Narcissists or shameless self-promoters do better in job interviews than more modest personalities, a study by University of British Columbia researchers finds.

And that can mean candidates from more modest cultures, including the Japanese, Koreans and Chinese, do poorly in job interviews, suggests the study led by Del Paulhus, a psychology professor at UBC.

In the long term, no one likes to work with narcissists, who tend to centre conversations around themselves, expect constant praise and disregard the opinions of others.

'If you’re a naturally modest person, you might want to try to be a narcissist for the day and maybe practise self-promoting. Even though you feel uncomfortable with it, you’ve got to do it for this one situation'— UBC Prof. Del Paulhus

But in a job interview, they boast about their own accomplishments, make eye contact, joke around and ask more questions, which makes them seem more relaxed and confident, according to the study published in Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

“They are very comfortable with self-promoting, and the job application situation is one where you really do have to self-promote. People who are natural self-promoters are going to have an advantage and modest people will be at a disadvantage,” Paulhus said in an interview with CBC's Lang & O'Leary Exchange.

The study involved videotaping job interviews with 72 applicants, half of them of Asian heritage. Both expert and non-expert interviewers, of varied cultural backgrounds, were asked to say which of the applicants they were most likely to hire for a job.

The applicants were also tested for narcissistic qualities, using a standard test called the narcissistic personality inventory questionnaire. These weren't people with personality disorders, just narcissism that fell within a normal range.

The findings show job seekers of Japanese, Chinese and Korean heritage exhibited lower levels of narcissism and were less likely to receive “definitely hire” ratings after their simulated interview.

"It’s all about focusing on your positive assets, and that’s what interviewers want to know. What are your good points?" Paulhus said. 

People of European descent were most likely to be hired and most likely to demonstrate bragging or other narcissistic traits. There was little difference between men and women.

"People from Western cultures seem to be more predisposed to telling how good they are, while people from more modest cultures like East Asia seem to be very uncomfortable. They were raised to feel uncomfortable by bragging," Paulhus said.

When narcissists were interviewed by someone who knew more than they did or who called them on their knowledge, they become even bigger braggarts.

Learn a little self-promotion

“Narcissists actually increased their self-promotion in the face of an expert interviewer,” Paulhus said.

Paulhus said the findings suggest that employers must learn to look beyond self-presentation in evaluating job candidates, as well as selecting interviewers who can focus on what they want from an employee, rather than exterior qualities.

For job applicants, the message is different — a little self-promotion goes a long way when you get to the job interview.

"If you’re a naturally modest person, you might want to try to be a narcissist for the day and maybe practise self-promoting. Even though you feel uncomfortable with it, you’ve got to do it for this one situation," he said.