Woman looking at herself in mirror

How to spot a narcissist

Elizabeth Bromstein|

The job interview is not the time to play the modesty card. You know that, right? But just in case you were unsure, a new study out of UBC highlights the point.

The study finds that narcissists do better in the job interview than equally qualified candidates who go for a more understated sell.

“A job interview is one of the few social situations where narcissistic behaviours such as boasting actually create a positive impression,” says UBC Psychology Professor Del Paulhus, the study’s lead author. “Normally, people are put off by such behaviour, especially over repeated exposure.”

The researchers measured candidates narcissism levels with the Narcisstic Personality Inventory questionnaire before placing them in interview scenarios. Videos of the interviews were then scored by a team of raters.

The study found that those who ranked high on the narcissism scale, also ranked more highly as attractive job candidates.

“Narcissists tended to talk about themselves, make eye contact, joke around and ask the interviewers more questions.”

Interestingly, the findings “suggest that applicants from cultures that place greater emphasis on humility, including some Asian cultures, may have a harder time landing a job in North America.”

Participants of Japanese, Chinese and Korean heritage reportedly ranked lower on the narcissism scale and were therefore viewed as less attractive job candidates.

Paulhus comments that “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.”

Good advice, particularly since you might not actually want a narcissist working for you in the long term, despite the great first impression.

Still, those who lean towards the side of humility would do well to learn to self-promote. It’s a dog eat dog world out there, after all.

To be clear, the narcissists in the question were what Paulhus calls “subclinical” or “everyday narcissists,” and do not necessarily suffer from narcissistic personality disorder (symptoms listed below), a disorder that falls into the same category as antisocial and borderline personality disorders.

The Narcissistic Personality Inventory is “considered the gold standard for tapping narcissism in normal populations,” says Paulhus.

If you’re wondering about your own narcissism levels, you can another study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

In 2012, Those researchers found that narcissists outperform others in interviews because:

    •Narcissists love (and have practiced) animatedly talking about themselves.
    •They relate every event in a way that makes themselves look good.
    •When asked challenging questions, they actually increase their self-promotion. (Where a normal person would be tempted to tone it down or back-track.)

Non-narcissistic participants, meanwhile, answered interview questions in a tactfully modest fashion and therefore scored much lower marks with their interviewers.

“This shows that what is getting (narcissists) the win is the delivery,” said that study’s co-author, Peter Harms, assistant professor of management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “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.”

Here are some signs of narcissistic personality disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic:

• Believing that you’re better than others
• Fantasizing about power, success and attractiveness
• Exaggerating your achievements or talents
• Expecting constant praise and admiration
• Believing that you’re special and acting accordingly
• Failing to recognize other people’s emotions and feelings
• Expecting others to go along with your ideas and plans
• Taking advantage of others
• Expressing disdain for those you feel are inferior
• Being jealous of others
• Believing that others are jealous of you
• Trouble keeping healthy relationships
• Setting unrealistic goals
• Being easily hurt and rejected
• Having a fragile self-esteem
• Appearing as tough-minded or unemotional

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