3 Ways to Detect Dysfunctional People Before You Hire Them What references say about somebody is more important than what they say on their resume.

By Ryan Howard

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


The single biggest thing that will wear you down as a leader is dealing with dysfunctional people on your team. In your personal life, you have the freedom and autonomy to avoid and detach from people you deem negative, toxic, narcissistic, sociopathic, dysfunctional, or simply unmotivating. But within the office environment, it's much more challenging to get rid of these people. When you try to exit someone from your company, it can scare others (Am I next!?) and be massively disruptive to the team. It can also impact the performance of your team, and you could potentially lose others who were aligned or friends with the employee you let go. The best way to prevent this is to hire smarter.

1. Use your emotional intelligence.

First and foremost, use your emotional intelligence. When interviewing someone, pay attention to his or her general behavior. Can they maintain eye contact? Are they anxious or jittery? Do they have a poor handshake? Are they a fast talker or a germophobe? Do they shit talk their last employer? Do they tell you about home, family, or friend drama? Many of these things are cues of dysfunctional and anxious behavior that could plague you if you end up hiring and working with this person. Keep in mind, people are typically on their best behavior in an interview. If quirks are showing up in the first hour upon meeting, it's likely a clear indicator there's more to come.

Related: 5 Ways to Make Your Company's Hiring Process More Fair

2. Work with them.

After interviewing someone you feel is a good fit, take it a step further and follow an approach we use at iBeat called "A Day in the Life." Have the candidate participate in a half-day simulation where he or she works with the hiring member(s) or team on a project. Look at the way he or she interacts during the project and you'll see how this individual thinks, contributes, and collaborates with the team. Also, try having them tackle a real problem you have within the organization.

We learned ahead of time not to have candidates bring in past work they've already done at another company, as it can be hard to verify if they actually produced that work themselves. Have them do something new -- task developers with writing code, have a press candidate write a press release and pitch it, make executives write a business strategy and present it to the team. With this, you know exactly what you're getting -- what their strengths and weaknesses are.

Related: The Case for Blind Hiring

Usually the results corroborate what you've already seen in an interview, but occasionally there are people who are revealed as potential terrorist employees -- destructive, demanding, self-focused and dysfunctional. And sometimes, the candidate may even decide he or she doesn't want to work with you -- which can actually be a good thing. He or she likely would have quit early into their tenure, and you would have to restart your search all over, again.

3. Referrals are everything.

A coach I worked with once told me, "Like energy attracts like energy." High functioning people surround themselves with high functioning people. Those people should be your number one source for recruiting, so with that, incentivize them. Put together a plan that pays employees a bounty for bringing in their best people.

Once you define the role you're hiring for, ask your employees and network if they know anyone who might be a good fit. Your team already knows exactly what it's like to work at your company so they'll be able to quickly assess who might fit best. Referrals are also faster to higher and lower risk for your company, as they are less likely to attrite.

Related: The 7 Deadly Sins of Hiring

Lastly, check the references candidates don't give you. Save your time and your recruiter's time by not checking the reference someone gave you. Trust me -- no one ever gives bad references. We're in a highly connected world with a ton of social tools -- get on LinkedIn, do the work, and find someone who knows the candidate. You'll be that much more in tune and potentially dodge a bullet.

Wavy Line
Ryan Howard

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Founder Advisor

Ryan Howard is is the founder of 100Plus and Practice Fusion. He partners with founders and lectures at UCSF and UC Berkeley on the realities of navigating the venture capital minefield, maintaining control of their companies and gaining liquidity. You can contact him at ryan@founderapproved.co.

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