The only thing worse than interviewing people who could bring negative energy into your startup is, well, hiring them.
However, not all entrepreneurs are experienced enough to identify every potential issue during the job interview itself. What's more, the formality of an interview can actually help hide red flags.
We asked 14 entrepreneurs from Young Entrepreneur Council to share their best screening tips and tricks that you could also use to ensure you don't hire your (or your team's) next problem employee.
1. Ask potentially toxic questions.
Ask for the five things the person liked least about his or her last (or current) company. Asking for one thing is pretty common. Asking for five pressures the person to reveal either strategic insights or signs of toxicity. --Sam Saxton, Salter Spiral Stair and Mylen Stairs
2. Have others do it for you.
I can be fooled; other people can be fooled; but a whole team is very hard to fool. If you have team interviews, most of the time they will sniff out the toxic employee. I like to interview, narrow it down to two or three prospects that I like, and then have the team decide. If you do hire that person accidentally, take care of the problem sooner rather than later! --John Rampton, Host
3. Ask how he or she handled a difficult situation.
One type of toxic employee is the perpetual victim who feels that anything that went bad was someone else's fault. Check for this by asking interviewees to describe an experience in which things did not turn out as hoped and see how they react. If they only blame others for the problem and never admit their own faults, you have a red flag that they might do this at your company later on. --Charlie Graham, Shop It To Me, Inc.
4. Ask about the future.
We ask candidates where they see themselves 5 and 10 years down the road. This really helps identify if they're going to be a long-term fit for our company, or if they're just trying to answer every question "right" to land the job. Having potential employees paint a clear vision of their future gives us a lot of insight about whether they're right for the role. --Cassie Petrey, Crowd Surf
5. Actually speak with references.
Use LinkedIn to connect with individuals who have worked with the candidate before. Ask them if they'd be amenable to a 10-minute conversation and then read between the lines. Many people won't say something overtly negative, but their reports won't be glowing either. Does this involve some extra work? Yes. But it's worth its weight in gold if you can spare your team a toxic addition. --Alexandra Levit, Inspiration at Work
6. Set up different interview stages.
We have a pretty intensive process in which candidates must pass multiple "gates" that assess their skills, experience, attitude and, most important, cultural fit. The extended process culls those who are acting from those who are being genuine. Anyone can put on an act for an hour. It's more difficult to hide your true colors after a day of meetings and events with our team. --Chris Cancialosi, GothamCulture
7. Ask about the best moments at work.
Candidates can put a lot of spin on negative experiences they had at their last job. Instead, catch them off guard and ask about their favorite moments. If someone's responses consist of superficial aspects of the job (office parties, free lunches, etc.), then you know you have a candidate that can't look beyond the surface for deeper meaning in his or her work. --Firas Kittaneh, Amerisleep
8. Remember, history repeats.
Getting candidates to discuss their employment history can be an effective way to screen out people who find themselves at the center of a drama maelstrom no matter where they work. We once had someone who, unprovoked, launched into a lengthy diatribe about his previous employers and colleagues. Simple rule of thumb: If they'll do it to someone else, they'll do it to you. --Amit Kumar, CardSpring
9. Ask forced negative questions.
Asking some forced negative questions can be very telling. Questions like "Why shouldn't I hire you?" or "Who is the worst person you hired and why?" can set the stage for prospective employees to open up. Positively framed questions can elicit prefabricated responses, so asking an applicant to think about something from a different angle can provide more authentic, telling answers. --Robert Glazer, Acceleration Partners
10. Find out if a candidate holds a grudge.
It's usually a personality pattern that exists with the person, rather than the situation. Some people look beyond their differences with others while still being confident enough to voice their opinion. Then there are others who don't, and they simply fail with the relationships around them. Anybody that mentions problems with other people is part of the problem. --Andy Karuza, Gossip App
11. Watch out for complaints.
A complainer is the least productive employee you could bring on as part of your team. Avoid one like the plague. If the person you're interviewing complains about his or her current employer throughout the interview, that's a red flag. It is OK for candidates to dislike parts of their current role, but it all depends on how they explain the issues they are facing. --Brian Honigman,BrianHonigman.com
12. Always ask behavioral questions.
This technique involves asking situational-based questions and having candidates give you concrete examples of how they behaved when they were in certain situations. It is next to impossible to fabricate a story from your past, especially when the interviewer drills down deep to get to the bottom of the situation. It's never failed me! --Arian Radmand, CoachUp
13. Deviate from the standard (boring) line of questioning.
Move on from the tired interview questions that people usually ask, and instead go for probing, unexpected questions. Anyone (smart) is prepared to answer "What are your strengths?" but you'll get a more honest, off-the-cuff response to something like "What lie do you tell often?" Really hear the response, and tune in to nonverbal cues as well. --Justin Gray, LeadMD
14. Listen for "we."
An easy way to identify someone who might be a bad fit is to listen for acknowledgment of team successes. If a candidate only wants to talk about his or her personal wins in past positions or seems reluctant to credit co-workers, there could be an ego problem. --Simon Casuto, eLearning Mind