Young narcissists less likely to succeed

Last updated 12:53 28/05/2013
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NARCISSIST: Lots of people are hugely self-confident but can be humble, while a narcissist would never admit to not knowing something, Jeff Simpson says.

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Employers should be wary of hiring graduates on first impressions of youthful confidence and boasts of success as they're often trademarks of a young narcissist.

While research shows narcissists often occupy the executive ranks of corporate structures, young graduates displaying such self-centred attitudes are much less likely to succeed, according to research from Massey University.

Industrial psychologist and new PhD recipient Jeff Simpson followed the progress of 75 graduate placements at one of New Zealand's top five consulting firms over two years, and found 10 had narcissistic traits.

None of those 10 individuals remained employed at the company for the full two years.

Simpson said the study showed narcissists were not successful in graduate positions because they did not see the need to learn the ropes of their new job, instead carrying their "know-it-all" personality through what should be an educational process.

"There's lots of people that are hugely self-confident but they can be humble when they need to be and they can be humble when they don't know something - a narcissist would never admit to not knowing something," Simpson said.

"The good ones are more humble and it bothers them what they don't know so they go out of their way to make sure they learn it, where as the narcissist doesn't want to look stupid by not knowing so they never go into learning mode."

Simpson said organisations were particularly vulnerable to hiring narcissists when they were feeling pressure and looking for self-confident employees to pull them out of turmoil.

"If you've got someone who can come in and present with great confidence and great vision - in other words be a bit of a blow-hard - you're much more vulnerable to believing that."

He said the use of competency-based interviews by recruitment firms and human resources departments - where applicants are asked to talk about their successes - often played into the hands of narcissists.

Narcissists were also very good at creating urgency around hiring them, often by suggesting there's competition for their skills, Simpson said.

Graduates should have a "cautious optimism" in their out look as opposed to a know-it-all attitude and "an ego the size of the building".

There should be an ideology shift away from competency-based interviews and employers should place more value on humility and maturity.

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"It sounds narcissistic but the sort of work we've covered here, it's good if it can be aired a bit," Simpson said.

"It does take some interviewing skill to understand if you've got a narcissistic person in front of you or just a self-confident one, and the current way organisations do that with their interviewing is miles behind."

Instilling a collective culture rather than a self-interested, dog-eat-dog culture in the company is also a key to avoiding narcissistic characteristics emerging and flourishing, he said.

Simpson said global research has shown a higher degree of narcissism in the medical profession and in the military.


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