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How to Project Humility in the Interview Process

Updated: Jan 18


We are committed to helping our clients hone their interviewing skills to focus on vetting and attracting the best talent. Leaders know that top professionals have no interest working in ego-heavy cultures, and one question they commonly ask is, “how do I project humility as the interviewer without eroding the perceived confidence in my leadership ability?”

Prove your company has “no fear of failure.”

If your company is truly not afraid of failure, you should be excited to talk about the biggest mistakes the company has made and how the leadership responded to the outcome. Did the leader publicly take ownership, lead a solid postmortem process, and celebrate the accelerated learning that was the result of the failure? If so, share what those results were and how your company continues to grow from failure.

Demonstrate your awareness.

To be human is to have biases when facing critical decisions under pressure with emotional elements. Sharing how your team works through these situations is a great tactic to demonstrate teamwork and how you’re taking steps as a leader to increase bias awareness.

Be open about your fears.

Fear is the root of egotistical behaviors, often leading to failed outcomes. Leaders who are confident talking about their fears create a culture where others are led to be comfortable being honest and open. Awareness is the first step in creating a culture of humility.

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”    -Ernest Hemingway

Projecting humility is important on both sides of the interview. If you’re going through the process as a candidate, prepare your responses to these 3 questions to avoid getting caught in a humility question trap:

What are your 3 biggest mistakes?

Embrace the fact that smart leaders value what you have learned from your mistakes more than from your achievements. The bigger the mistake, the more you are seasoned. Your answer reflects your maturity and ability to handle pressure. If the mistakes are too minor, it could mean you are too risk-averse to be a great leader.

What is your personal development activity?

To action humility is to have a personal development plan. It’s important for leaders to balance the amount of time and commitment they spend developing the team with developing their own personal skills. Too often we find leaders who hide behind “team” initiatives thinking they are helping to promote their humility, only to realize they are looked upon as lacking commitment.

What were the largest contributors to your success?

This is the perfect time to give credit to your mentors who were persistent and patient with your mistakes and committed to your success. Open up about the long-term relationships you’ve maintained, and how those mentors or peers were able to help you identify and develop what you didn’t know. Every professional’s career is limited by the quality of their mentors, mentorship is the greatest advantage of the best companies.

The steps in actioning humility are the same for both leaders and teams. Putting clear, concise action and honest outcomes behind your words is the most effective way to display humility and gain the trust of the best leaders.

If you’re looking for further reading, I’ve found the book GRANT BY RON CHERNOW to be a great lesson in humility directly from the life story of Ulysses S. Grant.

Hire Smarter™ – Tony

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