How can you avoid hiring a narcissist if narcissists out-perform non-narcissists at job interviews? According to several studies published in business and psychology journals, narcissists receive more favorable hiring ratings from job interviewers than individuals who are not narcissists, even when rated by experienced and trained raters.

The job interview is the perfect storm; a situation seemingly perfectly designed to give a narcissist an unfair advantage. Even an experienced interviewer can be initially drawn to a narcissist’s charisma and self-confidence. In a job interview setting, narcissists’ future faking may appear as problem-solving ability, their boasting is easily mistaken for depth of experience, their exaggerations will pad their resume, and their self-aggrandizement will be unchecked by any dissent.

How to Avoid Hiring a Narcissist

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Remember, if this person seems too good to be true, they probably are.

Narcissistic tricks such as self-enhancement, boasting, exaggeration, and blatant fabrication may super-charge a job interview, charming an interviewer who is looking for someone who can make problems go away.

If you don’t toot your own horn, who will?

For the average person, ‘tooting our own horns’ takes us out of our comfort zone. Even in a culturally appropriate setting such as a job interview, many of us find it difficult to speak in glowing terms of our own abilities and achievements. Not so with the narcissist. Narcissists are comfortable with the language and behaviors of self-enhancement. In a job interview, self-enhancement may help the narcissist appear (and actually feel) more at ease and comfortable in their own skin when compared to a non-narcissist.

It feels like this person will save the day.

Narcissists tend to over-promise and under-deliver. They are experts at making excuses and taking advantage of others’ trust and goodwill. This pattern of overcommitment is known as future faking. Narcissists are adept at intuiting what another person wants, and then promising the moon. When you are in conversation with a narcissist, you may feel a sense of relief. Finally, someone who gets it. Unfortunately, time reveals the fact that a narcissist has a habit of saying one thing but doing another, blaming someone or something else for their failure every time.

Flattery: when compliments are linked to expectations

Narcissists are practiced at charming, using flattery and compliments as a form of manipulation. Their compliments have strings attached: these are compliments that are designed to help a narcissist get what they want. There’s nothing wrong with a job candidate who speaks positively of your company or the job opportunity; it may be more troubling if you sense insincerity, over-enthusiasm, or a pushy sort of compliment.

A narcissist is the type of person to compliment you on your office decor and then mock you behind your back. Don’t fall for flattery. Real warmth between people is balanced and two-sided. It’s not one person propping up another’s ego.

Is it ever worth ignoring the red flags?

Is it ever worth ignoring the red flags? You might find yourself thinking, “I don’t care if she’s difficult; she’ll get the job done.” After all, Steve Jobs acted like a narcissist, but who wouldn’t want some of his success to rub off onto your company? Jobs famously exhibited narcissistic, egotistical behavior at Apple, but he turned it into one of the most successful companies of all time.

According to research, most employees and employers who exhibit narcissistic behavior profiles at work are not just annoying to others, but they actually harm the economic productivity and sustainability of their harboring organizations. Academics measure destructive workplace behavior according to a specific rubric summed up by a measurement of counterproductive work behavior (CWB). CWB can be measured, and its effects on organizations are well-studied and documented.

Narcissists, or individuals high in narcissism, have been shown in meta-analytic reviews to be much more likely to harm their organizations than individuals low in narcissism. Narcissists are strongly linked to CWB. Individuals high in narcissism are linked to many destructive behaviors such as exploiting others, sowing mistrust, anger, hostility, impulsive decision-making, and an inability to integrate feedback from others. Apple thrived in spite of Steve Jobs’ narcissistic behaviors; not because of them.

While narcissists perform better at making first impressions when compared to non-narcissists, they do not actually perform better in their jobs.

Questions to ask yourself in a job interview

  • What information do I have about this candidate’s ability to maintain healthy long-term relationships with previous employers, mentors, and family members?
  • Have I checked this candidate’s references?
    ○ Have I asked this candidate’s references about both the strengths and the weaknesses of working with this candidate?
    ○ Can this candidate’s references give me any evidence that this candidate will be able to accept constructive feedback?
  • Am I remembering that a soft-spoken person is not necessarily soft-willed?
  • Did this candidate talk negatively about past experiences or relationships?
  • Did this candidate complain about poor treatment in the past?
    ○ “My boss was a jerk, but I managed to survive.”
    ○ “My professors didn’t help me at all; I had to learn this stuff all on my own”
    ○ “The last city where I lived was the pits; I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.”
  • Does this candidate speak dismissively of other people?
    ○ “My wife decided to have a melt-down right as I was walking out the door…”
  • Does this candidate blame other people for their own failures?
    ○ “I would have arrived on time, but some idiot bus driver…”
    ○ “I would have accomplished more at my last job, but our HR team….”
  • Is this candidate name-dropping or using status symbols to try to seem more important than they otherwise might appear?

In conclusion, narcissists may be hard to spot, but some basic awareness and education will decrease the chances that you’ll be duped by a slick job interview. Stay grounded in your own sense of worth so that you are not easily swayed by flattery. Nurture your own sense of positivity and personal responsibility, so that when someone else is making excuses or blaming others, the comments won’t resonate with you.

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