It is natural for people when interviewing to subconsciously let their innate narcissism creep into the hiring process. Even when a person is not overtly narcissistic, unless they are a seasoned interviewer operating in a very well designed and structured recruiting process, there is a good chance that their natural tendencies could drive that person to want to hire people like himself/herself.

While it is often an exaggeration to call somebody narcissistic, the self-focused tendencies of a narcissist do manifest in all people if not carefully checked.

Even when confronted with this behavior, people are more prone to defend the behavior rather than seek to change it:

  • I am in the position that I am because I have been successful. If we know that I can be successful, doesn’t it make sense that hiring people just like me makes it easy to expect and enable success?
  • Decisions become easier to make an implement when we are all on the same page. If I hire a team that thinks like me, we’ll be nimble and focused.

While the logic is not unsound, there are other side-effects that typically create larger problems that than the commonality of background and mindset help to prevent.

The business becomes a reflection of you, not a reflection of customer needs

For some businesses, a narrow, deep scope of services may be appropriate reducing the risk of having a homogeneous employee population. However, for most businesses, the ability to serve a broad range of clients on a broad range of topics within your competitive space is an asset. The more homogeneous the population, the more difficult it is to broaden the scope of offerings and the extend the breadth of potential clients.

While businesses cannot afford to battle over trivial decisions due to complete misalignment in style and/or capabilities, a lack of diversity in thought approach and skills severely constrains creativity and innovation.

When leadership teams share an intensely common profile, it becomes harder for them to develop new lines of thinking and explore new avenues for innovation. A narrow swath of ideas appeal consistently to the team, but the periphery to this sweet spot is small and with few employees naturally positioned to share and develop ideas outside of the sweet spot, that size of the business’s sweet spot has little chance to grow.

Hiring more people with the same profile only perpetuates the current homogeneity and the organization usually becomes very nimble in the making and execution of tactical decisions while lumbering and slow to make significant, impactful changes in strategy making it very challenging to evolve with your customers as their profile and needs change.

You risk losing candidates and employees

The recruiting process is a funny routine. Up until the issuance of the offer, control over the process resides almost entirely with the hiring entity. This power, however, makes a sudden and dramatic shift over to the candidate once an offer is issued. While either side can end the process at any time up to the point of offer acceptance, only one side has the potential to advance the process to the next stage at any point in the process.

This transition of power is often overlooked by narcissistic hiring managers who over play the hand they have. Narcissism often leads hiring managers to believe that the role they offer is so great that the need not concern themselves with “selling” the candidate on the role. For them, it is a foregone conclusion that the candidate will accept the offer if they receive an offer.

Narcissistic managers frequently seek to spend as little time on the recruiting process as possibly causing them to miss the opportunity to impress and attract the qualified candidates and secure their offer acceptance. Instead they focus inwardly on tasks more interesting or comfortable to them, usually unrelated to recruiting. Candidates often surmise that lack of management attention during the recruiting process is indication that the company will provide only limited investment in their development once inside the company.

Leaders who exhibit this mentality and behavior during recruiting frequently display similar behavior in other aspects of the job. The same narrow inward focus and limited connectivity and/or engagement with more junior staff that can deter candidates from joining can also leave current employees to depart.

Many of these employees may also view a homogenous leadership with a similar profile to themselves as a concerning barrier to career growth. If their natural personal sweet spot is already thoroughly occupied by others and the company doesn’t naturally welcome diverse ideas, that employee may struggle to find a path for individual growth within the company and seek opportunities elsewhere.

How to eradicate narcissism and avoid these challenges

All people have some degree of self-focus and some level of empathy. Anyone can exhibit narcissistic behaviors or altruism in certain situations. Most people, if not careful, can behave with narcissistic tendencies that even when minor, do still undermine business objectives and add challenge to meeting business objectives. Luckily there are a few simple steps than can mitigate some of that risk.

1. Invest in upfront planning – The first step to avoiding narcissism in the hiring process is to invest in a clear definition of the skills profile being sought for each open job and predefine the evaluation criteria and methodology to be used in the selection of candidates.

Though many people find it frustrating, tedious, or mundane to go through this process at the beginning of launching a search for new employees, those same people find it liberating and calming when it comes time to evaluate and select candidates. The positives of this approach extend beyond avoiding self-focused influences and include improved quality of candidates being sourced, reduced ratio of candidates evaluated to candidates qualified, simplified selling of decisions to stakeholders, easier proof of EEOC compliance and a better ability to improve processes over time.

2. Seek complementary skills – During the process of defining the target profile and the selection criteria, businesses should inventory the strengths and weaknesses of the existing team and incorporate skills that complement those strengths by covering weaknesses in the profile.

3. Diversify the data set – There are many ways to expose additional perspectives. Increasing the number of people interviewing candidates can introduce useful additional information but often new insight requires employing diverse evaluation techniques, not just more of the same. Particularly if the current team is itself homogenous, leaning on third party and/or objective opinions can be very enlightening.

For example, a wide variety of third party tests exist that when used effectively can provide useful information. Using an outside party such as an external evaluator (e.g. trained head-hunter or human resources consultant) who is familiar with the company and needs of the role but is not part of the organization can provide unique insights and challenge devoid of competing political motivations.

4. Listen first – Leaders who have the ultimate decision authority should wait to speak last in discussions about candidates. This reduces the potential for their influence to drive the team to align with their thinking. It does not prevent the leader from allowing his/her self-emulation bias from entering the discussion, but it does increase the likelihood that alternate ideas will be exposed.

Ultimately, many people will be able to keep their narcissism in check simply by knowing what to look for and being carefully cognizant of their behavior. However, no harm comes from structuring the process to assist in eliminating narcissistic bias from the process.