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Ask These Two Questions to Quickly Assess Ego

 This is the first installment in an ongoing series about the importance of assessing personality traits during the selection process. Talentfoot is thrilled to offer the Hogan Assessment to directly measure these traits.


We laud confident leaders with ambition and vision, but no one enjoys working with someone who has an inflated ego.

A healthy ego embodies self-esteem and confidence — both traits that are considered assets in most organizations. Unchecked and out of balance, however, it can interfere with relationships in and out of the office.

Leaders on the rise are at particular risk of developing an outsized ego, say Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter of Potential Project. A big ego can twist perspective and values, affecting productivity and workplace morale. And, it can corrupt behavior, leading to a defensive attitude and alienating others, especially in the wake of failures and mistakes and in the already tense environments typical of high-growth companies.

“Finally, an inflated ego narrows vision,” Hougaard and Carter write in the Harvard Business Review. “The ego always looks for information that confirms what it wants to believe.”


Is ego an issue?

Experienced recruiters know how to identify a healthy ego and high emotional intelligence. These two factors are keys to workplace success, but it can be difficult to gauge when you meet someone for the first (and perhaps only) time in an interview.

That’s one of the reasons we have developed and refined an innovative behavioral interviewing approach at Talentfoot. This approach helps us and our clients assess whether or not a job candidate’s ego poses a potential problem, and it establishes the foundation for a comprehensive interview process.

Candidates, of course, want to present the best version of themselves, so we ask questions that probe for both healthy and not-so-healthy ego behaviors. We also suggest that hiring managers introduce the questions by saying, “I’m going to ask you a couple of questions about your past behaviors in different situations. I encourage you to take the time you need to think before sharing your example.”


Red Flags

Here are two key questions to test a job candidate’s ego:

  1. “Think about a time when you made a mistake or didn’t complete a task that you said you would do that caused a colleague, team member or supervisor to be inconvenienced in some way. Once you have thought of an example, tell me about what happened, how they reacted, and what your response was.”

Pass. Someone with a healthy ego and degree of humility will answer honestly. They will share a real experience and may even express concern about the inconvenience they caused. They demonstrate that they hold themselves accountable and accept responsibility for what went wrong. These are all good signs.

Fail. It’s right to be worried if someone is unable to give an example of a mistake that inconvenienced someone else because we’ve all done it. Be concerned, too, if they blame the mistake on someone else or characterize a colleague’s response as “unreasonable” or an “overreaction.”


In these cases, their fix for the mistake seems focused mostly on avoiding having their mistake noticed by a supervisor. In other words, they are more interested in repairing their ego than correcting a problem or showing respect to others.


  1. “Think about a time when your team accomplished a big goal. Tell me about the overall goal, the parts for which you were responsible, and how other team members contributed to its success.”

Pass. Positive responses that reflect a healthy ego include a detailed description of a goal accomplished by a team, not the individual, and the work of other colleagues. A promising candidate also will acknowledge that the contributions of others was at least equally important to accomplishing the overall goal.

Fail. Tune into whether someone’s answer to this question focuses on more of a personal than a team goal. In other words, they either can’t think of a team goal that was accomplished or they weren’t a productive or collaborative team member.


Note, also, if a candidate offers very few details about the contributions of other people, focusing instead on their own prowess or if they portray other members as less valuable or important to the team’s success. The best leaders know that they are nothing without their teams, and they let their teams know it.


Results-Driven Hiring

Ego-driven leadership is toxic to team members and the larger system as a whole. Use these questions in combination with other behavioral interview questions to elicit responses that tell you more about how an individual’s ego is likely to play out on the job.

An experienced recruiter can help you conduct background and reference checks and provide personality assessments of job candidates, so you hire a Team Player, rather than a Me Player.


Contact me at cgaultney@talentfoot.com to learn more about how Talentfoot’s interview approach and the Hogan Personality Assessment can lead to the right leadership hire!