Millennial Narcissism: A Gift or a Curse?
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Millennials are narcissistic and all about “me.”
And while many have made this claim based on their assumptions and/or experiences with Gen Y, a 2013 TIME article threw in some scientific research. According to the National Institutes of Health, the article says, people in their 20s have three times as high Narcissistic Personality Disorder than the generation that’s 65 or older.
In 1992, 80 percent of people under 23 wanted to one day have a job with greater responsibility; ten years later, 60 percent did. Millennials received so many participation trophies growing up that 40 percent of them think they should be promoted every two years – regardless of performance. They’re so hopeful about the future you might think they hadn’t heard of something called the Great Recession.
I’ve never even heard of this disorder, but according to the Mayo Clinic, Narcissistic Personality Disorder “is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
By definition, I can certainly see why this disorder would be characterized as a negative stereotype—one that could ultimately hinder millennials in the job seeking world.
Yet, a new study by the University of British Columbia’s Psychology Professor, Del Paulhus, may suggest otherwise. The study, as explained by a press release on the university’s website, revealed that narcissistic job applicants are more successful in job interviews than equally qualified candidates who act more modestly.
“A job interview is one of the few social situations where narcissistic behaviours such as boasting actually create a positive impression,” Paulhus, the lead author of the study, said. “Normally, people are put off by such behaviour, especially over repeated exposure.”
Researchers gave study participants questionnaires to measure their levels of narcissism before each one was placed in a job interview scenario. Results found that people who were rated as narcissists were viewed as more attractive job candidates.
A team of raters, the press release states, later scored video recordings of the interviews. The “narcissist” candidates tended to:
- Talk about themselves;
- Make eye contact;
- Joke around; and
- Ask the interviewers more questions.
These actions ended up making those candidates more attractive for the position.
Paulhus says the study offers important lessons for job candidates and interviewers alike. “Candidates should engage with the interviewer while continuing to self-promote,” he says. “Interviewers should look beyond cultural style and assess individual qualifications. Instead of superficial charm, interviewers must analyze candidates’ potential long-term fit in the organization.”
A characteristic of narcissism is confidence (some would argue being overly confident), and confidence is certainly key when it comes to job interviews. Employers want to know a candidate is the best fit for the role, and an extremely important factor in determining this is how he or she presents him/herself and the person’s qualifications for the role.
Think about it: You’re hiring for a position and have called in Candidate A and B for interviews. Candidate A is shy and timid, doesn’t display confidence in his qualifications and seems hesitant when answering questions about his past experiences that make him suitable for the role. Candidate B walks in the interview with a smile, introduces herself while firmly shaking your hand. She clearly states how her background makes her the best candidate for the role and eagerly asks intriguing questions at the close of the interview.
On paper, both candidates’ qualifications line up equally. Yet, based on their backgrounds and interviews, which person would you choose?
Many “experts” want to deem the millennial generation as narcissistic and self-seeking. That group of people is all about me, me, me. This type of attitude doesn’t sound very appealing, right?
Yet, if the confidence a supposed narcissistic millennial has is able to exude through an interview and land him/her a job, is this supposed trait completely negative? Because I go so far as to say that someone who is confident in his/herself during the interview and displays this trait will undoubtedly want to back that up while on the job. If people boast they’re the best, they’re going to want to show it, which in turn benefits a business by the work these employees produce.
Now, while it’s certainly wrong to generalize millennials and say they’re all narcissists, I’m sure there are plenty who are (just like there are in every other generation). Yet, if their belief in themselves and their skills produces intended effects, is the narcissistic behavior, in this context, truly a curse, or a gift?