Sometimes the mind of a hiring manager can be as tough to crack as Annalise Keating. They want a candidate who’s reliable, hardworking, a team player… and a narcissist?
Recent research from the University of British Columbia found that narcissists are more successful in job interviews than their more modest counterparts. In the study, 72 participants responded to a questionnaire measuring their levels of narcissism and then were videotaped as they simulated being interviewed for a job. The videos were later evaluated by 222 raters, who appraised the self-promoters as the most attractive applicants. Um, what?
We’re guessing that egomaniacs probably don’t top your dinner party guest lists, but the exact traits that make them off-putting in social situations (talking about themselves, bragging) actually give them an edge in an interview context, where it pays to play yourself up.
“Narcissists are enthusiastic about the things they’ve done and don’t shy away from talking about their accomplishments,” says Andrea Kay, career consultant and author of This is How to Get Your Next Job: An Inside Look at What Employers Really Want.
That translates into an engaging, confident and positive job candidate—and who wouldn’t want to hire someone like that?
For the rest of us non-narcissists, boasting about why we rock probably doesn’t come naturally. “Women in particular often find it difficult to step up and toot their own horn,” says career strategist Cynthia Shapiro, author of What Does Somebody Have to Do to Get a Job Around Here? Many of us were conditioned to be quiet people pleasers and have a fear of coming across as too strong. But in the workplace, assertive behavior is rewarded.”
You can channel that same balls-to-the-wall attitude that’ll help you land the job, even if you don’t have Kanye West levels of arrogance. Here, we break down what narcissists do that’s so successful, and how to steal their strategies.
Make Eye Contact
The UBC researchers found that narcissists are better than most people at looking interviewers in the eye.
“Eye contact is the fastest way to develop a connection with the hiring manager, which is crucial to an interview’s success,” explains Kay. “Not only will you come across as more present and focused, but you’ll be able to sense emotion expressed in the interviewer’s eyes that you might otherwise miss.” By tracking her gaze, you’ll be better at picking up on her cues—does she like hearing about how you increased your company’s client base, or is your tangent boring her to death?
If you’re not used to gazing at someone, it can feel uncomfortable in the beginning. The first step toward improving your eye-to-eye skills is to pay attention to your natural tendencies. When you’re talking to someone, do you look down, or to the side? Do you focus on people’s lips rather than their eyes? Once you’re aware of your patterns, you can begin to consciously change them.
“Start by looking into the eyes of people you’re already comfortable with—your spouse, your friends,” says Kay. Obviously, you don’t want to stare down the other person. Aim for a relaxed, natural gaze—although you’ll mainly be looking at them, from time to time you’ll glance up or away. Once meeting your friends’ eyes becomes natural, move on to others you encounter throughout the day, whether it’s a co-worker or the barista at Starbucks. “You’re creating a new habit, and eventually eye contact will feel like second nature,” says Kay.
If eye contact still stresses you out in pressure-cooker situations, try these two easy tricks: “Look in the direction of the person’s face, but then unfocus your eyes so that you’re gazing beyond them to the wall,” suggests Shapiro. You’ll still get that sense of rapport, but won’t feel as on the spot. Or invest in a pair of beautiful, nonprescription glasses. “They create a barrier between you and the interviewer that will make you feel less exposed and more at ease,” explains Shapiro. Not to mention that the whole glasses-equals-intelligence stereotype is widely held.
Project a Powerful Presence
Many women naturally tend to have narrow, closed body language. But don’t be afraid to take up space—the more physical presence you have, the more confident you’ll come across.
“Perching with your legs crossed and your arms folded will make you look small and mousy,” says Shapiro. “Instead, sit sideways in your chair and throw your arm over the back of the seat next to you.” Not only will your expansive posture project leadership, but broadening your chest will also open up your diaphragm, making your voice deeper and more resonant (a.k.a., hireable).
And whether you’re interviewing for a job in a cutting-edge industry like technology or something more buttoned-up, like accounting, here’s a cool visual tip to appear more in-command: Wear some bling. “Studies have shown that people wearing a shiny accessory come across as more powerful,” says Shapiro. “It also helps you stand out from the applicant pool and stay top-of-mind.”
(Oh, and as shallow as it sounds, other research out of Northwestern University has shown that women who wear makeup were judged as more likeable, competent, and trustworthy.)
Finally, if given the choice, opt to sit with your back to the wall, not a window; you’ll look like a more solid candidate. A window backlights you, so people can’t see your face as well and the edges of your body seem to disappear, diminishing your stature. “Plus, when there’s nothing but air in back of you, the things you say don’t carry much weight,” adds Shapiro. She remembers one client who was having trouble getting respect in meeting —people wouldn’t listen to him, would talk over him, etc.
After trying several techniques to no avail, she asked him to describe the meeting room. He mentioned that he stood in front a large picture window when speaking so that his clients could enjoy the view. The moment he moved to the opposite side of the room, positioned against the wall, he was taken more seriously.
