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How to Stop Hiring Jerks

bratty_girl_blog.jpgEvery office has an office jerk, so how can you avoid hiring one? Here are five steps you can take to avoid rude, negative, or morale-dampening employees.

Very few things are absolute in hiring. Some companies are hesitant to hire young workers, but the ones that do often reap the benefits of millennial passion, engagement, drive, and innovation. Some businesses are reluctant to hire people with criminal records, but trying to establish a concrete policy to that effect could result in issues with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Still, there are a few things that are universal in employment circles. One of these universal truths is no one wants to hire a jerk. Someone who is rude to coworkers, disrespectful to superiors, and just generally a pain to be around can function as a poison to your business. These people hurt morale, kill productivity, tarnish company culture, and trigger higher turnover rates. 


How to Stop Hiring Jerks

The question is, how can you tell if someone is a jerk before you hire them? There are a few tactics you can use to identify a candidate’s less savory qualities before that person becomes the office jerk. Here are five of them:


Run background checks

There are plenty of crimes that can help flag a person who probably wouldn’t have the most positive impact on your company culture. Convictions to watch for include battery, sexual assault, harassment, cyber bullying, and hate crimes. These convictions may apply to people who have crossed the line in ways that could link back to common office problems—such as sexual harassment and office bullying. It’s crucial to run a criminal background check on every new hire.


Look for warning signs in the interview

The problem with spotting jerks before you hire them is that you only get to spend a limited amount of time with each candidate before extending an offer of employment. As a result, it’s all too easy to be tricked into thinking that a rude, belligerent applicant is a polite, well-adjusted individual. Even bad candidates can often mask their worst qualities in a 30-minute or hour-long job interview simply by playing the part of the smiling, charming prospective employee.

Beneath the glossy veneer of the job interview, you can see through to a candidate’s true professional personality if you know what warning signs to look for. For instance, if an interviewee criticizes his or her bosses or colleagues, that’s a major red flag. The same goes for someone who takes credit for everything (pay attention to how much each applicant says “I” and “me” instead of “we” and “my team”) or someone who interrupts you while you are talking. These things may seem innocuous on the surface, but over the course of someone’s employment, they can balloon into major workplace problems.


Check references and call former managers

You may only get to spend an hour with a candidate before deciding whether to hire that person. Luckily, there are people out there who have spent a lot more time with your prospective employee. Calling references or former managers to discuss each of your candidates is essential to ensuring a successful hire. Ask about demeanor, work ethic, team mentality, cultural fit, and overall friendliness. You can ask about other things too (such as skills, job responsibilities, and accomplishments), but by focusing your calls on things you really can’t screen for in any other way, you will get a full portrait of who your candidate is and whether you want them on your team.


Look at their social media accounts (but tread carefully)

Many employers rejoiced at the advent of social media because it gave them another way to learn more about how candidates behave in real life. Especially in situations in which calls to references and past managers yield little information (bosses especially may be reluctant to badmouth former employees, even if they have something negative to say), a “social media background check” can shine some extra light on the subject. Often, employers will trawl candidates’ Facebook profiles looking for posts that badmouth bosses, complain about jobs, or are rude or offensive in content. Many people let their guards down on social media, so if a candidate is a bully or an extremely negative person, signs of that will usually shine through on Facebook or Twitter.

If you do decide to conduct social media background checks, tread carefully. While looking at a prospective employee’s Facebook page is not illegal, it can create a situation in which an unbiased hiring decision is impossible. Alongside posts and statuses, social networks often reveal information about a person’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political opinions, and more. These factors are details that cannot be considered when deciding whether to hire someone—at least not unless you want to face a discrimination lawsuit.

If you are going to check candidates out on social media, your best bet is to leave the task in the hands of someone other than the hiring manager. That way, that person can compile a report of relevant posts or information while excluding information that might create a conscious or unconscious bias.


Focus on culture fit alongside talent

The easiest way to hire a jerk is to put your focus entirely on talent while ignoring cultural fit. Talent is important: you want someone who can bring new skills, abilities, experience, and insight to the table. However, even the biggest talent in your industry will do more harm than good if the person is at complete odds with your company culture. Consider your current team and try to define what makes your company culture great. Then incorporate questions about company culture into the interview, or bring top candidates in for office tours and job shadowing before making your final decision. These steps will help you see how candidates mesh with your existing team. If there isn’t a match there, the hire isn’t worth the risk.


Most employers will end up dealing with an office jerk at some point. By taking the five precautions described in this article, you should be able to spot someone’s worst qualities before you hire them. If those qualities pose a threat to your company culture or team morale, keep looking. There are plenty of bright, talented people out there who are positive, friendly, and team focused.


About the Author: Michael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries. 

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