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LINCOLN — Excessive narcissism is a serious psychological disorder, but a little self-importance just might land you a job.
Narcissists performed better in mock interviews than their more modest counterparts, based on recent research co-written by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor. Participants were labeled as narcissists based on their responses to a 40-question personality inventory.
It wasn't so much what narcissists said but how they said it that gave them the edge.
They talked faster, giving the impression they were knowledgeable even when they weren't. They also spoke, smiled, gestured and flattered the interviewer more often, which scored points with the neutral observers evaluating their performances.
Virtually every career coach and interview tip sheet say the interview room is no place for modesty — confidence and some self-promotion are key.
But conventional wisdom is that while confidence is attractive, narcissism is not. No previous research had shown that being narcissistic was a positive quality for job applicants.
As it turns out, it's OK — advantageous, really — to love thyself and count the ways.
"Self-promotion is expected (in an interview), and narcissists are good at it because they practice it all the time," said Peter Harms, the UNL assistant professor of management who worked with lead author Delroy Paulhus from the University of British Columbia.
"It comes off as being really authentic," Harms said. "The way they (narcissists) behave on an everyday basis is how other people have to pretend to be in an interview."
Harms said the research provides insights for success in a job interview: Self-promote, talk quickly and talk a lot.
For the study, which will be published in a few months in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 72 volunteers were filmed during simulated interviews for a research assistant position.
Neutral observers evaluated the applicants' hirability based on video footage and interview transcripts. Narcissists were deemed more hirable than other candidates, even though their qualifications were similar.
"Based on our research, applicants should emulate narcissists and take every opportunity to promote themselves; they should also do their best to engage positively with the interviewer," the report says.
Two area career coaches, however, are standing by traditional interview rules: Balance the use of "I" with the use of "we," and tout contributions to a team as well as individual accomplishments.
Too much self-centeredness and self-promotion could kill your job prospects, said Erin Cambier, a career consultant in Sioux Falls, S.D., who works with clients in Omaha, and Vickie Seitner, an executive business coach in Omaha.
"If you're too busy talking about yourself and forgetting the bigger picture — the team, the company, the organization — that can be a huge red flag," Cambier said. "But some candidates go too far on the 'we' side, and they aren't able to show specifically how they contributed."
Finding harmony between me/we is a delicate balancing act. How much "I" is too much? Where is the line between obnoxious and confident?
That might depend on your career field.
"In sales you want someone who is a shameless promoter because you want them to shamelessly promote your company," Cambier said. "Whereas, for an accountant, I would be more critical of that."
In industries that require a lot of independent work, such as marketing, it's more acceptable to talk about your individual qualifications and accomplishments, Seitner said. But in industries or companies where employees operate in teams, you should spend more time discussing how you contribute and collaborate, she said.
Seitner and Cambier also said applicants should make sure they're not simply bragging but rather explaining how their abilities will add value to the organization.
"But remember, no one is going to toot your horn unless you do," Seitner said.
Another recent study by Harms indicated that once narcissists get the job, their self-centeredness can help them succeed in certain careers, such as those in the military or politics. But for the most part, Harms said, narcissists aren't better workers than their humbler colleagues.
"They can be obnoxious," he said. "Generally, for the first 20 minutes of meeting them, you think they're pretty impressive, but with prolonged exposure, they get annoying. From an interpersonal dynamics perspective, it's probably best to avoid hiring these people."