How to Spot Toxic Employees in Job Interviews

Steve Lowisz
We’ve all worked with someone toxic before – and it sucks!

Whether it’s the chronic complainer or the person that’s always looking to start an argument, nothing drags down morale and slows a team than toxic behavior.

As recruiters, it’s our job to screen for toxic candidates – but how do you know whether someone will behave that way on the job? Here’s a few things to watch for.

Watch for Negative Emotions

An interview is when people are most concerned with looking their best and impressing others. So if someone is negative during an interview, you can rest assured they will be negative in the workplace!

Whether it’s complaining about coworkers, their boss, work processes, or something else, it’s never a good sign. If they discuss or display negative emotions, you have to ask why they struggle to find a more positive resolution or perspective.

In contrast, a really valuable hire will be able to see the bright side of most all situations, or at least identify a productive path forward.

Ask Questions That Might Prompt Toxicity

Some candidates can be highly toxic in the workplace but know better than to show their hand during an interview.

To learn how a candidate really views the world and behaves on the job, ask questions that might prompt them to reveal whether they display toxic behavior.

For example, ask how they handled a difficult situation or receiving tough feedback. You might also ask how they deal with conflict, or even ask them to cite five things they like least about their current job.

Most companies ask candidates to share one thing they dislike – but asking for five can help you dive deeper and see whether someone views problems as opportunities to improve or opportunities to complain!

Listen for “Absolute” Words

Words like “never,” “always,” and “impossible” seem harmless enough. But they tell you something important about the person using those words. It shows they view the world in black-and-white terms, which can be a warning sign that you’re talking to a toxic individual.

This black-and-white perspective means someone may view everything as either good or bad and may view people as either with them or against them. The real world is nuanced, complex and full of shades of gray, but people with this perspective have a hard time seeing that. It makes it harder to maintain a positive attitude when things go wrong or a situation gets difficult.

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