Although the original study found that people who joked around with the interviewer came across as appealing candidates, career experts caution that unless comedy comes naturally to you, steer clear of the one-liners.
“Humor can be touchy, and what one person finds funny might strike another the wrong way,” explains Kay. “Instead, create the same sense of levity in a safer way by smiling.”
In researching her book, Kay asked hundreds of managers why they hired certain people over others, and as derivative as it sounds, one factor that came up repeatedly was the importance of smiling and being pleasant. “When it comes to making a hiring decision, employers frequently cited personal characteristics as having a greater influence over their choice than an applicant’s skills and experience,” says Kay. “Ultimately, managers want to work with people they would enjoy hanging out with.”
Flashing your whites is one of the quickest, easiest ways to set a friendly tone—but it’s hard to plaster on a genuine smile when you’re putting all your effort into not sweating through your blouse. So try establishing an affable rapport with the hiring manager right away to help set you at ease. “When you first meet her, mention how beautiful the office is, or that you were impressed with the art collection in the lobby,” suggests Kay. “This gets her talking and helps you both feel more comfortable.” It’s also a more natural, low-stress way to begin the interview than being hit with “So, tell me about yourself!” right off the bat.
Interview the Interviewer
Many people go into an interview with the mind frame of answering questions, not asking them. But tossing the hiring manager Q’s instead of just A’s is a crucial part of the process, as the study showed. Participants who posed questions scored higher than those who didn’t engage in as much back-and-forth.
“It shows you’re engaged, curious, and eager to learn,” says Kay. When the interviewer mentions something intriguing about the organization or job and you respond with just “Uh-huh” or “Okay,” the conversation falls flat. If you instead reply, “That’s fascinating. Can you tell me more about how this position will play into your new green energy initiative?” you convey interest and enthusiasm.
“It also helps you gain insight into the job—as well as the culture and management style of the company—so that you can better ascertain whether it’s the right match for you,” adds Kay.
Highlight Your Accomplishments
Many people aren’t comfortable detailing how awesome they are, but this is the time to do it. “A job interview is one of the few social situations where boasting actually creates a positive impression,” says study author Del Paulhus, PhD, professor of psychology at UBC.
“You have to psych yourself up the same way a boxer gets amped up for the ring,” adds Shapiro. “So a few days before an interview, write down your top 10 best qualities—what you love about yourself, what you do better than everyone else, what differentiates you from others in the marketplace.” On your way to the meeting, remind yourself of everything you’ve achieved and why you’re such a great catch. You’ll go into it with an upbeat, self-assured attitude.
Not used to talking yourself up sans apology? Practice talking about your successes with confidence. Prior to the interview, prepare three to five anecdotes that describe a time you were faced with a challenge and turned it into a win. “These stories will become your foundation,” says Shapiro. “They’re your go-to arsenal if you ever feel trapped and don’t know how to respond to a tough question.” (Such as the ever popular “Tell me about your biggest failure,” or “Describe the hardest project you’ve worked on.”)
Begin by playing up the difficulty you were faced with (emphasize the drama of it—no one thought it would work, the company was at a total loss, etc.), and then launch into how you saved the day. Lastly—and this is the clincher—drive home your success by describing the kudos you got from others: “The client signed on the spot,” or “The CEO was thrilled with the outcome.” “If you talk about how other people were happy with your work, the interviewer will come to the natural conclusion that you’re great,” says Shapiro. You won’t come across as egotistical at all.
If you’re still uncomfortable tooting your own horn when asked whether you’re skilled in a certain area, try putting it in other people’s words: “My last boss called me an Excel genius,” or “Several team members have told me what a great problem solver I am, and that has been nice feedback to receive.”
Deflect Your Weak Spots
People frequently trip up in interviews when addressing gaps in their career path, or jobs that didn’t exactly end with a round of “Kumbaya” and double rainbows. “Most interviewers will walk you through your resume, asking you to tell them about past positions or companies, or why you left the job,” says Shapiro. “No matter what happened, begin by telling the interviewer how much you liked and valued your experience.”
Briefly explain why you parted ways, using positive, neutral language: “I loved it, but there were layoffs at the company/the company chose to shut down the department/I got another offer that I couldn’t refuse.” Never, ever trash a former employer.
If the hiring manager brings up an aspect of the open position that you lack experience in, don’t sell yourself short and assume that you’re not right for the position. “You can neutralize it by confidently presenting what you do have to offer instead,” explains Shapiro. Say the supervisor is looking for a candidate with certain software skills.
Rather than reply that you’re not familiar with the program, hitting home your lapse in qualifications, come back with something like, “I have experience with XYZ software, and I come up to speed quickly with new technology, so I’m confident that I could learn it in 24 hours.” Voilà—you’ve turned a shortcoming into an opportunity to point out that you’re a fast learner and underscore your eagerness.