My company, 2U, is in education. But not everything can be taught in the classroom. And that includes one of the biggest lessons I’m still learning: how to spot an asshole.
Some books have been written on the topic, most notably Robert Sutton’s “The No Asshole Rule,” and these are good resources. But allow me to offer you a seat in my online course, something you might call “Human Resources 103: The Asshole-Free Workplace.” (Why 103? I had to go through 101 and 102 to get it right.)
I’ve found that identifying bad apples keeps them out of your company--and ushers in the talent. Indeed, we’ve built an amazing team by following a strict no-asshole policy. You can, too.
Lesson 1: Screen assholes out during interviews.
Who’s an asshole? The answer is different for everyone, so I propose you use the Supreme Court’s definition of porn: you know it when you see it.
I ferret out the jerks by asking open-ended questions during interviews. One of my favorites is, “What gets you up in the morning? And don’t give me the job interview answer.” Another is, “What do you love?” Then shut up. Let them talk.
My favorite interview asshole was a guy I’ll call Peter. Peter had the best résumé we’d seen for a complicated job that required a very specific financial skill set. His résumé was pretty intoxicating, actually.
As Peter got comfortable during the interview, he put his feet up on the desk and said, “I print money, baby.”
Lesson 2: Check references, but not the ones they provide.
I’ve failed too many times by not checking references. Don’t have HR do it. Do it yourself. People will typically tell a CEO what they won’t tell someone from HR.
Do reference checks, people. They’re simple--if you ask, people will tell.
Lesson 3: Never trade character for a skill set.
Don’t get wrapped up in a candidate’s skill set; if he seems like a jerk, show him the door.
We recently made a mistake by hiring a candidate who couldn’t have looked better on paper, but was miserable to work with. Don’t let it happen--you can’t afford to be someone’s therapist.
Don’t trade competence for character. Demand both.
Lesson 4: Maintain an asshole-free workplace.
By encouraging employees to speak freely, you weed out the assholes who have managed to sneak in. Assholes are like cancer. They’ll spread quickly if you let them.
My team, for instance, recently insisted that someone be expelled. We determined we should and took action. It’s hard to do, but that’s no reason to live with an asshole.
Lesson 5: Promote people who brighten the room.
Some people brighten every room they enter. These people will do more to make your company succeed than anything else. Seek them out and hire them, religiously. Reward them, religiously. Make room for them by getting rid of assholes.