Maryland Smith Research / July 9, 2024

Seductive Language for Narcissists in Job Postings

New study reveals certain keywords appeal to narcissistic applicants – intentionally or unintentionally

Rule-bender language in job postings can be too seductive for narcissists to ignore, according to Professor Nick Seybert's research.

Employers and recruiting firms frequently infuse job postings with words and phrases like “ambitious,” “thinks outside the box,” “communicates persuasively” and “thinks strategically.” However, according to new research, such keywords signify “rule-bender” (versus “rule-follower”) language and heavily draw narcissistic applicants who are more likely to engage in unethical or fraudulent behavior–significantly in accounting positions.

This is especially significant for recruiters consuming the “tons of practitioner advice out there on how to avoid hiring narcissists, while unaware such terms draw such candidates,” says Associate Professor of Accounting Nick Seybert at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Seybert and his co-authors, Scott Jackson (University of South Carolina) and Jonathan Gay (University of Mississippi) focused their research on the accounting field because, as Seybert says, “it is an area where narcissists and rule-benders may have the most immediate negative impact.”

Through four validation studies and four experiments, the authors characterize language, exemplified by the aforementioned keywords, as describing “rule-benders.”

“We show that narcissists are more attracted to rule-bender language in job postings both for general jobs and for accounting positions,” Seybert says. “We then show that professional recruiters are more likely to include rule-bender language in job postings for more innovative and higher-growth companies, as well as for companies that would benefit from manipulating their earnings.”

The findings, Seybert adds, “suggest that even before a single job seeker has clicked ‘apply,’ language contained in a job posting may be too seductive for narcissists to ignore, increasing the chances of attracting unethical applicants to the position.”

But an overriding takeaway is that “‘rule-bender’ language enters job postings both intentionally and unintentionally, with the outcome being that the applicant pool will have a much larger percentage of narcissists,” Seybert says.

The study has been accepted for publication by Management Science. Read the current version: "Seductive Language for Narcissists in Job Postings.”

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