Beware of Narcissists when conducting a job interview

Narcissism – “the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes. The term originated from Greek mythology, where the young Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water.”

According to a recent study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, narcissism can help candidates greatly when it comes to job interviews.

In simulated job interviews, individuals showcasing narcissistic behavior scored much higher than more down-to-earth, modest or reserved individuals.

Narcissists are usually good at self-promotion during job interview, which they do by:

  • Actively engaging in the conversation.
  • Speaking at length.
  • Using ingratiation tactics such as smiling, gesturing and complimenting.

This enables them to show off their skill sets more effectively, and to project implied self-confidence and industry expertise.

Peter Harms, an assistant professor of management, who led the study at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, had this to say: “This is one setting where it’s OK to say nice things about yourself and there are no ramifications. In fact, it’s expected. Simply put, those who are comfortable doing this tend to do much better than those who aren’t.”

The study, which was done in two parts, focused on the effectiveness of narcissistic behaviors (that are typically considered maladjusted in day-to-day activities) in a job interview situation.

In the first leg of the study, participants were filmed in simulated interview situations. It was found that narcissists were more likely to self-promote. What was more surprising, however, was how the individuals behaved when challenged by the interviewer; non-narcissists applicants began to back off, while narcissists only increased their attempts to self-promote and prove themselves.

According to Harms, this was because, “When feeling challenged, they tend to double down. It’s as if they say ‘Oh, you’re going to challenge me? Then I’m not just great, I’m fantastic.’ And in this setting, it tended to work.”

The second part of the study had 222 evaluators rate videos of interviewees with similar job skill levels, but varying levels of narcissistic tendencies. Consistently, raters were significantly more likely to prefer those with narcissistic behaviors.

Harms said the raters’ behavior showed that “what is getting narcissists the win is the delivery. These results show just how hard it is to effectively interview, and how fallible we can be when making interview judgments. We don’t necessarily want to hire narcissists, but might end up doing so because they come off as being self-confident and capable.”

The study aims to increase awareness of this bias. Researchers hope the results will help interviewers understand when an applicant shows true promise, and when they are simply being narcissistic. Unless, of course, those behaviors are welcomed in the job they are applying for.

Harms offered this final piece of reflection on the study: “On the whole, we find very little evidence that narcissists are more or less effective workers. But what we do know is that they can be very disruptive and destructive when dealing with other people on a regular basis. If everything else is equal, it probably is best to avoid hiring them.”

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