Talent Strategy

7 Ways to Screen Out Bad Attitudes


According to a 2015 study, while 46% of new hires failed with 18 months, a whopping 89% of those failures came as a result of poor attitudes.  Part of this is due to the fact that we can sometimes focus on technical competence and valid experience rather than attitude, which shows up in someone’s temperament, motivation, and coach-ability.  While we can’t cure bad attitudes, we can certainly do a better job of screening for them, and in this article, we’ll discuss 7 ways to catch those with bad attitudes in the screening process and stop them from coming into your company.

Examine Job Stability

As you examine someone’s work history, look to see if there is a recurrence of employment of fewer than 12 months.  If this only happened once and there was a good reason for it, that’s one thing, but a frequency of short-time turnover is an indicator of problems with management or colleagues or simply a lack of ability to persevere.

Of course, we are also in an era of contract work, which we here at Vocaworks specialize in.  Contract work will obviously not be judged by length, but more by how those stints fit in with the overall narrative of who the candidate is, and what his/her skill set is.  Can we see a pattern of types of contracts or clients, or increasing responsibility over time?

Indeed, contract workers have an additional challenge as they are often required to fit in and integrate with different corporate cultures across different environments, and in pretty short order as well.  One can look to a frequency of renewed contracts or a group of clients within the same industry consistently hiring the candidate to speak well of his/her ability to get along with diverse team members across varying timeframes for projects.

Look for a Pattern of Completion

A complement to job stability is a willingness to finish things.  The obvious one is a college degree, but perhaps there might be other accomplishments that speak to preparation and perseverance like finishing a marathon or completion of a specialized type of training.  Indeed, sometimes it is the delayed completion that tells the most.  A parent who finishes a degree at night and on the weekends while holding down a full-time job shows determination that a 22 year-old graduate probably has not yet had to contend with.

Consider Demonstrated Achievements

What other stories does this person’s resume tell us?  Has he/she won awards or prizes at work or outside work?  What kind of leadership roles has the candidate taken on?  Have we seen a pattern of rapid promotion?  What about workplace projects?  What about volunteer work in the community?  Positive indications in any of these areas, particularly in an arena outside the workplace, indicate someone who has a positive, can-do attitude and who is likely to spread that attitude in a workplace.

Have insightful interview questions at the ready

An entire article could probably be written on this topic alone, but three questions in particular that can help draw out toxic individuals include:

  • Describe a time you had to work with a difficult colleague and what you had to do to overcome that challenge.  Not only will we have an opportunity to find out if there have been challenges for the candidate in the past, but we will be able to see if the ways he/she chose to handle the situation indicate a positive attitude.  This is an important measure of emotional intelligence.
  • What would you change about your previous employer?  Will the candidate unwittingly take the bait to speak ill of a previous employment situation?  Or will he/she take a healthy tack and focus on positive aspects while being frank about some difficulties or challenges that occurred?
  • How do you deal with conflict?  There’s no real way to hide on this question.  Candidates’ answers to this question will go a long way to revealing their character and temperament.  It also can indicate a willingness and desire to grow and improve, if someone indicates a previous weakness in this area which has been dealt with.

Use an assessment tool

There are many different assessments available out there, from the well-known Meyers-Briggs, to the lesser-known Kolbe indexes.  While it’s obviously helpful to assess a candidate, his/her results only are comprehensible within a corporate culture that contextualizes those scores.  Are the other members of your company clear on what personality/working types mesh well on already-established teams?  Whatever assessment you use, it will generally speak to communication style and how this person works in a team.

Check References

An open secret of HR and hiring is how infrequently references are checked, but they are an invaluable tool in getting background information on a candidate.  Variations of the questions above can be asked, as in, “Has X ever had difficulties dealing with co-workers,” or “How would you say X deals with conflict?”  Getting permission to speak to former colleagues, not just direct reports, will go a long way to getting a full view of the candidate.

Note how they came across your radar

How did this person’s resume come across your desk?  Something sent soon after the posting, with a relevant and thoughtful cover letter, rather than the obvious cut-and-paste job, indicates someone who is positively oriented and interested in your firm.  Again, such a person is unlikely to have a toxic attitude in the workplace.

None of these strategies are, by themselves, infallible, but put together as part of a strategy, they can go a long way towards ensuring that you’re hiring those with solid attitudes who will contribute positively to your team and mission.

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