While a host of personality traits can be bad news for creating strong teams, probably none tops narcissism, simply because having such an egocentric view makes it so easy to disregard the needs and contributions of others. And ideally, you should identify and weed out narcissism not after someone already is working for you, but during the hiring process before it can become disruptive. For that purpose, based both on my experience and the hallmark traits of narcissism (e.g., exaggerated sense of importance, belief in superiority, manipulation), there are five giveaways to look for in candidates during interviews.
1. Self-praise is extremely vague.
Solid job candidates note their accomplishments factually and quantify their results. This is transparent and honest in that numbers and metrics are verifiable, and it allows you to do easy comparisons.
Narcissistic candidates, however, may believe that they are so clearly ahead of the pack that they don't feel the need for definitive comparisons. Rather than give specifics, they might make sweeping generalizations, such as "My campaign was one of the most effective the company's ever had" or "This was really work no one else could do". These kinds of statements are subjective and based on the narcissist's personal opinion of themselves.
2. They straddle the fence on future scenarios.
One common interview strategy is for leaders to ask candidates how they would handle hypotheticals. Strong interviewees are able to pick a path and explain their rationale. They make the choice guided by a sense of morals that force them to consider the needs and desires of others.
But narcissists want to believe that they can fit anywhere, and they are guided by the belief that they can do whatever pleases them in the moment, even if others suffer for it. So they might pose a lukewarm affirmation of one option and then immediately pivot to another, such as, "But you know, maybe...and we'd just have to see, and look at the situation." Subsequently, you're not left with a solid sense of where the candidate stands or how they actually would proceed.
3. You don't stay at the center of attention.
Good candidates will give you their full focus (e.g., good eye contact, asking questions). They understand that they have a single opportunity to make an impression, and also that it's their responsibility to learn about you.
If you're dealing with a narcissist, by contrast, the candidate likely has the assumption that they are entitled and can't be denied what's in front of them (the job). And in their view, you're available for them to exploit as they see fit. Subsequently, they might easily push you aside for in-the-moment whims (e.g., looking at their phone), and whenever they can, they pivot the conversation back to themselves, rather than having a true dialogue.
4. Their goals are outlandish.
It's a great sign when a candidate aims high for themselves. But narcissists aren't able to give specifics about how they'll reach their high goals. Instead of offering a plan with clear steps that addresses potential difficulties, they simply make assertions about what they want or will do, based on their belief that they are entitled to the outcome they want.
If you press them to be clear about how they're going to go about moving forward, they might give an indefinite, mantra-like answer, such as "I'm going to show up and give 110 percent every day." They might present a timeline that you know from experience or common standards isn't reasonable, as well.
5. Others are targets, not lessons.
Smart candidates can express negative judgments of other individuals or companies respectfully. They provide a balanced reasoning for their conclusions, share what they've learned and even express what they'd do to fix the "problems" they perceive.
Narcissists, though, aren't concerned about growth or being respectful, because they already perceive themselves as exceptional and as above others. They instead just want to give the impression that they are the best, the smartest, most experienced, etc. So they are willing to blatantly belittle other people or businesses, including pointing fingers and absolving themselves of responsibility, to make themselves seem competent and qualified.
Narcissists have no problem walking through your door for an interview with incredible confidence. By observing how well they objectively present proof, are grounded and respectful, however, you can make a distinction between individuals who will look to build your entire team and people who will look out for only themselves. Never allow yourself to settle for anything but the former.