I've seen a real uptick in job seekers lately with stories that go like this:

"I've been on several interviews and thought they all went really well. I was convinced I'd get a call back after each one. I felt totally on fire while selling myself. I was really shocked the first time I got an email rejection. I thought, their loss. But then, it happened again, and again. This last time, I called the recruiter and asked the reason why. She said the hiring manager felt I was overqualified and would get bored quickly. How can I convince an employer I'm not overqualified for the job? I don't want to dumb myself down, but I don't see any other option."

This explanation throws up three red flags to me how a job seeker is unknowingly coming across like a narcisist in the interview. Let's look more closely at the response...

No. 1: "I felt totally on fire while selling myself."

While I do believe job seekers are businesses-of-one that must sell themselves, that doesn't mean you must act like a pushy salesperson - i.e. non-stop talker and over-promoter. Good salespeople are excellent listeners. They ask smart questions and gather data so they can provide the customer with valuable, tailored information to help make the decision to buy easier. The same actually applies in a job interview. You need to listen carefully and not try to sell too hard, too soon. Your discussion with a hiring manager should feel more conversational in nature. If you did all the talking, you likely came across like a narcissist.

No. 2: "I thought, their loss."

While this response to rejection is more likely a defense mechanism, the truth is you should always want to know why they didn't chose you. Understanding who got the job and what set them apart from you can be a helpful part of the process. And, while most companies won't give you too much feedback in this area, you should at least try to follow up and keep the relationship going in the event another opportunity comes available. Claiming you don't care is insensitive and screams narcissist.

No. 3: "...the hiring manager felt I was over-qualified and would get bored quickly...I don't want to dumb myself down."

As someone who has worked in recruiting for decades, I can tell you this hiring manager's response is code for:

A) you acted like a know-it-all.

B) you'd be difficult to work with because you made it clear you wouldn't be challenged and would likely be a handful to manage. 

There's a difference between having a lot of experience and feeling the need to prove how experienced you are. Doing the latter in a job interview makes you come across like a narcissist. While I do agree it can be harder to convince an employer to hire you when you have more experience than the job requires, I've coached plenty of accomplished professionals on how to land those roles. It always begins with knowing how to come across as humble and still in awe of how much you have left to learn. If you're talking to the hiring manager and in the back of your mind you're thinking, "I know more than this guy, he'd probably feel threatened by my presence," then you're likely coming across like a narcisist.

P.S. If you blew an interview because you (mistakenly) acted like a narcissist, do this...

It's not necessarily too late to repair the relationship with a dream employer. The first step is to network with as many people as you can who work at the company. Be honest in that you feel you came across poorly because you were nervous and fell prey to outdated interview technques that didn't convey your true self. People are more willing to help those who are accountable for their mistakes. As you build these relationships, listen carefully to how they got their jobs and what they think it takes to be successful at the company. Seek their guidance on how they feel you might be able to score a second chance in the future. I find this kind of feedback very helpful when it comes time to re-apply. You can then let your new professional connections know their advice inspired you to try again. Hopefully, one or more might put in a good word for you with the hiring manager. At which point, you need to make sure you've upskilled in your interview preparation so you can make a better impression this time!

Published on: Feb 25, 2019
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