Every company’s got at least one: that overly competitive, sour, power-hungry — you fill in the blank — employee that walks around with a rain cloud over his head, infecting every conversation he joins and inciting feelings of isolation, discouragement or doubt among his coworkers. It only takes a few such toxic personalities to infect company morale and, ultimately, the bottom line.
Recruiters and HR managers face a daunting task when wading through the pile of resumes lying on their desks, in search of terrific talent and great character. So how do you spot these telltale signs of toxicity in the short span of a job interview and zero-in on important intangibles like character, honesty, ethics and integrity? We asked Anna Maravelas, author of “How to Reduce Workplace Conflict and Stress” and a motivational speaker recognized for her ability to transform negative cultures into climates of respect and pride. From prisons to the financial sector, every industry has its share of jerks. And Maravelas should know — she’s worked with many of them. But it isn’t all doom and gloom, as she found many of her favorite hiring tactics in the companies she encountered. Here are four that top her list.
Surprise them with an ethical scenario
Every job candidate has practiced the tried-and-true interview questions aimed at drawing out weaknesses or negative qualities. Today’s job candidates know how to turn a negative into a positive: “I’m just too hard working, too motivated, too detail-oriented…” they may say. But what about throwing in a question from left field that catches the interviewee off guard entirely?
The CEO of a predominant design and building company Maravelas had worked with stuck out in her mind for a unique interviewing tactic. The CEO would interview candidates directly, starting off with warm, getting-to-know-you conversation. A bit into the interview, the CEO would then ask, “If we ever got into a bind with a client, would you be willing to tell a little white lie to help us out?”
“If the candidate said yes,” Maravelas explains, “the offer evaporated. You really have to have a lot of integrity to say no.”
Listen to how they praise – or blame – themselves and others
Companies built on a culture of collaboration rely on team players to achieve their goals, so working effectively as a team and bringing a fraternal attitude to the table is essential. Thus, an effective way to tell if a prospective employee fits the team profile is to see where they give credit and place blame.
“Ask candidates to talk about a time when they achieved something they were really proud of,” Maravelas says. “How much credit did they give others?”
Is the candidate constantly saying “I, I, I” or referring to collective achievements she accomplished as part of a team? Does she refer to a great mentor or a close relationship with her boss as a contributor to her success, or is she constantly patting herself on the back?
An alternative way to gauge this quality, Maravelas suggests, is to ask candidates about a time when they really tried their hardest, yet failed, and listen to how they assess their own responsibility in that failure.
Tap into referrals from your best employees
Current employees can be great resource in the hiring process, and their opinions should factor significantly into a hiring decision. After all, they’ll be the ones working with the new employee. One of Maravelas’ favorite companies relies heavily on the referrals of current employees who have been with the company for several years, tapping solid veterans to actively recruit prospects from their circle of friends and professional contacts.
“If they have integrity and are known for their kindness and compassion, their friends probably are, too,” Maravelas says. “They probably don’t hang out with fakes.\”
Trust your gut
We’re often so focused on the person we’re interviewing, we may not be tuned into our own physiological reaction to them. Sitting back and asking ourselves how another person is affecting us is a valuable tactic for interviewers. If a candidate makes you feel uncomfortable or ill-at-ease, he’ll probably make his co-workers feel that same way. We may not consciously identify negative qualities right away, but we often subconsciously pinpoint an off-feeling that comes in the form of an awkward moment or the feeling of being manipulated. When hiring for integrity and character, the best bet is to go with your instinct. We gravitate towards those who make us feel good, and that quality will likely be reflected in the larger work environment. Adds Maravelas: “Really pay attention to how you feel when you’re interviewing someone else.”