How To Identify Narcissistic Traits in Potential Bosses: Navigating the Hiring Process

how to identify narcissistic traits in potential bosses

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • When reviewing job materials and interviewing, watch for red flags like focus on status and prestige, self-centered language, arrogance, and poor treatment of others.

  • Ask insightful questions about leadership style, team development, conflict resolution, and management approach to reveal potential narcissism.

  • Check references thoroughly and request to meet potential direct reports to gain additional perspectives.

  • If you end up with a narcissistic boss, protect yourself by setting boundaries, limiting one-on-one time, documenting interactions, finding support systems, and practicing self-care.

  • Being equipped with awareness of narcissistic traits allows you to make informed career decisions that safeguard your mental health and align with your professional fulfillment.

Seeking a new job can be an exciting yet daunting process. As you navigate the hiring landscape, it’s crucial to consider not only the role itself but also the company culture and the person who will be your boss.

While many bosses are supportive, inspiring leaders, some may exhibit narcissistic traits that can adversely impact your work experience, psychological safety, and overall well-being.

According to researchers, narcissistic tendencies are on the rise in corporate leadership. The consequences can range from stressful work dynamics to full-blown toxic work environments.

At Cadence Psychology, we believe in empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their careers. This comprehensive guide will provide you with:

  • Insights into identifying narcissistic traits in potential bosses
  • Red flags to watch out for during the hiring process
  • Tips to navigate interviews with awareness
  • Support to protect your mental health if you end up with a narcissistic boss

Equipped with this knowledge, you can embark on your job search with confidence and make career choices that align with your professional fulfillment and personal wellness.

Understanding Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Before diving into narcissistic traits, it’s helpful to understand Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

People with NPD typically exhibit an inflated sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy, and a need for excessive admiration. Their disorder is characterized by:

  • Grandiose sense of self
  • Preoccupation with success and power
  • Belief they are special and unique
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Interpersonally exploitative behavior
  • Envy of others
  • Arrogance

These characteristics can be detrimental when exhibited by people in leadership roles. Let’s explore the common traits of narcissistic bosses in-depth.

how to identify narcissistic traits in potential bosses interview

Unveiling the Red Flags of Narcissistic Bosses

1. Grandiose Sense of Self-Importance

Narcissistic bosses often exhibit an inflated, grandiose sense of self-importance. They overestimate their abilities, exaggerate accomplishments, and believe they deserve special treatment.

You may notice they:

  • Boast about achievements, many of which are exaggerated
  • Expect to be recognized as superior without commensurate skills/experience
  • Take credit for others’ work and contributions to the company
  • Refuse to delegate important tasks as they don’t trust others’ abilities
  • Demand constant praise and validation from subordinates

This grandiosity damages morale, productivity, and workplace relationships.

2. Lack of Empathy

One of the hallmarks of narcissistic bosses is a pronounced lack of empathy. They struggle to understand or care about others’ perspectives and feelings.

You may observe:

  • Dismissiveness or impatience towards subordinates’ concerns
  • Disregard for employees’ personal boundaries and well-being
  • Lack of interest in mentoring or developing team members
  • Tendency to blame or criticize employees for mistakes rather than listen
  • Offering little support for work/life balance

This lack of empathy fosters environments where employees feel unseen, unheard, and emotionally unsafe.

3. Need for Excessive Admiration

Narcissistic bosses have a relentless need for validation and admiration from subordinates. Their self-esteem depends on continuous external praise.

Behaviors driven by this need include:

  • Frequently fishing for compliments from employees
  • Reacting defensively or angrily to constructive feedback or criticism
  • Surrounding themselves with “yes men” who reinforce their inflated self-perception
  • Taking credit for employees’ work so they seem important

This excessive need for validation is often a sign of underlying insecurity and makes for toxic leadership.

4. Sense of Entitlement

Narcissistic bosses believe they deserve special privileges, resources, and exceptions to standard rules. They expect others to cater to their wishes.

You may see:

  • Using company funds frivolously for personal perks while denying budgets for team projects
  • Expecting assistants to handle excessive personal tasks like shopping or childcare
  • Disregard for company policies around expenses, PTO, etc. that others must follow
  • Lacking accountability for their own subpar work or offensive behavior

This damages organizational trust, equity, and perception of leadership.

5. Exploitation of Subordinates

Finally, the sense of entitlement and grandiosity of narcissistic bosses can lead to the exploitation of employees for personal gain. Their subordinates are merely tools for success and status.

Examples include:

  • Assigning subordinates unreasonable workloads to make themselves look good
  • Pressuring team members to take on unreasonable risks
  • Taking credit for others’ work
  • Sabotaging competent employees who threaten their status
  • Showing little regard for employees’ mental health or work-life balance

This exploitation gradually destroys employee morale, health, and retention.

Case Study: A Tale of Two Narcissists

James arrived for a final round of interviews with a fast-growing tech firm. He met first with Robert, the outspoken VP of Sales who domineeringly led the conversation to boast of the division’s impressive revenue growth, taking personal credit for last year’s numbers. When James asked thoughtful questions to learn more, Robert seemed impatient, preferring to discuss his leadership style and aspirations.

Robert painted a highly competitive culture focused strictly on performance, with little regard for work-life balance or employee development. He made several pretentious comments about his lavish lifestyle, hinting at underlying entitlement and privilege. James noticed staff acted nervous around Robert, who spoke condescendingly towards them. The arrogance gave him pause.

