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?”

14 Responses to “Interview Tips: Don’t Come Across as a Prima Donna”

  1. It's all so true

    Everything that was mentioned in this article sounds like the correct way to approach the interviewing process. Now, I’m speaking as a “boomer.” I’m pretty sure the interviewing process doesn’t go that way anymore.

    • I think it’s highly variable, based not only on the company, but also the individual interviewer. The “younger” companies with which I’ve had interviews (tech and consulting) expected what was suggested in the article. They also had more competent management.

      A company for which I previously worked expected interviewees to highlight **their** accomplishments over all else; points were actually lost for saying “we” because they wanted to know what “I” did. The good ol’ boys dominate that industry, and their archaic ways are visible throughout.

      I wouldn’t want to work for a company that disliked the style suggested here, having seen the other side.

  2. Speaking as a woman, all of these things seems like advice meant to keep women down. Women have a hard time getting credit for ideas and having their voices heard, so telling them to share credit, while true, might mean diminishing their actual influence and credit they deserve. Telling women, who typically moderate opinions more than men, to moderate their opinions is the opposite of what has been proven to help advance women in the workplace,

    Calling these qualities “prima donna-isms” seems to me the same thing as calling a girl “bossy” but a boy “confident.” I don’t know if the author is male or female, but if the author is male, check your privilege. If the author is female, adjust your wording and think about how some women have to assert themselves in male-dominated businesses to get any advancement at all. The only advice i agree with is being on time.

    • I’m sorry, but I didn’t read it like that, Ann…sounded pretty unbiased to me.

      It amazes me how some people can take something and make it sound like a particular genre is being discriminated against when clearly they are not.

      I think you’re reading too far into it.

    • Ann, speaking as a thinking human being, you’re the only one here that made any of this about gender. If you’re having trouble finding a job, maybe your attitude is what needs checking. Being a “social justice warrior” who wakes up every day looking for something to be offended about didn’t make for a great employee.

    • I would drop your casual use of the word “privilege” in labeling an entire gender. Yes, there is a subset of males in society who discriminate based upon gender and display other unacceptable workplace behavior in lame attempts to gain career advantage, such as we have seen every day and night on the evening news. However, this group is a small percentage of the entire male population and stereotyping all men in such a negative light is not only naïve but it will taint your own interactions with people you’ll be working with throughout your career in a negative way and it will be your own doing.

    • Steve Orpin

      It looks like you annoyed everyone in this discussion (perhaps something you need to reflect upon and correct.)

      Feminazism is probably the worst attitude in the workplace of all, which you have illustrated perfectly. Maybe racial vi Tim hood is just as bad. Anyway, they are very close.

      I would never hire someone who draws lines in the gender sand the way you do.
      same thing for race.

      Talk about sowing discord and conflict in the work place! Geeze! Check your militarism at the door!

  3. Based on observations I’ve made of my husband’s tech recruiting business, I’d like to reiterate the point made about the impression made by those who overly focus on salary. He’s had a few candidates who have been offered fair pay for positions, but they needlessly drag out salary negotiations. It raises a flag that the candidate may only be interested in money, could be difficult to work with once on board, and may jump ship the minute another opportunity with a minimally higher offer comes along.

    • It’s normal to be only interested in money. None of us would work for another person for free. Our employers make money off our backs and share as little with us as possible. They fire us if it suits them. We owe them no loyalty and no consideration beyond what’s in it for us. We are only polite about this because we have no choice.

      • I don’t think it’s normal at all to only be interested in salary. It’s normal for salary to be the primary motivator, but salary acting as the only motivator sends a bad message to the company. It strongly suggests that you’ll leave at the first opportunity for better pay. You have to give the illusion that you’re looking to provide some stability to the role, and make a meaningful contribution to the company: no one likes job-hoppers.

        There are so many things to consider before joining a company, if someone wasn’t weighing those fairly heavily alongside salary, I’d question them as human beings. Things like:

        • Personal growth and advancement potential
        • Stimulation/challenge level the work will offer
        • Benefits (health, retirement, vacation time, holiday pay, etc.)
        • Company stability and culture
        • Work environment
        • Work-life balance (daily commute, telecommute options, on-call frequency, etc.)
        • Performance evaluation (including KPIs, salary review, impact of individual and team targets, appraisal frequency, etc.)
        • Bonus plan/structure
        • Management style (I won’t work for micromanagers, and I won’t work for managers who do not solicit team input for problem solving; there’s not much worse than a manager who thinks their answer is always the best)

        Of course companies CAN let employees go at any time they see fit, but stable companies with a good culture try to make good employees happy. When budget cuts are necessary, they do everything possible to retain the best talent; of course, that often leads to people absorbing extra duties without a salary increase. I’ve seen all sorts of finagling during budget cuts to keep certain people on-board, even as far as creating a new role in a different business unit. If someone finds that they’re expendable to every employer, they need to evaluate themselves more honestly.