How can you be Assertive but Not Aggressive in Job Interviews?

Young business people negotiatingThis month, I received a rather intriguing question from Jake in New Hampshire,

“I just came from an interview and the recruiter told me that I wasn’t assertive enough. I don’t know what he meant, but as far as I know, I emphasized my strong points and other skills.”

Great question. Many job applicants fall on the extreme ends of the spectrum — too passive, or too aggressive. It’s hard for many applicants to portray the “Goldilocks” amount of aggressiveness.

Aggressiveness could mean different things, depending on the hiring company’s culture, or the opinions of the person interviewing you. For instance, if you’re interviewing in a high-performing, demanding job, then by all means bring your A-game.

A Word on Projecting Assertiveness

Genuine assertiveness can’t be faked. In essence, be yourself but with a few slight modifications. Don’t try too hard. There’s a paper thin line between good assertive and bad, punch-you-in-the-face aggressive.

I’m guessing your question is more about the qualities and body language that will signal your interest in the job, and confidence in yourself.

Here are a few tips to help you:

  • Speak in an authoritative voice, even if you’re not sure of what you’re saying. Avoid weak words like maybe,” “perhaps,” “I believe,” or “I think.”
  • Answer each question as if it’s the most important part of the interview. The recruiter can feel when you’re getting bored. Please don’t lead with, “Great question… “It’s a worn out tactic.
  • Interview the interviewer. Ask questions that will evaluate whether you’re really the person they need. Demonstrating your interest for the job AND helping the recruiter find the right fit increases your assertiveness, but also keeps you humble.
  • Limit your questions to three or four max. Asking more than that makes you seem desperate and annoying.

Four Insightful and Assertive Questions to Ask after the Interview

  1. What would be the biggest challenge of the employee who will fill this role?
  2. How can I make an impact in this role in six months?
  3. Is there anything you heard from this interview that concerns you?
  4. I’m curious, what are the employees here like?

Note that not all the questions are job-specific. Assertiveness isn’t solely about inquiring about the job responsibilities, and then proving you’re the man or woman for the job. It also includes your enthusiasm and interest in the company as a whole.