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5 Proven Ways to Identify A Toxic Employee In A Job Interview

By Poyen Ramos on April 13, 2016

When you posted that job advertisement, there are applicants that really stood out. Their credentials speak nothing but brilliance, and their skills also make them seem to be a perfect fit—a potentially good addition to the team.

You gave them a job offer, and they accepted immediately. And just when you thought they’re the employees from heaven you’ve always wanted, HR is flooded with complaints about the “star employees” within a week, and the supervisors are tearing their hair out over the new hires. You mutter to yourself, “Where did I go wrong?”

Does this scene sound too familiar to you?

Hiring top talent is always a priority, especially when filling in a vital vacancy in the team, but hiring a talented but toxic employee is a very real possibility if you’re not careful. In the long run, hiring a single toxic employee might even cost you more than you spent recruiting him or her.

A study by Cornerstone OnDemand revealed hiring a single toxic employee into a team of twenty workers costs approximately $12,800, whereas hiring a regular but competent employee costs an average of $4,000.

According to the same study, the presence of one bad apple can cause the team’s entire performance to drop by 30-40%, which could eventually lead the others to leave their job. Worse, employees are 54% more likely to quit when they have to deal with a toxic coworker.

It’s quite difficult to know if an applicant will be a toxic employee in a formal interview. The red flags may be well under your nose; you just need to know how to crack the surface they’re hiding from.

Here are some ways to spot a toxic employee during the job interview:

1. Ask them about their previous employer.

Ask them, “What made you leave your previous job?” A toxic employee will likely complain about their former boss and co-workers.

If you hire them, there’s also a good chance they’d point fingers and put the blame on others when things go wrong.


2. Ask them about their future.

The question “Where can you see yourself five to ten years from now?” does more than tell you about your employee’s plans. Employees who have a clear vision of their future are also more likely to be more passionate about their work, as they put great value on their career growth—meaning, they are a good fit for the company.

However, if their goals are focused on their personal development instead of relating to the company, it may mean that they aren’t in for the long-term. Landing a job in your firm can just be their stepping stone before joining their dream company and even having an increase in their pay.

3. Make them tell their weaknesses.

Ask this question: “What skill do you think you still need to improve on?” If the interviewee answers none, this could be the tell-tale sign of arrogance that you wouldn’t want to have on your team.

Remember, a good employee knows their weaknesses as much as their strengths. They know that despite their credentials and experiences, there’s still room for learning.

Toxic employees who think they know it all would likely not take criticisms well once you hire them for the job. Especially if they believe they have no faults, at all.


4. Know how they handle difficulties in the workplace.

You can ask them, “What was your biggest failure on your last job and how did you handle it?” or “How do you manage stress?” As mentioned, a toxic employee will likely point fingers and put the blame on someone else.

A non-toxic employee will admit their mistakes and tell you how they have learned from it, and shows that learning is part of their regular mindset. This question also gives you an insight on how the employee can operate once they’re a part of the team.

5. Ask them about how they deal with other people in the team.

You could ask them, “How do you deal with a difficult co-worker?” An employee who knows how to empathize with people would be a great team player and knows how to deal well with customers’ concerns. Their willingness to voice out their opinion also means that they handle issues professionally while being able to keep their cool too.

Toxic employees can prove to be detrimental to your team, and ultimately, your business. So, be sure to screen them well to avoid troubles and even financial losses.

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