Here’s An Interview Question To Test If Millennial Candidates Are Actually Entitled Narcissists
Of all the charges that get leveled against millennials, the most pernicious, and ubiquitous, is that they’re entitled narcissists. Now, those charges are seriously overblown (and often completely inaccurate). But for the moment, let’s imagine that we do think the ‘entitled narcissist’ label fits and that we need a way to assess job candidates to ensure that anybody we hire is not an entitled narcissist. Is such a thing even possible?
It turns out that this is not a new challenge. Based on the Hiring For Attitude research, we know that 46% of new employees will fail within 18 months of hire. And 89% of the time when new hires fail, it’s for attitude rather than skills, with a lack of coachability being the number one reason why they fail. In case you were wondering, a lack of coachability looks virtually identical to being an entitled narcissist.
So how can you tell if someone is an entitled narcissist (or uncoachable)? I recommend the interview question
Could you tell me about a time when you doubted your abilities?”
This question has three hallmarks of an effective interview question: it’s open-ended, it forces the candidate to provide a specific example, and it makes the candidate reveal their underlying attitudes. You can find more interview questions that share these characteristics (and learn how tough they are to answer) in the online quiz “Could You Pass This Job Interview?”
In this particular question, you’re forcing the candidate to reveal whether they’ve had doubts about their abilities. This indicates a level of coachability as someone is not coachable if they’ve never had doubts, and they’re fairly narcissistic if they think they’re perfect. And you’re not just forcing them to reveal any doubts they’ve had; you’re also testing to see whether they’ve been able to transform those doubts into any kind of improvement and self-growth.
When your interview question is this open-ended, your candidates’ answers will very quickly reveal their “goodness of fit.” The following are three real-life answers to the question “Could you tell me about a time when you doubted your abilities?” In all three cases, hiring managers thought these responses indicated a lack of coachability and high levels of entitled narcissism.
I can’t really think of an example, but I’ve been told that confidence is one of my strongest traits. Even during my internship when I suggested to my boss that he let me get more involved in real work instead of just being a low-level “secretary” doing grunt work, an idea he immediately dismissed, I didn’t for a minute doubt my abilities. My boss was a total authoritarian figure, a micromanager, and nothing can change for the better when that’s the case. It was crazy because he accused me of being lazy, but he was the one who was lazy. My suggestion meant he had to do “something” or give up “something.” He wasn’t willing. The issue was a management problem and not a problem with me.”
“It’s important to know your own strengths and capabilities and to always stand by them. Like at my last job, I know my value as an employee, so I definitely disagreed with my boss when it came to issues like covering the front desk. I mean, I don’t mind covering the desk for the occasional lunch or break, but I was asked to do it way too often, just because I was the new person, and I knew it was a poor use of my skills and talents, so I spoke up. My boss didn’t like that very much which is why I’m here interviewing with you. But I figure I need to be where I’m appreciated so I’m actually glad it worked out the way it did.”
“Just because someone has more authority doesn’t mean they’re right and you’re wrong. I had a professor that switched an in-class course to an online course but was still treating the class as if it was an in-class course. Both are different and need to be run differently. I told him how I thought things should be and that he was making the course more difficult on all the students, but he didn’t care. There’s someone who should have doubted their abilities. He just expected us to get it done the way he wanted, so there was no resolution to the problem. I never for a moment doubted that I was right. It’s important to stand firm in your convictions.”
Notice how all three of those answers indicate someone who has no doubt about their abilities? Even though they could be totally wrong, there’s just no openness in any of those responses to the possibility that they could do better. Imagine how painful it would be if you’re the manager trying to give some constructive feedback to any of these candidates. Confidence is great, but delusional self-assuredness is a major problem.
Now let’s look at two other real-life answers to the question “Could you tell me about a time when you doubted your abilities?” that hiring managers thought indicated high coachability and low levels of entitled narcissism.
It was my first job out of college and I was only there a short time when the sales team was tasked with a sales blitz. I was given a list of potential clients to call and I called the first name on the list and they started asking all these questions that I was not sure how to answer. My manager was not in, so I had to tell the potential client that I would have to get back to them. This made me feel immediately apprehensive about calling the rest of the names on my list, my confidence was definitely challenged. The positive side of this story is that with the help of my manager and some others on the team, I forced myself to basically cram, like I was studying for a test, to get up to speed on what I didn’t know. It was a humbling experience, but it made me a better sales person.”
“I had what I thought was a great idea for how to improve a process. Unfortunately, my customer did not think it was so great. I tried to defend my idea, but the customer began to poke holes in my argument and I began to see how he was right. At first, I felt my confidence just bottom out; that’s a terrible place to be, and I admit my ego was bruised, too. But we kept talking, for over an hour, and even though my initial idea was essentially rejected, it helped start a conversation that enabled us to come up with a new, better idea that was eventually implemented in the process. I learned that there are going to be times where you don’t know everything, or you’re wrong or you make mistakes, and that’s OK as long as you remain open to exploring new possibilities and keep learning.”
You’ll notice that each of those two answers reflects doubt, but also a willingness to learn (in order to eliminate the doubt).
When these candidates say, “It was a humbling experience” and “I learned that there are going to be times where you don’t know everything” they’re telling you that they’re not entitled narcissists, they’re coachable and they’re quite open to learning and feedback.
So, while it’s often wildly unfair to label an entire generation as being entitled narcissists, the simple fact is that you can immediately assess whether someone fits that label. And all it takes is one simple interview question.