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Is your boss really a psychopath? And how to avoid hiring one – A recruiter’s perspective.

If you stay up to date with the news, you would have seen the article making its way around media outlets claiming one in five bosses is a psychopath.

Trying to comprehend that you have just as much chance working with a psychopathic manager in your office as you would in a prison, is truly a scary thought.

But is the article accurate?

And how do you avoid hiring a manager who has psychopathic tendencies?

Here’s my opinion as a psychology graduate and a recruiter.

It’s a disturbing thought; if your company is large enough to have ten bosses, two of them are likely to be psychopaths showing traits such as narcissism, manipulation and coldness or immoral thinking. The next question is…which two?

I can just imagine you are probably looking around the office inconspicuously as you read this trying to figure out which ones fit the bill. Or maybe you already have your suspicions?

The truth is, the media love a story. Taking scientific research and then sensationalising and oversimplifying is a great way to stir the pot and get people to take notice.

The claims come from research by Nathan Brooks, Dr. Katrina Fritzon (of Bond University, Gold Coast) and Dr. Simon Croon, which will be presented to the 2016 Australian Psychological Society Congress, held in Melbourne between 13th – 16th September.

But before you go pointing the finger at the two bosses, labelling them psychopaths, here’s two things to think about…

1. Sample Size

Who were the “bosses” they studied for these findings? With any research, the sample you survey or study matters and affects the quality of the findings. 261 “corporate professionals” were studied. Are 261 professionals enough to make these bold claims? And I would be interested in what their definition of a ‘corporate professional’ is? It’s quite a diverse population.

2. The Industry Sector

The professionals sampled were all in the Supply Chain Management industry. Perhaps this particular sector is especially attractive to, or is particularly well suited to the “successful psychopath”? It’s not for me to say.

As a specialist in the technology, audio visual, security and electrical sectors, everyone I have dealt with in the last 7years in these industries is rounded, emotionally stable and level-headed. Not a psychopath amongst them. And anyone who has dealt with or works in this industry will understand the irony of that statement.

As a psychology graduate these are factors that make this research questionable for me. Now let me put on my Recruiter hat for a minute. Let’s say this is the case and there are that many American Psycho wannabes floating around our companies. How do we protect our companies, our employees, the culture and avoid hiring them?

3 Ways To Avoid Hiring A “Psychopath“

The impact of having a successful psychopath in your business is huge. You may not notice the impact at first because a true psychopath is very good at what they do, and considering they bring in the big bucks and seem to have everything under control, well…companies can often don the rose coloured glasses.

But eventually, they fester and erupt like a bubble of toxic waste spilling out onto all of your employees, dragging them under, destroying your healthy culture and your brand.

1. Personality Test

The researcher Nathan Brooks is of the opinion that companies look at skills first and personality second when hiring, but he believes this shouldn’t be the case.

"It needs to be firstly about the candidate's character and then, if they pass the character test, consider whether they have the right skills."

So should all of us recruiters, HR managers and our clients test every applicant for clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits before we even look at the skills they have in relation to the role we’re recruiting?

In my opinion, no. I think there’s a place for personality screening that can help employers spot those with psychopathic traits before they are hired, but I don’t believe this needs to be done prior to screening a candidate for skills. It’s just not viable from a cost or time perspective.

2. Prioritising Culture

Place more importance on cultural fit when hiring, ensuring that new hires work well with existing team members and complement the existing values of the organisation.

I genuinely believe that corporate psychopaths would not last long in a collaborative team-oriented culture that many of my clients promote. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, they would be found out very quickly.

3. Research & Good Ole Reference Checks

Nowadays everyone checks Facebook, LinkedIn and Google to pre-screen candidates. Seeing someone’s social footprint is a great way to see if they are a good fit for an organisation.

Sure, you wouldn’t solely base your decision on what appears on someone’s Facebook page but it’s certainly something to pay attention to.

At Morgan, we reference check all of the professionals we recruit for clients (unless the clients want to do their own checks).  We even do video recorded profiles of candidates and audio record our reference checks.  It’s perhaps considered old fashioned by some, but I still feel there is a lot of value in this, both peer and line manager references, and even client references where possible and relevant.

My Final Thoughts…

What do we do if we find someone who fails the so-called psychopath pre-screening?

Is it ethical to tell them they have “clinically significant psychopathic traits”? And if someone told you that, would you be likely to change the way you think about yourself?

And I have to wonder if those people who failed this screening, actually had some positive impact on their employer, on society and so aren’t just “creators of chaos” like the researchers describe.

If it is true that 21% of corporate professionals or bosses are psychopaths, that’s a lot of people that surely we could be helping rather than alienating them and creating some un-employable sub-class.

Either way, for me I’ll continue to focus on hiring the right candidates through interviewing, matching skills with requirements and aspirations with cultures.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I’m interested to hear the thoughts of my industry colleagues.



Dave Gallagher is a specialist recruiter in Morgan Consulting’s Audio Visual, Security and Technology team, based in Brisbane. He has worked in the industry for 13years, first in Europe and now in APAC.

Follow Dave on LinkedIn

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