Three specific personality traits – Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy – combine to form what’s known as the Dark Triad. Each of us has elements of these traits in our personality but HR teams should guard against job candidates who have high levels of all three traits. Those candidates may seem perfectly suited to the role but actually they’re more likely to engage in deviant or counterproductive behaviour.
Individuals with Dark Triad traits often self-sponsor their way into positions of leadership. They manage to fool the recruiters who appoint them – and charm the executives who promote them – because they come across as compelling and competent extroverts and they excel at interviews.
Machiavellians are good negotiators and they excel at forming political alliances. However, they’re also unprincipled, self-interested, cynical and they manipulate and exploit others.
Narcissists tend to favour big, bold actions that grab attention. High scorers on this trait are egotists who seek to influence and dominate others through their charisma and superiority.
Psychopathy, the most malicious trait, is characterised by a lack of empathy, impulsive behaviour, selfishness and an absence of conscience. Psychopaths think differently, which means they can be creative. They’re also unafraid to take extreme risks.
Appointing individuals who have low levels of these traits can benefit your organisation. But high levels of all three traits can spell disaster. Here are seven steps that can safeguard your organisation against Dark Triad candidates:
1. Gauge the level of risk for your circumstances. Some jobs will require aspects of Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy, so you need to consider the nature of your work and the context of your organisation. Be realistic about exactly what levels of these traits are relevant for your roles.
2. Conduct a thorough job analysis. Look broadly at the holistic requirements for every role and identify the competencies, personality, abilities, knowledge, experience, attitude and values as well as the optimal behaviours that are required.
3. Use multiple assessments. Screen your applicants with a personality questionnaire, a values questionnaire and a motivation assessment. Choose reputable tests that focus on the job requirements and are not easily faked. The right assessments will measure your required competencies, identify the Dark Triad traits and predict whether individuals will suit the role and fit the values of your organisation. The best personality questionnaires will reveal the person-job fit for each individual and will also give you a score for each desired competency.
4. Conduct structured interviews. A Dark Triad candidate will often try to outsmart an interviewer, because they think they are superior. In some cases they even want to take charge of the interview. These candidates can be charismatic and they may shine in one or two areas, creating a ‘halo effect’ which can fool an unsuspecting interviewer into appointing them. To avoid these traps, hiring managers should be trained to conduct thorough, competency-based interviews that cover all aspects of the role and enable them to keep control of the dialogue. Some personality questionnaires generate an interview guide which provides hiring managers with probing questions that they can ask to check and verify the suitability of each candidate’s competencies and behaviours. This helps to counter any ‘outsmarting’ behaviour.
5. Monitor those ‘on the verge’. If you create a ‘cut-off level’ for the Dark Triad traits, there will inevitably be individuals who will score just under that level. If you employ these people, you’ll need to pay particular attention to them. For example, it would be unwise to put a group of them together into a single team.
6. Recognise and reward ethical behaviour and good citizenship. Promote the values of your employer brand and encourage and reward the right behaviours. Review the way your organisation monitors and manages performance, to ensure that you’re focusing on objective measures and on ethical and interpersonal behaviour. Dark Triad individuals can flourish if your organisation ignores their moral shortcomings.
7. Promote the right people. In every succession planning scenario, look holistically at the requirements of the role and ensure you appoint someone whose attributes and competencies match those needs completely.
With a greater awareness of the Machiavellian, narcissist and psychopath traits – and by following these seven steps – you’ll make better selection decisions and protect your organisation against Dark Triad candidates.
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