How to Spot a Toxic Employee During an Interview

toxic people

Are you tired of constantly hiring toxic employees? This is a quick guide how to avoid hiring poisonous employees and keep the most productive ones !

Do you remember when you posted that job ad and there were some specific applicants that really stood out? Their credentials were brilliant, skills were amazing and they seemed to fit perfectly into the company culture.

So you gave them a job offer - which they immediately accepted. You thought that they were the employee from heaven, but it was not long before HR was flooded with complaints about the “amazing employee” being arrogant, gossipy and poisonous - they are toxic!

So, what did you do wrong?

We understand that hiring the best candidates is your priority especially when they are hired to fill a very important position in the organisation. But, hiring a toxic employee happens quite often if you are not careful.

Do you know that a toxic employee can cost you far more than you spent recruiting them in the long run? A Recent study by Cornerstone OnDemand found out that if a toxic employee works with a team of twenty workers it will cost the company about $12,800 whereas if they hired a regular hardworking employee it would cost them about $4,000.

But we are not blaming you here; it is very difficult to identify a toxic employee in just one interview. And even though the warning signs can be just under your nose you need to know how to bring them to the surface.

Here is how to spot a toxic employee during an interview.

#1 Ask Toxic Questions

If you want to find out whether an employee is toxic, you have to ask them toxic questions. Do it by asking them for the 5 things they least liked about their previous company. Their answers should reveal whether they have strategic insights and professional clashes with their previous organisation or signs of toxicity. Asking 5- instead of the usual one pressures them to reveal more about their potential toxicity.

#2 Ask How they Handle Difficult Situations

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One way to understand if an employee is toxic is by asking them how they handled a difficult situation. If they play the victim who feels that they did nothing wrong, and it was all someone else’s fault, then it’s a big red flag. By only blaming others it means that they will never admit their own faults and never own up to their mistakes.

#3 Ask About their Future Career Plans

It’s helpful to ask potential candidates where they see themselves in a couple of years as this will help you understand whether they want to stay at the company long-term or if they are just waiting until a better offer comes along. Having a clear vision of the future shows a serious and responsible hire who can be right for the role and fit within the company culture.

#4 Speak With their References

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When the candidates provide you with their references, don’t skip them thinking they are irrelevant; make the effort to speak to their references which you can find on LinkedIn or by getting in touch with them via email or phone. A simple email won’t be enough, though; ask them if you could have a ten-minute conversation with them and share their views on this potential hire.

#5 Ask About the Best Moments at Work

Some people tend to focus only on the negative experiences at their last jobs that they forget to talk about the positive aspects of a job. If a candidate’s response to this question consists of just the superficial aspects of a job like free lunches and office parties, then you know this potential applicant does not look for deeper meaning in their career and only cares about things that are on the surface.

#6 Ask About their Employment History

Ask potential candidates to talk about their employment history. If they talk negatively about all their previous jobs, and how every single time there was drama involved then it might not be due to the workplace but be because of them. And if they are talking about how they abruptly quit and left; what's to stop them from doing it to you, too. History repeats itself.

#7 Stay Away from Complainers

Nobody wants to work and be around complainers, right? Complainers can be the least productive employees you could ever have. So, keep your eyes and ears open for the interviewee who complains about their current employer throughout the entire interview. It’s normal for someone to dislike their job but if this is the case, they should clearly explain why their job contradicts with their personal values and not be a negative Nancy.

#8 Ditch the Standard Questions

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Deviate from the standard boring questions that hiring managers ask and instead go for the unexpected questions. Anyone who has prepared enough can answer the expected questions “what are your weaknesses” but if you ask a more off the cart question like “what lies do you tell often” they will give you an unprepared and thus more honest answer and you will get a better idea of their personality.

#9 Avoid “me, me, me” Individuals

If you want to find an employee who will be a bad fit and team player, listen how they acknowledge their team successes. If when asked about group projects they constantly talk about their personal wins without crediting any colleagues this shows (if not screams) how egotistical they are. And you definitely don’t want someone like that, no matter how incredible credentials are.

#10 Ask them What Skills they are Still Missing

If you want to spot toxic employees ask this question, all the toxic know-it-alls will appear. These employees believe they know it all and aren’t interested or motivated to learn anything new. You need to be careful and identify candidates that are struggling to answer this question. Similarly to the weakness question, toxic employees will give you a superficial answer like how they need to learn how to work less or stop being a perfectionist. A good employee, however, would talk about how they are interested in learning a new skill that may not be as related to this specific job.

Now you know how a toxic employee can be one of the most costly mistakes you can ever do as a hiring manager. But, by asking potential employees the right questions during interviews and by paying attention to their body language you can stay away from poisonous individuals who like to call themselves “professionals” and find the best person fit for the job. Good Luck!

Have you ever been “tricked” and hired a toxic employee before? What do you think was the reason for this? Share your thoughts below…