Interview Tips: Don’t Come Across as a Prima Donna

Do you consider yourself a “rock star” talent, but can’t land a job? Is your email inbox filled with rejections, despite your skills and experience? You might need to adjust how you approach the interviewing process.

When you’re smart and capable, you may (inadvertently) come across to interviewers and recruiters as an egotistical expert who is difficult to work with. Although tech executives always want to hire the best and brightest, many also believe that having too many in-house prima donnas sows chaos and conflict.

What criteria do managers use to spot potential “divas” during the hiring process? They look for candidates who are inflexible and don’t seem to value others’ opinions, according to Ben Schippers, a technology investor and CEO of NYC-based HappyFunCorp, which develops web and mobile apps.

“For example, not being receptive to other styles of programming is a sign of ‘prima donnaism,’” he noted.

Naturally, you want to put your best foot forward when you meet with a hiring manager. Here are some behaviors to avoid, as well as techniques for displaying a healthy dose of self-confidence without crossing the line. 

Show Up On Time

Being late to an interview can convey a lack of interest, if not an outright lack of respect for others’ time. “If you’re late to an interview, to me that’s a sign that you can’t ship a product on time,” Schippers said.

Prima donnas often assume their work is important enough to skip team meetings. They rarely show up to events on time. In essence, they hurt team morale by prioritizing their own interests over those of others.

By showing up on time to the interview, you can mitigate the impression that you only care about your own schedule.

Moderate Your Opinions

Most tech managers want to hear your ideas for improving code quality or developing scalable applications. But you may seem controlling or arrogant if you insist on having everything your way, or disregard the current business priorities.

Avoid phrases that seem critical or judgmental; taking a positive spin on your opinions can make everyone feel more comfortable. For instance, instead of saying: “I can’t see why anyone would choose Python,” outline the reasons why you’ve jumped on the JavaScript bandwagon, or how another, non-Python language is the best one for a particular project. Don’t spend time unnecessarily disparaging the company’s technology choices; for all you know, the hiring manager is the one who instituted them.

Conveying openness and flexibility is often key in an interview. Instead of positioning your opinion on a particular technology as the “only right way,” suggest that you’re amenable to all sorts of solutions to technical problems. And don’t forget to solicit feedback from the interviewer: that not only shows that you’re willing to listen to others—it can give you valuable insight into how the company works.

Share the Credit

You definitely want to highlight your greatest achievements during an interview—but unless you share the credit, you risk coming across as a self-focused glory hog.

“Be sure to mention the role and contributions of others when describing the way you approached a project and why it was a success,” explained management consultant and business coach Liz Kislik.

How did other people support you, and how did you help them? It’s vital to share credit for achievements that require teamwork and interdepartmental collaboration.

In addition, don’t lay blame for problems and failures at everyone’s door but your own. “Don’t refer to demanding customers or stakeholders as a ‘pain’ when responding to situational questions,” Kislik added. Instead, focus on what you did to help resolve the situation, and how a stakeholder’s high standards helped your team perform at a higher level.

Be a Giver, Not a Taker

While you always want to negotiate a compensation package that is commensurate with your level of expertise, expressing a strong sense of entitlement or demanding special treatment during the interview and hiring process can earn you prima donna status and a quick trip to the exit.

Prima donnas often have an overinflated view of their self-worth. They focus intensely on pay and compensation during the interview process, rather than what they can contribute to the team and organization. If you don’t want to be viewed as someone who is selfish or hard to please, demonstrate concern and a willingness to solve the biggest problem on the hiring manager’s plate before asking: “What’s in it for me?”

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