Here’s an unexpected finding about job interviews that makes sense once it’s explained. Narcissists do better in interviews than the rest of us.
How can it be that a trait most of us consider obnoxious can actually improve the chances of someone acing an interview?
Simple, says Peter Harms, assistant professor of management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a co-author of a study being published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Most of us are entirely too modest about our accomplishments. While we might start off promoting ourselves and talking about our accomplishments, as interviewers begin to ask questions, we tend to ease off on our self-promotion.
Narcissists, on the other hand, not only stand their ground, they escalate their efforts.
“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, it tended to work.”
In the first of the two-part study, 72 volunteers were put through a simulated job interview by expert interviewers. Those identified as narcissistic, increased their efforts to look better when challenged by the interviewer. Others, backed down.
Then, in part two, recorded interviews of candidates were reviewed and rated by evaluators. The 222 raters were consistent in awarding more positive evaluations to the self-promoters. The more quickly and longer they spoke, and those who smiled, gestured, and complimented others got the better ratings.
Those who were equally qualified for the job )a variety of positions were used), but who were more modest about their achievements 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.”
There is a fine line between self-confidence and narcissism. Knowing where it is is not always easy, but hiring a narcissist can have disappointing, even disastrous consequences.
“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.”
The study echoes others, including one published last summer in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, entitled, “Do Nice Guys—and Gals—Really Finish Last?” The conclusion was a solid yes, if by last it’s meant they don’t earn as much.
The research found men who measured below average on agreeableness earned about 18% more—or $9,772 more annually in their sample—than nicer guys. Ruder women, meanwhile, earned about 5% or $1,828 more than their agreeable counterparts.
“Nice guys are getting the shaft,” says study co-author Beth A. Livingston, an assistant professor of human resource studies at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
That doesn’t mean the way to get the job and the top salary is to be a mean, self-promoter. Many companies have policies and will even fire disagreeable, disrespectful disruptors.
Kathy Savitt CEO and founder of Lockers, a social commerce company, says her “no jerks and divas” policy doesn’t’ mean disagreement isn’t tolerated. Just the contrary. “We have a lot of robust debates about all kinds of things. But we do stress the notion of being respectful.”