Grandiose narcissists prefer careers in science and business, while vulnerable narcissists prefer the arts and social fields.
Certain careers can be particularly attractive to narcissists, according to research published in Personality and Individual Differences. The study revealed that grandiose narcissism was associated with career interests related to science and business, while vulnerable narcissism was associated with career interests related to arts, society, and applied fields.
Personality researchers have invested in studying how personality affects career choices. One strand of this research has focused on antisocial personality traits—also called “dark” traits—which include psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism.
Author of the study Julie Aitken Schermer and his colleagues wanted to continue this research by examining how two different dimensions of narcissism relate to career interests. Notably, past research has focused on grandiose narcissism, characterized by dominance, high self-esteem, and entitlement. This is the opposite of vulnerable narcissism, which is also characterized by entitlement but includes social avoidance and hypersensitivity to criticism.
“My main interest in this topic is that although we know that personality helps explain why people are drawn to certain careers, most past research has focused on positive personality dimensions such as conscientiousness and agreeableness, but what about types. the careers of those with darker personalities?’ explained Schermer, a professor at the University of Western Ontario.
For their study, Schermer and his co-authors had 716 undergraduate students complete an online questionnaire. The survey included the Five Factor Narcissism Inventory, an assessment of narcissism that includes 4 scales measuring vulnerable traits and 11 scales measuring grandiose traits. Participants also completed the Jackson Career Explorer (JCE), an assessment that measures career interests by asking respondents how interested they are in certain activities. JCE can be divided into six career interests: science, business, society, art, applied and biology.
The researchers examined how participants’ narcissism scores correlated with their JCE scores, and found that vulnerable narcissism and high narcissism were associated with different career interests.
Scales measuring grandiose narcissism (exhibitionism, authoritarianism, grandiose fantasies, and manipulability) were related to greater interest in the business domain. Notably, exhibitionism and authority are traits associated with extraversion, with evidence that extroverts are more likely to work in business.
Schermer was surprised to find that aspects of high narcissism were also associated with interest in science-related vocations, particularly scales measuring indifference, exploitation, entitlement, lack of empathy, arrogance, and thrill-seeking. Interestingly, these traits are thought to be characteristic of psychopathy, as they have previously been shown to correlate with interest in science-related careers.
“These findings need to be replicated, but they suggest a very cold nature toward others,” Schermer said.
Two scales measuring vulnerable narcissism (need for admiration and reactive anger) were then correlated with interest in the arts and applied fields. The need for admiration was also associated with social interest, albeit with small correlations.
The authors note that people with reactive anger and a need for admiration may be drawn to work in applied fields—such as the skilled trades—because the work can often be done in social isolation and the work is admired upon completion.
The study’s authors say that workers, such as career counselors, can be helpful in directing clients to meaningful career opportunities, especially those with narcissistic traits.
“People with dark traits are in the workplace,” Schermer told PsyPost. “Are they people you want to work with? Probably not, but some can be successful in their positions if their character fits the requirements of that role. For example, he suggested that narcissists can be good at a company’s “bottom line.” Some narcissists will work very hard to maintain their self-image (thinking they are the best; they will try to outdo everyone else to prove they are the best).
“When we looked at how narcissism related to career interests, narcissists were interested in the arts (the performing arts, journalism), likely to gain fame and public recognition, as well as leadership and supervisory roles within companies. They want others to admire them as much as they admire themselves.’
A limitation of the study was that the sample consisted of undergraduate students studying business management, and these participants may have been particularly drawn to the business field. Subsequent work could examine additional samples such as high school students with a wide range of interests. It may also be instructive for future research to examine whether the observed effects would affect work performance, and not just career interests.
“Our research, examining correlations between obscure traits and career interests, did not include some traits that are currently of interest in the literature.” Schermer stated. “Sadism, for example, is an extreme dark trait. It’s hard to imagine where a sadist would do well in an organization, other than maybe being a horror/gore movie scriptwriter (maybe they’d be good at creating violent video games?). Our future project will examine the career interests of those who score higher on measures of sadism.’
In previous workSchermer and his colleagues also examined occupational interests associated with Machiavellianism and psychopathy.
“This latest study was a follow-up to a previous study where we looked at other dark dimensions,” he explained. “In terms of psychoticism, a moderate level of psychopathy is helpful for people who work in situations where they face criticism. The cold affect characteristic of subclinical psychopaths can be useful, as they are less likely to become emotional when their work is mocked and more likely to continue working instead of giving up.’
“In terms of their career interests, there was a positive association with the hard sciences such as mathematics, physics and engineering. Not surprisingly, people who score higher on psychopathy do not want to pursue a career helping others (such as teaching).
“Holding on to the other dark dimensions of the personality, the one trait that wouldn’t be helpful in an organization unless you’re trying to run an illegal pyramid scheme, would be Machiavellian,” Schermer told PsyPost. “It is interesting that these manipulative people do not have a clear professional interest. They are clear that they do not want to help others, participate in family-oriented activities and, surprisingly, admit that they do not have the stamina or perseverance. This profile suggests that these people will change positions frequently and would not be active in the work environment (which would be a waste of money in terms of staff training).
“How do you spot a darker trait in someone else? It’s hard work for some features. Narcissists are quite easy to spot because they will direct conversations to themselves. Psychoticism is more difficult to visualize because the individual’s colder affect may be perceived as shyness or snobbery. The Machiavellians probably won’t last long enough to try to figure them out.’
Studies, “Are there any narcissistic career options? An investigation of narcissistic traits and career interests”, was written by Jenna Velji, Christopher Marcin Kowalski and Julie Aitken Schermer.