Have you ever wondered why your workplace is dominated by bossy, insufferable blowhards?

A new study from three psychologists at Rutgers University shows how the job interview process hurts women as well as the nicer, more cooperative members of both sexes.

The researchers videotaped a set of actors pretending to interview for manager of a computer lab. Some acted ambitious and stressed their confidence; others acted modest and stressed their cooperative traits.

As an example, when asked about managerial style, some said they'd try to find consensus, while others said they loved being the boss and would lean on their employees to work harder.

The researchers then showed the videos to more than 400 volunteers of both sexes who thought they were witnessing a real interview. The volunteers were asked to rate them on competence, social skills and overall hirability.

A double standard quickly appeared. The female applicants who projected bossy confidence were seen as lacking social skills. Men who acted the same way were seen as competent and socially skilled and were rated as most hirable.

"This gets at ways gender stereotypes act as straitjackets for all of us," said Corinne Moss-Racusin, an author of the study, published in the latest issue of Psychology of Women Quarterly.

Even more striking was the prejudice against the kinds of nice people who might actually be pleasant to work with. Women who projected cooperation and humility were seen as likable but lacking competence. Men who stressed those same traits were judged as lacking social skills and competence. They were rated the least hirable of all.

- Faye Flam