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04/12/2012

Want to Ace Your Next Job Interview? Act Like a Narcissist


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EfinancialCareers

Narcissists do much better in job interviews than their less obnoxious counterparts, says a new study from researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln scheduled to be published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

Technically, narcissism is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they are superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings.

And yet, university researchers point out narcissists’ innate tendency to promote themselves—in part by engaging and speaking at length—which implied confidence and expertise in job interview settings.

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

An announcement from the university explains how researchers engaged in the two-part study examining the effectiveness of the types of behaviors that narcissists exhibit—“which would be typically seen as maladjusted”—in the narrow context of an interview.

In the first part, 72 participants were videotaped in a simulated job-applicant setting. As expected, narcissists were more likely to self-promote; however, it was when expert interviewers challenged applicants that narcissists started behaving in unexpected ways, Harms said.

While normal individuals backed off of their self-promotion tactics when held accountable, narcissists actually increased their attempts to make themselves look better.

“When feeling challenged, they tend to double down,” Harms said. “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,” Harms observed, “it tended to work.”

In the study’s second part, 222 raters evaluated videos of applicants with similar job skills and varying levels of narcissism.

The raters consistently awarded chronic self-promoters—who spoke quickly and at length and who used ingratiation tactics—such as smiling, gesturing, and complimenting others—with much better evaluations.

Equally qualified applicants who were more modest scored lower.

“This shows that what is getting [narcissists] the win is the delivery,” Harms said. “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.”

For interviewers, the study’s findings mean they must become aware of the tactics used by narcissists, Harms said, and, if necessary, avoid selecting people who chronically use self-promotion and ingratiation, unless those behaviors are appropriate for the position.

For job seekers, meanwhile, the key takeaway from this report, according to Canada’s Globe and Mail, is that “In job interviews, the rules of normal social interaction get shifted, and people looking to get hired need to view what might be odious behavior in the rest of life as beneficial.”

–Janet Aschkenasy

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Comments

There is one important case where one must watch out for too much self congratulatory puffery. It is in the case where one is interviewing with the hiring manager. After ensuring that qualifications are met, the hiring managers wants someone they can live with and in some cases, someone who would NOT outshine themselves.
Note that the study evaluated the applicants by 'scores', not actualy hiring decisions. It is just as easy to be passed over in a hiring decision by being assessed 'over qualified' as 'under qualified'.

I feel obliged to take issue with some of the statements made in this article.

First is its basic premise, that narcissism, "a mental disorder," as the article itself states, is a healthy trait to express in any environment, much less a job interview. A mental disorder is an illness, and the victim of such an illness will hopefully receive treatment and achieve recovery.

Having myself been responsible for hiring many dozens of front-line personnel, I can assert that the self-aggrandizement and arrogance we associate with narcissistic personalities are not the traits real-world employers are seeking in new team members.

Narcissists are not team players. If you want to be a team member, don't sell yourself; buy into the team's shared goals.

Second, at best the study described is merely anecdotal. The study's subjects were aware that there was no material consequence to their behavior. The study's "raters" are not hiring anyone.

Further, the backgrounds and qualifications of both the study's subjects and raters is omitted from the article. The absence of this information makes the points made by its author moot.

Third, the article's final paragraph is truly eyebrow-raising. According to the Canadian Globe and Mail, “In job interviews, the rules of normal social interaction get shifted, and people looking to get hired need to view what might be odious behavior in the rest of life as beneficial.”

Job interviews, for those on both sides of the table, are in fact, a normal part of life. Thus, would it be a revolutionary idea to say that job interviews, at any stage in one's career trajectory are, in fact, a normal social interaction?

The Canadian Globe and Mail author goes on to suggest that adopting "odious" behavior in a job interview might not be a bad idea. The last time I looked, odious behavior included actions considered abominable and contemptible by psychologically healthy people. Perhaps they are acceptable to narcissists?

Studies such as this are frequently cited by business authors in articles and books to support their credibility. When I read, "studies have confirmed," what I think is, "Several of my peers, who share my prejudices, were also able to do a multivariate regression and select a few variables out of hundreds to confirm the prevailing wisdom."

Maybe the prevailing wisdom is right. It often is. However, I’m not very impressed by attempts to shore up prevailing wisdom with linear regression, especially in business studies.

In closing I repeat here the best career advice I was ever given by a mentor: "If you want to be a team member, don't sell yourself; buy into the team's shared goals."

Adam Sterling.

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