Have You Hired a Psychopath? Three Ways to Uncover the Madness

If you haven’t checked out Quartz lately, or at all, you don’t know what you’re missing. This “digitally native news outlet” features some of the most hard-core yet trendy tech and business stories available anywhere today. The headlines will tickle your tastebuds  – “On African mobile phones there’s social networking, and then there’s everything else” – but the juiciness of the articles will keep you satiated.

One recent headline immediately grabbed our attention – “The case for ultra-intense background checks for hires” – for obvious reasons. It speaks directly to us and our core audience. But as we read through the piece, the hairs on the backs of our necks
began to stand up as we realized that psychopaths have slipped through the hiring ranks many times before. And they’ll continue to do so as long as employers settle for traditional hiring techniques and don’t put enough emphasis on quality, well-researched background checks and vetting procedures like the types that Active Screening offer.

Liar, Liar

Ok, maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s back up.

We know that people lie on their resumes. In fact, we’ve written about it here and here and, well, here. See? Happens all the time.

But what we don’t hear enough of is company big-wigs like Carson Block, director of research for Muddy Waters, admitting to making significant hiring mistakes. Here’s what he told Quartz:

“After incidents where people turned out to be less than truthful with me, it became clear that the conventional internal screening process was not enough to weed out potentially dangerous candidates that wear disguises very well, and have nefarious motives for wanting to work with us,” Block explained to Quartz in an email.”


Psychopath is a strong word. We get that and we don’t treat it lightly. We fully understand that the current job market isn’t plagued by a scourge of psychopaths and our intention isn’t to claim as such.

But we are also well aware that psychopath’s like the BTK Killer and The Green River Killer held regular jobs and had to get hired to perform those jobs.

So, how do you spot a psychopath in the hiring process?

Pay Attention In Person

You’ll know if you have a narcissist on your hands if he or she can’t stop talking about themselves. It’s natural to promote yourself during an interview, but a true team player will also ask questions. Consider it a red flag if they have no interest in
learning more about the job and the environment in which they’ll be working, and instead, prattle on and on about their own ‘accomplishments.’

Beware of empty compliments, too. Psychopaths are impressive manipulators and might use comments about your outfit or office memorabilia to distract you from the securing the information you really need. They are charmers and love to play the game.


Turn and Burn

How many jobs has an applicant held in the last decade? If it’s upwards of five, you may have a psychopath on your hands. Obviously before jumping to conclusions, you want to give the candidate every opportunity to justify or explain the high turnover. But if, during the course of this discussion, the applicant blames every failure on a previous employer or says they were “laid off” repeatedly, you’ll want to do some serious digging. Chances are someone who job jumps that much has a poor work ethic, crappy collaborative skills, or thinks the rules don’t apply to them. Whatever the reason, stay away.

Behavioral Clues

Aside from a thorough background screen and reference check for all candidates, you may want to consider adopting behavioral questions into your interview routine. This Insead white paper describes the newest corporate psychopath as an SOB –
Seductive Operational Bully. They crave money, power and status and have no empathy toward anyone they damage on their climb up the ladder. Because they’re most likely going to lie about how they achieved their latest position, it’s important to assert behavioral questions into several interviews performed by different people. The theory is that it will get harder for them to keep lying and keep charming more people as the process wears on… in other words, chinks in the armor will start to appear.

There are plenty of resources available on this topic, but one book in particular stands out for the pedigree of its two co-authors, who performed extensive research on the topic. Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work is written by Robert Hare, a renowned expert on psychopathy, and Paul Babiak, an industrial-organizational psychologist. Here’s a quick teaser:

“Snakes in Suits is a compelling, frightening, and scientifically sound look at exactly how psychopaths work in the corporate environment: what kind of companies attract them, how they negotiate the hiring process, and how they function day by day.   You’ll learn how they apply their “instinctive” manipulation techniques — assessing potential targets, controlling influential victims, and abandoning those no longer useful — to business processes such as hiring, political command and control, and executive succession, all while hiding within the corporate culture.    It’s a must read for anyone in the business world, because whatever level you’re at, you’ll learn the subtle warning signs of psychopathic behavior and be able to protect yourself and your company — before it’s too late.”


It’s impressive that someone like Carson Block would admit to making some poor hiring decisions, and equally impressive, that he’s willing to talk to a media agency like Quartz about something as taboo as hiring psychopaths.

When you’re ready to talk with us about your background screening needs, we’ll always be here to listen.

This entry was posted in Applicant-Entry Solutions, Background Screening, General, Human Resources, Identity & Credit, News, References & Credentialing and tagged , , , , , , , , , by Patricia Carlson. Bookmark the permalink.

Patricia Carlson is a content writer who specializes in B2C and B2B inbound marketing. She blogs regularly for clients about the background screening and finance industries, and generates newsletters, white papers and email campaigns for a variety of businesses. Patricia also produces a heavy rotation of editorial material for home design, law enforcement, and family magazines. She’s been writing professionally for more than a dozen years, and for Active Screening for more than two of those. Check out LinkedIn for a roster of Patricia's clients and links to published works. When she’s not interviewing sources or researching trends, she’s living a fast-paced Florida life questioning the antics of her two young children, partner and mischievous cat. Patricia loves to talk tennis and TV on Twitter - give her a shout @pattycfreelance.
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