I am a father of 4 children and I own a company. I love my children and I love my company.

Research in Finland showed that entrepreneurs love their businesses like fathers love their children. As both father and entrepreneur, I was intrigued by the findings of the researchers: Marja-Liisa Halko, Tom Lahti, Kaisa Hytönen and Iiro Jääskeläinen. The outcome showed that the brain activity of male entrepreneurs that strongly associate and identify with their company looked almost identical to the brain activity of father’s feelings towards their children. Both entrepreneurs and fathers shared very similar behaviour traits such as closeness, satisfaction and love at the favour of their own company and children. The lead researcher intends to do a follow-up study with female entrepreneurs.

Emotional bias and risk

It’s even more interesting that the study proved that the largest difference between male entrepreneurs and fathers had to do with emotional bias. You would perhaps assume that fathers have a high bias for their own child but the researchers proved that the positive bias that an owner has towards his business was substantially higher. Without passion, a true entrepreneur will fail but being over-confident and repressing negative emotions can lead to problems. Overestimating the probability of success and being super confident that your company (or child) will perform under any circumstances is a mistake. A bit less confident entrepreneurs are usually quicker recognising risks and flaws, which give them a chance to better judge and improve current and future performance and potential of their company.

Overconfidence in job interviews

Overconfidence and emotional bias are not exclusive to entrepreneurship; it happens also in cases when overconfident people self-assess their knowledge and success. This is especially visible in job interviews. As executive search consultants we usually interview managers. Naturally most potential candidates that we meet bring a healthy dose of self-confidence to the table and this is something we endorse. Unfortunately, sometimes we are confronted with candidates that immediately ask about the salary and the kind of car that our client offers because they are entirely sure that they are the best candidate for the open position. It’s a thin line but if you feel you might be a little bit too confident or you regularly receive this feedback it might help to ask more often somebody else for an opinion, before you share your own. Overconfident candidates often ‘forget’ to prepare themselves; they overestimate their knowledge and jump into hasty conclusions without proper business intelligence, fully trusting their impeccable skills. In other words, showing a positive bias towards your competences is like an entrepreneur blindly believing in his business even when he drives it in a wrong direction or a father imposing unrealistic expectations towards his child. I-exactly-know-what-you-need attitude can be counterproductive when you talk to your future employer. Overconfident candidates offer ready-made solutions that will solve all the company’s problems, without being familiar with the whole picture, circumstances and specific details. In their urge to show their skills it seems they forget that on the other side of the table are interviewers that are usually long-term part of this company. 

How to neutralise overconfidence?

it’s good to be self-confident but do not cross the line to be perceived as overconfident or worse as arrogant. Instead of bragging how good you are (even if you are really great in what you are doing) just state your achievements and back it up with good examples, describing the situations, your tasks, actions and results, supported by facts and figures. Recruiters are usually briefed to look for the ‘sheep with five legs’ but in reality, finding a candidate with 80% of the sought competences is a great catch. Therefore, realise that nobody expects you to be totally perfect, but rather able to clearly explain your strong sides. Don’t forget to mention your team and colleagues who were involved and contributed to your success; all the big changes are never an effort of only one person in the company and you would not be able to succeed on your own. It’s also important to put yourself in the shoes of the employer and show true interest in their story and needs and make clear to the recruiter that you are human. You can for instance share some good experiences that you gained listening to a mentor in your early career, respecting expertise of others. Talk a bit less about yourself, ask questions or seek advice will make miracles for people that are perceived overconfident. In this way the interview might turn out to be more a 2-way conversation instead of a self-centred monologue.

‘New Europe Resourcing’s consultants have conducted thousands of executive search interviews and gained valuable insights. Through regular client and candidate surveys we additionally collected a wealth of information.’