In the study, which appears in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, job applicants were interviewed on video. When the interviewers challenged the applicants on their qualifications, the non-narcissists dialed back on the self-promotion, while the narcissists redoubled their efforts. One of the study’s coauthors, Peter Harms, explains in the university’s release: “It’s as if they say ‘Oh, you’re going to challenge me? Then I’m not just great, I’m fantastic.’" In other words, the arrogance that, in a bar, would get your drink swiftly handed to your face is the strategy to go with when you're blinking under those fluorescent lights, trying to keep your saliva from crackling.
When a new set of interviewers was asked to watch the videos and rate the applicants' performance, they interpreted overconfidence as competence. The interviewers gave high marks much more frequently to applicants who displayed narcissistic tendencies:
“This shows that what is getting (narcissists) the win is the delivery,” Harms said. “These results show just how hard it is to effectively interview, and how fallible we can be when making interview judgments. We don’t necessarily want to hire narcissists, but might end up doing so because they come off as being self-confident and capable.”
They don’t just fool HR, either; subordinates often have a false sense of a narcissist leader’s abilities, as a different study found last fall. Researchers at the University of Amsterdam assigned groups of participants to work together to select the best job candidate. Their success depended on information sharing and open communication—things that a narcissistic leader tends to sabotage, according to ScienceDaily:
As expected, the group members rated the most narcissistic leaders as most effective. But they were wrong. In fact, the groups led by the greatest egotists chose the worse candidate for the job. Says [researcher Barbora] Nevicka, "The narcissistic leaders had a very negative effect on their performance. They inhibited the communication because of self-centeredness and authoritarianism."