James’ second interview was with Margot, another Sales Director, whose friendly charm initially won James over. Her sleek executive office and excessive offers of bonuses, incentive trips, and signing perks felt over-the-top persuasive, however. She showered him with effusive praise for his qualifications and called him a “perfect culture fit”.

When he asked about meeting his potential team, she deflected to accentuate her own accolades instead. She brushed off direct questions about training programs and day-to-day
support, instead reiterating how James clearly had immense talent requiring little guidance to thrive. While no obvious contempt, the interactions felt somewhat removed, focused primarily on James fulfilling Margot’s ambitious growth metrics for her division. The promises felt empty when underlying empathy felt absent.

Collectively between Robert’s boastful grandiosity and Margot’s sophisticated flattery to recruit James as a vehicle for personal success, the red flags signaled that toxic, narcissistic leadership likely plagued the company behind contrived images. James left certain that joining would imperil his mental health and career aspirations long-term, despite tempting promotions.

Now that you know the red flags of narcissistic leadership, here are some tips to spot them during your job search:

Review Job Listings Carefully

Pay attention to the language used in job postings. Listings with a heavy focus on the company’s status, prestige, and competitive culture could indicate a narcissistic environment.

Vet the Company’s Reputation

Research the potential employer’s reputation, specifically leadership. Look for negative reviews that reference demanding, self-interested, or inconsiderate bosses.

Pose Insightful Interview Questions

During interviews, ask thoughtful questions to reveal your potential boss’s leadership style and values:

  • How do you provide feedback and recognition to employees?
  • What is your approach to developing team members?
  • How do you handle conflict or disagreements?
  • How would you describe your management style?

Take note if they struggle to provide substantive answers.

Observe How They Treat Others

Note how the potential boss interacts with reception staff, servers, colleagues, and even strangers. Do they demonstrate empathy, respect, and consideration? Or contempt, arrogance, and entitlement?

Request to Meet Your Potential Team

Ask to meet or chat with your potential direct reports or teammates. Pay attention to signs of low morale. Ask subtle questions to gain insight into the team dynamic.

Check References Thoroughly

Speak to former employees if possible. Inquire about specifics: management style, personality, team culture, workload, and employee development. Watch for subtle red flags.

By staying vigilant for signs of unhealthy narcissism throughout the process, you can gain valuable insights to protect your future work environment and wellbeing.

Strategies to Identify Narcissistic Bosses in Job Interviews

TacticWhat to Look For
Review Job PostingsLanguage focused on status, prestige, competitiveness
Research Company ReputationNegative reviews referencing self-interested or inconsiderate leadership
Ask Thoughtful Interview QuestionsListen for inability to provide substantive answers about leadership approach
Observe Treatment of OthersNotice signs of arrogance, contempt, entitlement
Request to Meet Your TeamLow morale, signs of poor team dynamics
Check References ThoroughlySubtle red flags in descriptions of management style, culture

Maintaining Your Well-Being with a Narcissistic Boss

If you do end up joining a company under a boss with narcissistic tendencies, don’t panic. There are ways to cope and even thrive despite the challenges:

Set Clear Boundaries

Respectfully set limits around tasks, communication, and requests to manage your boss’s expectations. Say no to unreasonable demands that compromise your well-being.

Limit One-on-One Interactions

Narcissistic bosses often exploit solo meetings. Reduce private interactions and communicate through email to establish a paper trail. Have an exit strategy prepared.

Keep Written Documentation

Keep records of key conversations, feedback, instructions, and requests. This protects you if they distort events later.

Foster Supportive Relationships

Build trusted relationships with colleagues for advice and reality checks when you experience gaslighting or other mind games. Find healthy mentors.

Practice Regular Self-Care

Make time for exercise, social connection, relaxing hobbies, and therapy to manage the toll of a toxic boss. Set priorities and learn when to disconnect.

Know When It’s Time to Leave

If the situation becomes actively harmful for your mental or physical health, don’t hesitate to exit and find a healthier workplace. Your well-being always comes first.

Empowering Yourself with Cadence Psychology’s Support

At Cadence Psychology, we understand that navigating the workplace can be challenging, especially when dealing with a narcissistic boss. Our team of experienced psychologists can provide guidance and support, helping you:

  • Develop strategies to establish boundaries
  • Improve communication and conflict resolution skills
  • Foster resilience and self-care practices
  • Process work-related stress and anxiety
  • Protect your mental health and wellbeing

We’re here to help you gain clarity, feel empowered, and thrive in your career journey, even in difficult work environments. Investing in your mental health is the most important tool.


Seeking a new job is an opportunity to advance your career and find a fulfilling work environment. By recognizing the red flags of narcissistic bosses during the hiring process, you can make informed decisions that align with your professional goals and personal well-being.

Equipping yourself with knowledge of unhealthy narcissistic traits allows you to identify positive leaders who will help you grow. And if you do end up with a narcissistic boss, remember support is available – your mental health and happiness matter most. Cadence Psychology is your trusted partner in navigating the complexities of the workplace and empowering you to flourish in your career journey.


Connect with Cadence Psychology

Chat to one of our psychologists if you’ve just bullied or harassed by a narcissistic boss. We’re ready to help you take back some control in your life.