Worried about hiring a toxic employee? You should be. Recent research outlined on Harvard Business Review explains just how impactful a toxic employee can be to an organization:

“One toxic employee wipes out the gains for more than two superstars. In fact, a superstar, defined as the top 1% of workers in terms of productivity, adds about $5,000 per year to the company’s profit, while a toxic worker costs about $12,000 per year. The real difference could even be greater if you factor in other potential costs, such as the spread of the toxicity, litigation fees, lower employee morale, and upset customers.”

As HR consultants, we hear people talk about the importance of hiring the right people all the time. This starts with the interview process. Weeding out potentially toxic employees is vital.

Here are some of the red flags to look for:

1. A toxic employee focuses on drama over insights

Ask candidates about some of the difficult decisions they had to face in their previous job. Their response to how they handled toxic situations will say a lot. Did they focus on strategic differences, or did they focus their efforts on a personal attack or blaming others?

2. They complain

A job interview is not the place to air your grievances. If a candidate complains about a current or former employer, it’s a sign they would do the same at your company.

3. They are a know-it-all

Everyone has room for improvement. Ask them about what they would like to improve or if there is a skill, they would like to learn. If the candidate has a “know-it-all” aura about them, be careful. It may be a sign they are not motivated to grow professionally, and they may only be interested in doing the bare minimum.

4. They lack career direction

Asking candidates about where they see themselves in the future is common. It’s a sign that they know what they want to accomplish and provides you a vision of where you could best utilize their talents. If they lack a future plan, it could be a sign they are only committed for the short term.

5. Their references are questionable

You can learn a lot from a candidate’s references. What they say, and what they don’t say but allude to, can be a sign of potential issues.

More Candidate Job Interview Tips

Tips From HR: Reading Between The Lines Of Employee References

Job Interview Red Flags – Part 1

Job Interview Red Flags – Part 2


Bruce Powell

Bruce Powell