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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  • jordan684

    I got fooled by a smooth talking narcissist and hired him. Big mistake – he wasn’t qualified (he lied about his experience), he was dishonest, and I had to fire him for cause. If a candidate seems too good to be true, they’re usually a fake.

    • guest24

      Thank you! BIG difference between “hiring” and “deemed worth keeping”. I don’t doubt the “hiring” part, but the “promoted” thing, I have my doubts. Normal, confident people who balance confidence with tact and respect are ALWAYS the best candidates, both for hire and promotion!

      • Jobview

        The best thing to do is to FIRE narcissists weather they are in top positions, supervisors, or coworkers. They people care nothing about others, do not appreciate anything and end up wasting away any resources and working for their own good to the detriment of others.

        • JIm

          The top ranks of all corporations are filled to capacity with narcissists, sociopaths, and yes even psychopaths. They all look normal on the outside but their actions speak for themselves – they are masters of manipulation and have a stunning lack of morals.

          • 1ofus

            well spoken

          • vonderGoltzKing

            Realistically do you know how much the recruitment process costs from start to finish and sadly you might end up with a worse one than the one you set out to replace? I don’t disagree with you I just wish there were some kind of mechanism to take the beneficial traits and negate the unhelpful ones.

    • backnight

      “If a candidate seems too good to be true, they’re usually a fake”

      That tells me you need to improve on how you asses your candidates.

    • bella

      Did his references speak glowingly of his work, decision-making, etc? It just seems odd especially if his references were real.

    • JIm

      Sadly these type of people can be quite charming, affable, and quite popular. It is very difficult for someone under a certain age to pick one out easily. Usually it’s through experience or a very perceptive eye that a person get’s to know these types But once you are able to spot them, it’s smooth sailing all the way and you will be able to avoid them at work and your personal life. I really want to stress how toxic these people can be to your life.

      • vonderGoltzKing

        Jim, you are right, it is an act. And don’t you feel stupid and naive after you realise. That sudden light bulb moment.

        Trust me, I wish I could say it gets easier with age, but these personality types are so sneaky and destructive to an environment. I found them to be completely vampiric – so unbelievably draining, and especially if you then find yourself targeted because then you have to do your work, document, and still prove your own worth not only to your employer but often to yourself.

        If you are in the fortunate position of being able to avoid them then do that – but you are absolutely right, they are totally toxic.

        • JIm

          Like a lot of things these days, we are starting to talk about them and getting things like this out into the open, thanks for your comment

        • noname

          most people judge people by outlooking and words speaking!
          interviewing can only show a person’s actor’s ability, and reference checks based on so many jerk managers will damage your future……. stupid job interview cultures in North America

    • noname

      most people judge people by outlooking and words speaking!
      an interviewing can only show you being an actor’s ability, and reference checks based on so many jerk managers will damage your future……. stupid job interview and resume cultures in North America

  • Jimbo Tus

    Asians are experts at being narcissists and hypocrisy, the thing by such a discerning eye can read tell tale signs they are showing false face. Not all Asians, but the Chinese coming here in the last 8 yrs or so, Chinese who have integrated into the west are westernized and not loyal subs to their Chinese regime of dog eat dog mentality. I have lived in Vancouver and worked amongst Asians, daily interacting with such and they are not humble but great chameleons, this article is bogus because although narcissists seem to promote themselves, a humble opinion of one self is that experience in your life has proven that you got the goods and you have gotten to know your self and you have values and any employer is missing out by not hiring you, that is not boasting but honest interaction.

    • Feng Tian

      I’m Chinese and honestly I prefer to work for western people. I think the leadership they are carrying is better than the some leadership skills from Chinese or Asian culture. But I am not narcissists and hypocrisy and I don’t
      think all Chinese people are those kinds of co-workers. I am really honest at
      workplace and I have seen “jerks” coming around no matter they are Chinese,
      Asian or others.

      • Landon Patricia Carter

        Two thumbs up!”

      • 1ofus

        True Canadian’s are known for their humanity, diligence, honesty, and that they consist of a mixed world population. There are new Canadian’s who are still learning that a country can actually be that trustworthy and are still adjusting. ALL Canadian’s except good behaviour and reject bad behaviour.

  • Anthony Mallette

    I have participated in this game, and played the jerk in an interview… sadly, yes it works… and no I’m not proud of it.

    Why don’t I work there anymore? Good question:

    Turns out there’s a warning we missed here… If you have to pretend to be a jerk to get a job, don’t be surprised to learn that you’re surrounded by ACTUAL narcissists!!

    Lesson learned, my opinion on the matter is: Know yourself, be yourself! While you’re trying to find a calling, help people, spend time with your family. If you can, volunteer – be something positive for other people.

