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Why You Need to Avoid Hiring That Potentially Toxic Rockstar That 'perfect' candidate may be a disaster. Five strategies for screening him (or her) out.

By Heather R. Huhman

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


When it comes time to hire, most companies have the same goal: Identify the best fit for the job and make an offer this person can't refuse. This approach makes sense, and it's likely one you yourself have followed for a long time now.

Related: 5 Types of Toxic Employees and How to Deal With Them (Infographic)

But a recent study from Harvard Business School (HBS) suggests that this might actually be the wrong way to go about hiring.

According to the study, instead of searching for the company's next rockstar employee, employers are better off making sure that that rockstar is not also a toxic worker, meaning someone who engages in behavior that is harmful to an organization.

There is a financial angle here: The HBS study revealed that avoiding a toxic employee could ultimately save a business nearly $12,500 -- more than twice the estimated financial benefit of bringing on a superstar performer ($5,300).

What's more, a 2013 study of more than 6,000 hiring managers and HR professionals by CareerBuilder found that 27 percent of U.S. employers who reported having made a bad hire said that mistake cost their companies more than $50,000. That being the case, it may be time for hiring professionals to rethink whom (and what) they're looking for.

But identifying a potentially toxic employee based on a piece of paper and a 20-minute conversation is easier said than done. So, how can you spot a bad hire before it's too late?

1. Get to know the person, not the resume.

A resume shows how qualified a candidate is for the job, but it doesn't tell employers much about their personality. Getting to know the person behind the resume -- his or her character, interests and work habits -- is the first step in identifying potentially toxic behaviors.

How to spot: Evaluate candidates in an informal environment where their true nature can shine through. Inviting candidates to an industry-related professional networking event, for instance, gives employers a unique opportunity to see how well candidates interact with other professionals, what they choose to discuss and, most important, how their behavior may impact the workplace.

2. Screen for the right (or wrong) things.

Screening is arguably the most important aspect of the hiring process, as it ensures that time is spent interviewing and getting to know only the most suitable job candidates. The question is, what should companies be screening for when it comes to identifying toxic workers?

How to spot: According to the HBS study, overconfident, self-centered, productive and rule-following employees were more likely to be toxic workers.

While the first two traits come as no surprise, the last two are commonly indicative of great employees. The authors of the report speculate that this might be due to candidates telling hiring professionals what they want to hear and what will ultimately land them the job. Which brings us to the next point.

3. Test before you hire.

People don't tend to buy a brand new car before taking it on a test drive, so why hire an employee without first testing his or her skills? According to a 2015 research report by Aberdeen, companies that use data obtained through pre-hire assessments are 24 percent more likely to have a greater percentage of employees who exceed performance expectations.

How to spot: Pre-hire assessments don't just help employers identify top-notch candidates, they help spot potentially toxic employees. Use a tool like Criteria Corp to evaluate everything from a candidate's personality to his or her knowledge and skills, to help identify a potential bad hire.

Related: To Avoid Hiring a Toxic Employee, Look for These 6 Qualities (Infographic)

4. Make hiring a collaborative process.

When it comes to hiring, two (or more) heads are always better than one. A colleague, for instance, might catch something that previously went unnoticed in the first round of screening. The more people involved in the hiring process, the more likely it is that employers can catch (and avoid) the sneaky toxic employee.

How to spot: Instead of screening candidates with a simple phone interview, which only a few people can participate in, opt to screen via video. Video interviews can typically be recorded and easily re-watched, shared and collaborated over with colleagues.

5. Ask questions that reveal toxic answers.

Chances are, interviewees have a prepared response for run-of-the-mill interview questions like, "Why should we hire you?" or, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" But it's the unexpected, forced negative questions that tell employers the most about a candidate and their toxicity level.

How to spot: Throw a few forced negative questions into the mix when interviewing candidates. Questions like, "What did you like least about your last company/position/boss?" or "Why shouldn't we hire you?" tend to reveal more honest answers, as they're unexpected and, thus, less likely to elicit rehearsed responses. And, because these questions are slightly negative in nature, they can easily bring potentially toxic employees to light.

What are some other ways employers can identify and avoid hiring a toxic employee?

Related: Study: Dodging a Toxic Hire Is Better for Business Than Onboarding a Superstar

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

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