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Hiring an employee is a very important decision. It’s a fragile choice because hiring the wrong person can be very costly. Many employers make the mistake of hiring a bad employee because their number one concern is filling a position. Instead, employers should focus on filling the position with the right employee.

It can be very difficult to identify a toxic employee before they are hired, so follow these tips to make it easier to spot them.

Involve More People

If you’re the only one meeting with candidates, then you’re only going to have a single viewpoint. Involve more than one person to fill the position. Our recruiters do pre-screenings and then submit a handful of candidates to you for interviews. Utilizing our recruiting services will give you additional viewpoints to single out “good employees.” After this, if you involve your management team in the final interviews, you will add more perspectives to make sure that you make the best choice for your company.

Check the References

Many employers skip this step because it can be “tedious.” You can tell a lot about a person by how a past employer or colleague talks about them. You’ll rarely get a bad reference, but you can certainly tell when someone gives a mediocre reference versus an exceptional one.

Search the Candidates

Try a Google search. Just as we urge job seekers to do their research on the company they interview with, you should do your research on the candidate. Doing a simple Google search and going through their social media profiles can uncover interesting details about them that wouldn’t have been revealed during an interview.

Ask Tough Questions

Break away from some traditional interview questions for questions that the candidate may not be expecting. This will throw them off and reveal more natural responses. Some tough questions include:

  • Ask them about five things they least liked about their previous company. This question pressures them into listing 5 things that will reveal their potential toxicity.
  • Ask them about their future career plans. Either they want to stay with the company long-term or they are just waiting for a better opportunity. The answer they give to this question will shed some light on whether or not they will last in your company.
  • Ask about what they liked about their previous job. Was there anything meaningful or just superficial, like free lunch?
  • Ask “What skills are you missing?” Reveal the know-it-alls. A good employee would explain a skill that they have been working on or a skill that they are interested in learning to better themselves as professional. A toxic employee may give you a superficial answer just to answer the question.
  • Ask about their work history. Ask about the reason they left, the lessons they learned, etc. The way they talk about their previous jobs and employers will tell you exactly how they will talk about you in the future. History always repeats itself.

Listen for “We”

When you ask questions about previous group projects, you will either hear the candidate explain what they did using “I/me” or “we/us.” The best candidate is the one who uses “we/us” and acknowledges their previous team successes versus their personal achievement within the group. You want someone with a team mentality, not an employee with a “me” mentality.

Trust Your Instincts

When something feels wrong, take a second to assess your feelings. Your gut might actually be right to assume that the candidate isn’t a good choice. It’s better to hire someone that your instincts point to rather than someone you are skeptical about.


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