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Study: Narcissists Do Best in Job Interviews

Narcissists outperform equally qualified job candidates who act more modestly.

A recent study from the University of British Columbia shows that narcissists do best in job interviews – and are more successful “than equally qualified candidates who act more modestly.” The study has substantive implications for Human Resources operations and hiring managers, as well as for job candidates.

Narcissism, derived from the Greek myth of Narcissus who fell in love with his reflection, involves, per the definition from this publication, “arrogant behavior, a lack empathy for other people, and a need for admiration” – qualities that are consistently exhibited both at work and in relationships. Narcissists are frequently impulsive and grandiose and tend not to work well with others. Thus, the importance of management making sound decisions in avoiding hiring narcissists whenever possible.

This new study, however, suggests the opposite actually occurs – since the outgoing and charismatic personalities of narcissists help them excel in interview settings.

“A job interview is one of the few social situations where narcissistic behaviors such as boasting actually create a positive impression,” said Del Paulhus, Psychology Professor at the University of British Columbia and the study’s lead author. “Normally, people are put off by such behavior, especially over repeated exposure. “ The research noted that “narcissists tended to talk about themselves, make eye contact, joke around and ask the interviewers more questions. As a result, the study found that people rated narcissists as more attractive candidates for the position.”

Study reveals interview cultural bias - The study also revealed an important cultural bias, as participants of Japanese, Chinese and Korean heritage “showed lower levels of narcissism, and were less likely to receive ‘definitely hire’ ratings as a result.” The tendency to be impressed by narcissists, noted Paulus, “results in an indirect cultural bias – particularly against East Asians.”

Regarding the study’s logistics, research participants were first evaluated by a questionnaire that measures levels of narcissism, and then were videotaped in a job-interview scenario, and later scored by a team of raters.

So what are the study’s key lessons? “Candidates should engage with the interviewer while continuing to self-promote,” Paulhus said. More important from an HR or company standpoint, Paulhus concluded, “Interviewers should look beyond cultural style and assess individual qualifications. Instead of superficial charm, interviewers must analyze candidates’ potential long-term fit in the organization.”

Which is why it’s always so important for key hiring decision makers to focus on a job candidate’s actual prior results – verifiable hard data – rather than being unduly swayed by charm or force of personality.

This article first appeared at Forbes.com.

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You can follow Victor on Twitter for management news, tips and articles.

Victor Lipman recently retired from the corporate world after 25 years with one of America's largest life insurance companies. He writes about management from a psychological perspective.

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