Dealing with narcissists: know what to look for in an interview

Narcissists are great interviewees. I know from experience. I’ve interviewed hundreds of candidates for positions ranging from sales to IT to administrative over the sixteen years Catalogs.com has been in business. Reviewing resumes, conducting preliminary phone screenings and then conducting interviews is hard work. It is time-consuming, exhausting, and often frustrating.

The narcissist makes my job easier. Dealing with narcissists makes my job more difficult.

I’ve even hired a few of them, which hasn’t worked out all that well. Because, of course, they were narcissists.

As a recent article in the Huffington Post reported, participants rating narcissists in interview scenarios looked upon their behavior favorably. Narcissists don’t back down when challenged, promote themselves blithely and smile a lot.


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Among the sixteen narcissistic personality disorder symptoms listed on the Mayo Clinic website, these catch my eye:

o Believing you are better than others
o Exaggerating about achievements and talents
o Expecting admiration
o Setting unrealistic goals

With a little twist and a conversation limited to one or two hours, these personality deficiencies are easy to misread as self-confidence, leadership ability, go-getter attitude, high standards and positive work ethic.

A month with a narcissist on staff, though, quickly reveals the less appealing traits that a truly clinical personality brings to the mix: resistance to learning, inability to take constructive criticism and over-zealous competitiveness. Narcissists are not team players. Everything – and everyone – is about them. A narcissist in the office creates havoc, upsets systems and creates work-style rifts where there were none before. They introduce stress and instability by injecting their health and relationship issues immediately and forcefully upon their co-workers.

I have had one narcissist say outright (as she must have believed) that she was brought in as a partner to “run the show.” Another arrived on day one with new workflow initiatives and the announcement that “now things will go my way.”

I have learned to temper the first-blush appeal a narcissist leverages in an interview situation. I look for three things that indicate a healthy balance to every self-confident and accomplished attitude. These are:

o Genuine humility
o The ability to compliment others (a past co-worker or boss)
o Knowing how to ask a question and listen to the answer with real interest and empathy

There is a list of questions that are not acceptable when you are interviewing, and I am sure that “How do you feel you fall on the narcissistic scale of behavior?” is one of them. So I have learned to temper my enthusiasm for the full-on, over-aggressive, go-getter candidate.

What personality traits raise red flags for you when you are interviewing?

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