How Not to Hire a Narcissist

Paula looked great on paper. She had an MBA and had held two department manager jobs, both with prestigious companies.

She dazzled you and the rest of the selection team during two rounds of interviews. She answered every question succinctly, articulately and with a sense of humor.

When asked, “What puts you in the job market?” Paula gave a reasonable answer. “My calling is turning around problem departments and companies. Once they’re running smoothly, I’m ready for my next challenge.” Your company urgently needs someone who can take charge of a problem department, exactly Paula’s stated forte.

It bothers you slightly that Paula doesn’t want you to check with her current supervisor, however, she gave a reasonable explanation. “If you decide not to hire me, I’ll still need to work there. He’s the kind of man who feels betrayed when one of his team looks for a new job.” Also, she gave you two references from others in her current company, both individuals she hired for prominent positions.

Unfortunately, you can’t fully check references from Paula’s prior employer either, as the individual who supervised her had a heart attack and left the company. Paula’s former peers have also moved on, most during the same time period she departed.

You put your worries aside and hire Paula.  Three months later, you realize you’ve hired a charismatic narcissist.

Their lens of “me”

Narcissists see the world through a lens of “me”, yet easily land new jobs and then rapidly rise through organizational ranks because they excel at selling themselves.

If you hire them, you pay the price. They expect applause and react angrily when they don’t get it. They manipulate others to get what they want.  By the time you figured Paula out, she’d hired two incompetent sycophants in to key positions, leaving you with two problem employees when you terminated her.  You couldn’t believe how stupid you’d been in allowing Paula to hire the two individuals who’d been her job references.

5 strategies that work

If you don’t want ever again to hire narcissist, you need to learn to recognize them. Here’s how:

Narcissists can’t take criticism. During your hiring interview, critique something on the applicant’s resume or mention a negative comment you’ve learned through your reference checking process and watch the narcissist’s guard drop.

Narcissists don’t like to give others credit. Ask the applicant to describe an accomplishment made by a team she served on and listen to how the applicant handles the questions.  Chances are, you’ll hear how the applicant steered the entire process to victory.

Listen carefully to how your applicant describes his former employers and job situations. Narcissists often subtly disparage former employers or insist they’re on the job market because no challenges remain with their former employers.  If the narcissist completely dazzles you, you may forget to ask the narcissist’s former employers about the challenges that remain – that the narcissist’s replacement now handles. 

Create a three-interview process and allow at least one peer and one support staff to interview the applicant.  Narcissist candidates expect to dazzle and to be hired after their first interview. While they may maintain patience through two interviews, the third interview sets their teeth on edge, particularly if someone they regard as a natural subordinate joins the interview team. 

Finally, make your hiring offer conditional on what you learn from your post-offer reference check. If you’d done that with Paula, you’d have gotten an earful. 

For a full chapter on how to recognize and handle a narcissist coworker, manager or employee, check out Beating the Workplace Bully


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2 thoughts on “How Not to Hire a Narcissist

  1. Not having narcissists is so important! Making hiring contingent on what you find in the background check sounds like a key point and action here.

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