Exposing the Narcissist HR Job Applicant

trophy-mdBeware of the initial charm and exterior wrapping of a narcissistic employment candidate. If you were selecting the grab bag from under the tree, a narcissist would be the present wrapped in the prettiest wrapping paper and the biggest bow. You would be attracted to the glitz and there would be a mad scramble to grab the present. Once opened, the box would be empty. How do you prevent wasting your time opening the empty box?

What are the symptoms of a narcissist? The most troubling are they are egocentric, have a sense of entitlement and lack of empathy towards others. They have an elitist viewpoint and they do not take kindly to criticism. They can become quite aggressive when challenged. They are toxic waste dumps leaving a long wake of carnage. One of sixteen people could be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder and one in four supervisors. That last statistic always garners a few chuckles when I present this topic at conferences.

Ask the applicant to share their best attributes, and ask why they would be the right person for the job. If they are a narcissist, sit back and watch them bloviate about themselves. Listen and analyze their accomplishments. Are they bragging?  Sure, in a human resource interview, applicants need to sound like the neatest invention since the iPad, but the narcissist will take it to a new level. When you are interviewing applicant, you can ask them for a list of their greatest achievements. Narcissists will have a ready list. Non-narcissists will have to mull over the list and may be more modest or team oriented. The narcissistic I-Bomb will drop the, “I did this and I did that.” As my mother called them, “The Great I am.”

Watch for trophy collectors. Once they are awarded the key to the city, they move on with little consideration. One applicant that I interviewed had attained first place in an academic team competition as junior. I asked how he came out his senior year. His response was why would he enter a contest in which he had already achieved greatness?  He reiterated a similar story concerning an athletic competition. Finished first and put the trophy on the shelf. Life was a series of trophy hunts and short-term success. Humility is not in their suit of armor. When I gave him the Heisman trophy stance with a stiff arm, he was stunned. How could I turn down his awesomeness?

Start talking about yourself and see how quickly they develop the glazed over eye look. They are in deep thought about how great they are and lose all interest in your story. They lack sincere empathy. Share a story of tribulation and they may feign interest, but they will not ask deeper questions. Many will have exaggerated movements and be poor listeners. Think of the person that attracts everyone around the water cooler. Life is all about them and they enjoy being the center of attention.  Is the water cooler jerk a quality employee?

Not all narcissist look like and act like Donald Trump. Be mindful of the closet narcissist who has learned to control him or her conduct with a measured approach.  They are the potential concealed mines that are difficult to find during the short HR interview. They can be quite charming. I-Bombs tend to be great dressers and tend to be attractive. This is not always the case, as I have seen some that would make a tuxedo look bad, but they still viewed themselves as a hot as a chili pepper. A study was conducted that observed pedestrians passing a mirrored glass building. Those with higher narcissistic tendencies paused to admire their reflection.  I was reminded by this when folks told me of observing a supervisor out for an afternoon run, and he checked out his posterior in the reflection of a window. Who has the energy during a run to check out their image, never mind their backside? The subordinates were across the street in a restaurant and enjoyed a great laugh. 

Narcissists have a strong sense of entitlement. Ask them why they are right for the job. They will be glad to answer. Ask a theoretical question that can elicit an entitled response. “If you entered a business as a new employee and a promotion became available. You and your team were developing the next generation prototype product and the team is on the verge of a major breakthrough.  Your team has invested weekends and considerable overtime in product development.  Although you had only been there for one year, your competition for the job has been there ten years. Do you think you would be right for the promotion and why?” The follow-up questions would be, “How would the team feel with you leaving or how should a ten year employee feel that you received the coveted promotion?”  A narcissist will go for the promotion and abandon the team. They will feel their contributions were enough to take credit for success of the team. The promotion will be too big of dangling filet mignon to pass up. Most people would feel some sense of loyalty and devotion to the team, while feeling insecure about competing against an experienced co-worker for a position.

We all have some attributes of narcissism and some of those qualities are what make applicants successful. True narcissists make shallow intimate partners, terrible teammates or co-workers and horrible bosses. If you can pre-empt them during the HR hiring interview, you will have done a great service to your company in eliminating potential I-Bombs.

For more information on interviewing and narcissists, take a look at: FACE 2 FACE : Observation, Interviewing and Rapport Building Skills: an Ex-Secret Service Agent’s Guide http://www.amazon.com/Face-2-ebook/dp/B009991BII/ref=sr_1_6?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1354630000&sr=1-6

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6 Responses to Exposing the Narcissist HR Job Applicant

  1. Mark says:

    Mike, Been struggling with an NPD employee for 10 years- only recently understood my lack of success at communicating with the individual was not my specific failing other than not recognizing the condition. Bond and determined to learn all that I can so that I can hopefully avoid the anguish of hiring another individual with NPD. Thank You very much.

    • mike says:

      Thank you for reading the post and sharing your sentiments. In the HR arena, identifying NPD is a challenging task. We have all dealt with the difficult relationships with those consumed with NPD. It can certainly make the day more arduous as most of us hope for treating people with respect will result in the same in return. Unfortunately with NPD individuals, that is not the always the case. Best of luck. Cheers, Mike

  2. J. Lox says:

    Mike, I’m going to presume by your “air of authority” that you’re Ph.D. is in analytical psychology. Why then, does HR attract the most narcissistic of all people?

    • mike says:

      Thank you for stopping by and your comments. “When facts are few, experts are many.” – Donald R. Gannon. I apologize if I came across with an “air of authority” or an elitist viewpoint. Perhaps, I may be suffering from narcissism. I am not a Ph.D. I have spent over 30 years conducting criminal interviews and HR interviews. Having spent a great deal of time also attending classes, studying, researching, and teaching, I consider myself knowledgeable on the subject. I believe the term “expert” is too easily bantered about. I have inquired with “experts” concerning studies of specific occupations and the higher narcissistic tendencies, but I have not learned of any occupation specific study. Statistics do indicate that approximately 1 in 4 supervisors (22%) suffer from narcissism. I cannot answer as to why HR would have a higher tendency. Like you, I believe narcissist are drawn towards certain occupations more than others. No scientific proof. Cheers, Mike


    Mike I can´t stress enough how accurate and insightful your article is. “The Great I am” (I love the term) are hazardous in any professional or relational context and unfourtunately we can´t fix them – ever . Thank you for sharing your knowledge

    • mike says:

      Pedro, with your experience in HR, I am humbled by your praise. I feel it is best to pull the weeds before they overtake the garden. Cheers, Mike

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