It turns out that we can actually learn some valuable career lessons from the jerks at work. According to new research, being self-obsessed can help you stand out from the crowd in a job interview. Narcissists have an easier time impressing employers and getting hired. And a separate report indicates that once they are on the job, disagreeable people tend to earn significantly more than their nicer coworkers. Jerks.  

Apparently nice guys (and gals) do finish last.

The study on narcissists at the job interview comes from the Journal of Applied Psychology.   

It turns out that while in most social situations narcissists are quite off-putting, those same self-promotional tendencies come in handy in an interview.

Why jerks out-perform other people in an interview:

  • Narcissists love (and have practiced) animatedly talking about themselves.
  • They relate every event in a way that makes themselves look good.
  • When asked challenging questions, they actually increase their self-promotion. (Where a normal person would be tempted to tone it down or back-track.)

In the study, non-narcissistic participants answered interview questions in a tactfully modest fashion and therefore scored much lower marks with their interviewers.

“This shows that what is getting (narcissists) the win is the delivery,” said the study’s co-author, Peter Harms, assistant professor of management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “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.”

Studies have also found that there has been a steady increase in the number of people with narcissistic personalities over the past 30 years.  There are a particularly high number of narcissists among people born after 1982. (Watch out, they’re in your midst, Gen Y.)

Employers admire candidates who are confident in their abilities and accomplishments and who are prepared to talk about and defend them articulately. So even if you’re not a narcissist, taking on some of their behaviours could be a solid job interview strategy. 

Why jerks earn more money

In other news, an earlier report published in the Journal of Personal and Social Psychology found that especially for men, there are salary advantages to being unpleasant on the job.

Researchers measured “agreeableness” using self-reported survey data and found that men who ranked lower than average on likability earned a whopping 18% more — or roughly $10,000 more annually — than nicer guys did. Disagreeable women, meanwhile, earned about 5% or $1,828 more than their more likeable colleagues.

The analyzed data was collected over nearly 20 years from three different surveys sampling about 10,000 workers in a wide range of professions, salaries and ages. Meanwhile, researchers conducted a separate study with 460 business students asked to act as human-resource managers for a fictional company. The students were presented with short descriptions of candidates for a consultant position. Men described as highly agreeable were less likely to get the job.

The study authors write, “Overall, our research provides strong evidence that men earn a substantial premium for being disagreeable while the same behavior has little effect on women’s income.”



Why this premium on rude behaviour? The disagreeable workers tend to get their own way and to draw attention to themselves, making it appear as if they are natural leaders – even in cases where they are clearly not. Among the words used to describe them were “stubborn,” “quarrelsome,” “difficult” and “outspoken.”

The study points out that the increased level of responsibility and salary that disagreeable people are awarded is actually completely out-of-step with the value of their contributions on the job. Disagreeable people can actually be quite disruptive to team work and the general office culture.

In the same sense that it is better to learn from the narcissist’s job interview advantages than it is to actually be one – there are things we can learn from well-compensated jerks without necessarily becoming a disagreeable person.

Having an opinion and taking credit for your own (not other people’s) ideas can make you stand out at work. Being assertive and speaking out when you have something to say can make you look like a leader.

Just remember there is a fine line between being assertive and being pushy, and the aggressive loudmouth on the team who nobody likes generally doesn’t last too long. So learn from the jerks, but don’t become one.


Peter Harris