How Managers Can Identify Toxic Candidates During The Interview Process

By Larry Dolinko

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Imagine this scenario: After a long and challenging search, you’ve finally filled a critical role on your team. You’re feeling a sense of relief and are eager to see what they’ll bring to the table. That is until they start and you quickly realize that they weren’t a good choice at all. In fact, they’ve turned out to be a toxic presence on your team!

Hiring a toxic candidate is aggravating, especially when you consider the long-term costs. According to a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, a hiring mistake like this can cost you up to $12,000. While the financial hit stings, the impact on team morale could be worse—resulting in poor work performance and high employee turnover. 

So, how do you avoid a toxic candidate in the first place? Instead of taking a reactionary approach after they’ve been hired, there are several ways to identify potential red flags once you start conducting interviews. Here’s how to weed out toxic candidates:

Hire for potential, not for past experience

While some roles do require a certain amount of experience, it’s important to remember that there are other attributes that can make a candidate a great fit. Adaptability and emotional intelligence are two such qualities, and sometimes these skills are just as, if not more, important than technical skills and experience. Rather than choosing a candidate solely based on their ability to do the job, consider hiring someone who will be motivated to work hard and learn the business, while meshing well with the team.

Ask behavioral questions

Behavioral or situational-based questions are a great way to get a little more insight into a candidate’s personality, and how it drives their behavior. Go beyond the typical, almost expected set of questions, and ask more thought-provoking questions that require candidates to think on their feet, such as:

  • If you could change one thing about the way you approach challenges, what would it be?
  • Can you name a scenario at work that was particularly stressful for you, and how you handled it?
  • What drives you in your professional life?
  • If your best friend was sitting here, what would they say is the best part about being your friend?

Watch out for responses that imply they place the blame on others, don’t react well to challenges, fail to acknowledge team successes, or tend to bump heads with others. All these signs point to a potentially toxic employee.

Put references to good use

References are there for a reason, and that reason is to help you make an educated hiring decision. But rather than stick to the basics, probe a little further into the candidate’s soft skills, such as how well they communicate or work on a team. Most former managers won’t say anything that is outwardly negative, but you should be able to read between the lines if they didn’t have a great experience with the person in question.

Involve other employees in the hiring process

Seeing candidates interact with your staff is the best way of determining if they will be a good fit, both culturally and socially. Whether you involve your team in the interview process or simply have one or two take the candidate on an office tour, this will give you a great opportunity to see how they would potentially fit into your culture. Plus, it’s always helpful to get a team member’s perspective on any red flags that you should be aware of.

Larry Dolinko is the CEO of Tandym Group, a leading recruitment, contract staffing, and workforce solutions firm. Larry leverages his experience in client management, relationship building, negotiation, and sales to oversee strategic growth for the firm, including business development and employee engagement.

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