When you think about psychopaths, individuals like Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and Dexter likely spring to mind. However, most employees who fit the psychopath profile are not serial killers, mass murderers or notorious criminals—though they share a number of similar characteristics, all of which can make them nightmares to work with.
What is a Psychopath?
Simply put, a psychopath is someone who is unable to feel guilt, remorse or empathy. Experts estimate one in 100 men and one in 300 women have this personality disorder, though spotting them can be a challenge. Most tend to blend into society without attracting undo attention. Many mask their antisocial nature with superficial charm and gregariousness, while others are almost inhumanely calm. Still, psychopaths can’t hide all their unsavory traits. Warning signs such as unreliability, dishonesty, insincerity, arrogance and egocentricity eventually give them away.
The best way to maintain a psychopath-free workplace is to avoid hiring them in the first place. Pre-employment screening—including a criminal background check and credit check—is essential, as always. However, not all psychopaths have criminal records or a history of credit mismanagement. Digging deeper into each candidate’s past is necessary for due diligence.
Consider the following tips:
- Start with the interview. Behavioral interview questions may cause even the most charismatic psychopath to stumble. Try, “Tell me about a mistake you made at your last job” and “How did that mistake impact your coworkers?” A reluctance to admit errors and an inability to address the feelings of others could indicate you’re dealing with a psychopath. Other warning signs include describing ordinary duties as amazing achievements and inconsistencies between information given verbally and that contained in the resume.
- Never skip the reference check. If the candidate worked for another company for any length of time, it’s likely someone there noticed his or her psychopathic tendencies. Speak with every former supervisor and—for good measure—call the main company number instead of the one listed on the resume. This will eliminate any chance of subterfuge. While most employers are limited in what they can say—confirming dates of employment and salary, for example—a simple question like “Would you hire this employee again?” can reveal volumes.
- Check out military history as well. If your candidate was in the military, ask to see his or her DD-214—also known as a certificate of release or discharge from active duty. A separation code of E4 is normal for non-officers. If you find an E1, consider it a red flag. Experts advise that this indication of bad behavior while in service is a good predictor of future behavior in the workplace. Similarly, an RE-4 re-entry code indicates the veteran is ineligible for enlistment in any military body—another possible warning sign.
The Danger of First-Impression Bias
As humans, we form first impressions of others quickly. For example, within the first minute or two of a job interview, most hiring managers have already decided whether they like a candidate or not—and psychopaths can be very likeable. First-impression bias comes about when we’re resistant to changing our opinion of a person once we’ve received additional information. Give in to this bias and you may hire that charismatic jobseeker regardless of the negative details revealed during the screening process. Share the facts presented with another manager who has not met the candidate. If they’re enough to cause alarm, move on to your next candidate.