Narcissism actually pays off big-time in the short-term context of a job interview, according to a new study to be published in Journal of Applied Social Psychology.
“This is one setting where it’s okay to say nice things about yourself and there are no ramifications. In fact, it’s expected,” says Peter Harms of University of Nebraska-Lincoln and co-author of the study.
The two-part study examined the effectiveness of the types of behaviours 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-application setting. As expected, narcissists were more likely to promote themselves; however, it was when expert interviewers challenged applicants that narcissists started behaving in unexpected ways, Harms says.
“When feeling challenged, they tend to double down,” Harms says. “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 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—far more positive evaluations.
Meanwhile, equally qualified applicants who tended to rely on tactical modesty scored lower, according to the study.
“This shows that what is getting [narcissists] the win is the delivery,” Harms says. “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.”
“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 is probably best to avoid hiring them.”