How not to hire a jerk!Whether it’s a Debbie Downer, Nasty Nellie, Mean Merle or Unpleasant…Ulysses? – negative attitudes (and the employees they belong to) can be toxic to a workplace.

Everyone has worked with someone they didn’t like –that’s totally normal and to be expected. There are some people, though, that just get under everyone’s skin and make the work day unbearable.

But come on… is one person really that big a deal?

Well, depending on the situation, it can be a huge deal. In an interactive environment, a negative personality can derail productivity, damage a team and cause extra problems for HR and management. A 2011 paper published in Health Psychology even suggested that unsupportive coworkers can cause an increase in mortality in employees.  Yup… working with jerks can kill you.

The amount of trouble one person can cause really depends on that person’s contact with others. If you hired a jerk who enters data all day but doesn’t talk to anyone, it’s probably not going to matter much. However, a jerk in a position of authority or in a job that involves a lot of collaboration is bad news.

Some people are just bullies. They are loud and mean and rude; they tend to be easy to identify and avoid. Others are more subtle; they do their damage through back-stabbing, slop-stirring, and idea stealing.

One of the most destructive coworkers I have ever had (years ago), did irreparable damage to our close-knit department by finding and photocopying a list of everyone’s salaries then showing it to the people at the bottom of the scale. If you just chatted with her, you wouldn’t know what she was capable of. She seemed nice enough, but over time it became apparent how much she enjoyed causing quiet but very real drama. Her toxicity might not have been so obvious during the selection process.

Here are a couple of red flag reminders of what to look out for when hiring…so you don’t end up with a jerk!

Before the Interview:  A lack of courtesy and professionalism during the phone screen and during interactions with your receptionist and office staff. (nip that one in the bud!)

During the Interview:

1. An overall tone of negativity: If the candidate can’t find one good thing to say about any prior employers, duties or colleagues, you can bet they won’t be able to find anything positive about your work environment… which means they won’t be bringing anything positive to your company.
2. Inappropriate comments or responses: If something strikes you as odd, too aggressive or just…icky, trust your instincts. Think of it this way: this person is supposed to be bringing his best game to the interview. If the best he has is creeping you out, don’t ignore it.
3. Exaggerated traits, even if they are the ones you want: It’s important not to mistake bad behavior for something positive.  Yeah, you want a bold, competitive sales person, but you don’t want a pushy thug who is going to intimidate people and make a bad name for your company.

Other things you can do to avoid hiring a bad egg:

Check references. Every time. If the person knows how to behave in an interview, reference checks may be the only way you can detect a problem.  Be prepared to read between the lines.  Sometimes people don’t want to talk smack about ex-employees, either because they are too nice or because they don’t want any trouble. A great candidate’s references will generally have tons of nice things to say. A bad candidate’s references may be very noncommittal and keep the conversation short. Don’t be afraid to ask for specifics, the worst they can do is clam up.

Behavioral assessments: Sometimes, jerky behavior in an employee can be a sign of chronic stress. A person who is not behaviorally suited to a job is going to be stressed and will potentially be a jerk.  Make sure you hire the right traits for the job. Need help with interview questions, assessments or hiring?  Start off on the right foot with our free behavioral interview questions!


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