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How to Prevent Yourself from Hiring Liars, Cheaters and Stealers

March 1, 2011
When I was in college, I worked as a teller at the local credit union.  One of the other tellers was terminated for opening a fraudulent account and siphoning money from other customers into it.  At the time, I was shocked that he would do something like that. Since then, I have learned more about the prevalence of employee theft. I found some of the statistics below regarding employee theft:
    • Many corporate security experts estimate that 25% to 40% of all employees steal from their employers.
    • U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) estimates that employee theft of cash, property, and merchandise may cost American businesses as much as $50 billion on an annual basis.
Companies would benefit greatly if they could just identify these dishonest employees ahead of time. Psychologists have studied the people who are more likely to engage in deviant (also called anti-social) behaviors like lying, cheating and stealing. There are some common characteristics among them. Here are some things to look for to prevent you from making a bad hire:
  • History of Dishonest Behavior

    Individuals who engage in dishonest behavior have done it before. There is typically a history of such behavior beginning in childhood and escalating into adulthood. Gather information about past work history including things like reasons for leaving past jobs. Background checks and reference checks can also be helpful in identifying some of this activity. In a recent blog post, we give tips on how to get honest answers from candidates during interviews.

  • Narcissistic

    Employees who demonstrate dishonest behavior often do so because they believe they deserve the ‘thing’ that they are after. These employees often feel that they are superior to other employees – smarter, faster, better. They are self-focused and are looking out for number one despite how it affects the company or their co-workers.

  • Loners

    Many employees who engage in the more deviant counterproductive work behaviors do not get along well with others. By demonstrating the narcissistic behavior described above, other employees are not standing in line to be their friends. In addition, they tend to have negative attitudes and keep to themselves. This is not always the case with deviant employees, but the research suggests that they are more likely to spend time alone than other employees.

  • Blameful

    When deviant employees are asked why they have engaged in a particular behavior, they often blame other people. Nothing is ever their fault. If they steal from an employer, they may even say that the employer deserved to have it stolen for making it so easy to do. This belief that they are not at fault allows them to rationalize their behavior. Because of this, they typically do not express regret.

The last three bullets reference personality characteristics. You can gather more information about these characteristics by using online assessment tools and/or structured interviews during the hiring process. Just having one of these characteristics does not mean that the individual is going to behave unethically. If you identify an individual with more than one of these characteristics, it is worth an extra look into their background or an extra assessment to make sure that they won’t take advantage of you in the future.
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Amie Lawrence, Ph.D. Amie Lawrence, Ph.D. is the Manager of Product Development at PSI. She is an expert in the design, development and validation of psychological assessment tools. An integral member of PSI since 2000, Amie has led the development of numerous competency-based assessments, including online in-baskets, job simulations and motivational fit instruments.