Do you know how to identify narcissists during the interview process?

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 whom she personally 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.

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 for key positions. Then, you have to figure out how to manage people who are problematic once you’ve terminated her. This means you have to know how to manage people. You couldn’t believe how stupid you’d been in allowing Paula to hire the two individuals who’d been her job references.

If you want to avoid ever hiring narcissists, you need to learn to recognize them. Here’s how:

  1. Narcissists can’t take criticism. During your hiring interview, if you critique something on the candidate’s résumé or mention a negative comment you learned through your reference-checking process, you’ll see ther guard drop, and they’ll argue, or you’ll see their anger flare.
  2. Narcissists don’t like to give others credit. Ask the candidate to describe an accomplishment made by a team she served on and listen to how she handles the questions. Chances are, you’ll hear how she steered the entire process to victory.
  3. Listen carefully to how your candidate 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  former employers for their side of the story about the challenges that remain—which the narcissist’s replacement now handles.
  4. Through human resources training, you can comfortably create a three-interview process and allow at least one peer and one support staff member to interview the candidate. Narcissistic candidates expect to dazzle and 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.
  5. Finally, make your hiring offer conditional on what you learn from your post-offer reference check. If you’d done that with Paula, you might have gotten an earful.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Test (MBTI) can be a great tool in providing deeper insight into your candidate’s personality and whether or not it’s a good fit at your organization.