    Or you could learn to pretend to be a jerk…

    Your call :)

    • noname

      most people judge people by outlooking and words speaking!
      an interviewing can only show you being an actor’s ability nothing to do with your position, and reference checks based on so many jerk managers will damage your future……. stupid job interview cultures in North America

    • noname

      talktive people normally are weak in actual doing things, but both resume and interview only exame your ability of writing and speaking.

      most people judge people by outlooking and words speaking!
      an interviewing can only show you being an actor’s ability, and reference
      checks based on so many jerk managers will damage your future…….
      stupid job interview and resume cultures in North America

  • cupotea

    I was recently told at the end of an interview that even though I’m fully qualified and experienced, I wouldn’t be a good fit for the position because I’m too nice. Argh!

    • noname

      most people judge people by outlooking and words speaking!
      interviewing can only show a person’s actor’s ability, and reference checks based on so many jerk managers will damage your future……. stupid job interview cultures in North America

  • smscamp

    Sadly, Human Rights Commissions, Unions, Courts/Judges etc are catering to such types, so it is even harder to get rid of them.

    Could it be because Narcissists themselves run the above organizations where it is ok to be an unpleasant narcissist causing stress, aggrevation to many, but ok so long as they don’t be that way to an identifiable group where they appear to be bigoted

  • Llegra

    This has not been the case from my experience in Canada. Instead, it is those who know how to suck up to the boss and have less competence who do not or would not think for themselves are the ones who get the jobs and progress quicker in comparison to those who are experienced and use initiative.

    • Sith Lord

      Ding, ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! As a Canadian in a “professional” (the quotes are because while it should be, practically, it is anything but) work environment, I can attest first-hand to your assertions. Suck-ups will blow smoke up the boss’s rear, remain visible and crow about their every little accomplishment; we have a running joke in our office that one of our co-workers pops his head in to the boss on a regular basis for any little thing, “Hey, I put that title in bold on our spreadsheet. Oh, I underlined it, too.” Sadly, our boss, himself, is a narcissist who either doesn’t care about the ever-declining morale in our office, as we watch select suck-ups be given preferential treatment, or is bafflingly oblivious to it. (Most of us bet the former.) You can hide what you do, or don’t do, from your boss; you cannot hide the same from your peers. Professional people who come to work and do their jobs without any fanfare to the best of their ability every day, are too often overlooked because they’re not spending the time some of their less competent co-workers are “selling themselves” and “being seen.” Translation: BSing the boss, expending almost superhuman effort in doing so. Too bad that same effort isn’t expended on their job; you know, the thing they get paid for and are expected to do everyday.

      • Bonny

        Favourite business joke:
        What’s the difference between a Brown Noser and a Shithead?
        DEPTH PERCEPTION

        The narcissist, sociopath, suck-up personality will stop at nothing to stay in the spotlight and hold onto their power. It is the single most destructive personality type that pervades the workplace.
        After years of suffering under one of these fools, I said I would never again work for a jerk – which makes looking for a job a great deal more difficult than it already is.
        In my opinion, not enough is being done to flush this type of person out of the corporate world making it a living, working Hell for many hardworking employees.

        • JIm

          Beauty !

      • noname

        most people judge people by outlooking and words speaking!
        interviewing can only show a display ability or being an actor,s ability, and reference checks based on so many jerk managers will damage your future……. stupid job interview and resume cultures in North America

  • JIm

    The business world is full of jerks and border line sociopaths that get
    ahead at work. I’m am delighted that you printed this article and shed
    some lead on this subject.

  • saly

    How much stupid founder or interviewer who hire someone with these personality characters

  • Jobview

    Talk about Moral and Ethical Corruption. By looking back at history, many nations, empires got dissolved due to the love of money, power, selfishness of the high ranking rulers. I hope we will wake up before it’s too late or regret not learning from or leaning on history.

  • vonderGoltzKing

    I had the misfortune of working with one of these creatures; she was a manager and hired me to work for her as part of her team.

    I’ve worked in some tough environments but working for a narcissistic bully was the worst; perhaps because I’d never experienced anything like it before I was naive but she projected her behaviour on to me, set me up for a fall (changing a course 10 minutes before the start), bad mouthed me to superiors and reduced my performance evaluations.

    I had some horrendous experiences with this individual and ended up taking her to HR, however when it came to the point where I was medically redeployed she took it upon herself to arrange quiet one to one meetings with my new managers BEFORE I even had the chance to meet them! HR went crazy and warned her, the new head of department rewarded her by giving her more people to manage. God help them.

    This is how narcissistic bullies work.

    I later heard that at her own interview she told the head of department that she shouldn’t be worried as she wasn’t after her job! Spoken like a true narcissist.