types so far — what type do you think Nikola Tesla is?

          1. Eva

            Thanks! We actually have Tesla on the INTJ page. He’s not a prototypical INTJ though, so that’s why he’s not at the top of the page.

  60. Chris Hogg

    OP, first, you have gotten 15 interviews. In today’s uncertain / down economy, and in the biology field, that is something to be rightfully proud of and especially thankful for. And how affirming to be told that you were fantastic in an interview and to be the runner-up in several interviews.

    You state: “I was wondering if it is fair at all to be judged on likability? I mean, how can they really know from a 40-minute interview if they like someone?”

    In a job interview, the process of liking or not liking someone begins immediately, the instant the candidate and interviewer(s) become aware of each other. In many (but certainly not all) cases the interview is over before the candidate walks from the office door to the chair.

    If an interviewer likes the candidate, he or she will most likely spend the rest of the interview time asking questions and engaging in dialogue with the desperate hope that the candidate will meet the interviewer’s expectations, will live up to being liked.

    That you got an invitation to interview says that the employer believes you have the basic skills, experience and knowledge to do the job. After that, generally, it’s mostly about fit, about likability if you will.

    You’re married, so think about getting work like getting married. You may have had several suitors, many of which had those technical qualities you were looking for (nice personality, health, earning ability, cool car, etc) but in the end it probably boiled down to which one you liked the most.

    Is it fair to be judged on likability? Probably not. Do we all, most of the time, judge others on likability? Yes.

    Again, congratulations on getting those interviews. Good job.

    1. OP

      Thanks a lot for your comments Chris! This is a very refreshing way to look at such situations; you certainly showed me the picture in an overall positive way. I agree with what you said, I should be proud of the quantity of interviews in these difficult times and with all the positive feedback given to me. I’m still standing by my opinion that likability (although an important factor) should not be a major player in choosing the best candidate for the job. In a professional working environment it is healthy to have a combination of minds and personalities rather than nodding clones of the hiring manager. Having said that; I’m aware that I’m not the employer and thus my opinion is not relevant really. I just have to play the game I guess :)
      Thanks again for your comment; I really appreciate it!

  61. Chris Hogg

    We’re not talking about being a nodding clone here. Nobody (except the very dysfunctional) wants an employee to be a nodding clone. But as so many have said above, there is a way to express appropriate thoughts and ask appropriate questions without being unlikable.

    And actually, your opinion is very relevant. That is the purpose of the interview, to solicit, hear and evaluate your opinion. Again, it’s not so much what we say, as how we say it.

    Finally, yes, you (and everyone else in this thread) just have to play the game. But it’s not a “game” in the way your tone seems to indicate. It’s the way business and government and academia gets done. It’s the way the world goes around.

    I imagine this has been a difficult conversation for you, and many commenters here have been fairly blunt. Yet you have hung in there, responded several times, and seem to be holding up pretty well. I do sense kind of a resigned, somewhat discouraged, “oh well” feeling right now, but, it doesn’t have to be that way. Take all these comments to heart, lighten up a little, enjoy the process and be thankful – you’re almost at the finish line and only a step or two away from success.

  62. OP

    Yes, I agree with you of course. I’m actually quite humbled by the volume of responses I had to my query. I couldn’t believe the number of people that cared enough to give me an insightful opinion. I wasn’t bothered or discouraged at all by some of the harsh comments. On the contrary; It opened my eyes on how abrasive I can come across, and admittedly I have to work hard on my dialogue tact and clarity!

  63. Tekia

    In a world of common sense, self confidence can be shown by having poise, not proving to be right. Most employers are interested in your experience, but more so how you convey them. If you do not seem like a team player, then you do not fit. Over doing your interview, and embarrassing someone does not make you qualified. I makes you seem insecure, and attached to your position as a “lift.” A Doctorates degree should have taught you to be collaborative, and romance (not literally) your way in! There are some things formal education cannot teach.

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