February 15, 2022 | 5 min read
4 Ways To Identify (And Weed Out) Toxic Candidates


As a manager, nothing can be more aggravating than a toxic employee. From the slacker to the office bully, these employees come in all different forms, and making the mistake of hiring one can cost you. $12,000 per year to be exact! According to a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, this loss in profits can completely wipe out the gains made by more than two superstars.

However, the cost of a toxic employee isn’t just monetary: they can affect team morale and productivity. Worse, their behavior can drive out your best performers—giving your organization a reputation as a “revolving door” or a lousy place to work.

So, how do you avoid them?

Rather than taking a reactionary approach, there are a number of ways to identify potential red flags from the get-go when interviewing candidates. Here’s how to weed out toxic candidates:

Hire for potential, not for past experience

While some roles do require a certain amount of experience, it’s important to remember that there are other attributes that can make a candidate a great fit. Adaptability and emotional intelligence are two such qualities, and sometimes, these skills are just as, if not more important than technical skills and experience. Rather than choosing a candidate solely based on their ability to do the job, consider hiring someone who will be motivated to work hard and learn the business, while meshing well with the team.

Ask behavioral questions

Behavioral or situational-based questions are a great way to get a little more insight into a candidate’s personality, and how it drives their behavior. Go beyond the typical, almost expected set of questions, and ask more thought-provoking questions that require candidates to think on their feet, such as:

  • If you could change one thing about the way you approach challenges, what would it be?
  • Can you name a scenario at work that was particularly stressful for you, and how you handled it?
  • What drives you in your professional life?
  • If your best friend was sitting here, what would they say is the best part about being your friend?

Watch out for responses that imply they place the blame on others, don’t react well to challenges, fail to acknowledge team successes, or tend to bump heads with others. All these signs point to a potentially toxic employee.

Put references to good use

References are there for a reason, and that reason is to help you make an educated hiring decision. But rather than stick to the basics, probe a little further into the candidate’s soft skills, such as how well they communicate or work on a team. Most former managers won’t say anything that is outwardly negative, but you should be able to read between the lines if they didn’t have a great experience with the person in question.

Involve other employees in the hiring process

Seeing candidates interact with your staff is the best way of determining if they will be a good fit, both culturally and socially. Whether you involve your team in the interview process or simply have one or two take the candidate on an office tour, this will give you a great opportunity to see how they would potentially fit into your culture. Plus, it’s always helpful to get a team member’s perspective on any red flags that you should be aware of.

Need help identifying top talent? Learn how we can work together and find your next great hire, here.

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