How to Avoid Hiring a Bully in Your Hospital

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We all want to do a great job as a leader, and that means not hiring a bully.

Have you ever interviewed someone whom you thought was a perfect fit for your unit? Perhaps she was a nurse who had experience, was already certified, educated, and was professionally dressed, articulate, and NICE! So of course you hired her, patted yourself on the back, and hoped that you could find 10 more just like her!

Then 2 months later, she turned into the wicked witch. Now you have employees in your office, sometimes crying, because of how she treats them.

What happened?

Did she all of a sudden develop a split personality? Are you in the movie, Body Snatchers? Or more likely, perhaps you missed something during the interview or were so caught up in how well she presented herself that you stopped the interview too soon?

Chances are, you missed something during the interviewing process.

In a study conducted by Career Builder, 41% of 2700 employees estimated that a bad hire could cost $25,000 – $50,000. And we all know by now that one bad apple can spoil the barrel. Studies show that rudeness is contagious. Hire one rude, toxic employee and it’s like a domino effect – they all start to fall.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Studies show that rudeness is contagious. Hire one rude, toxic employee and others will follow!”]

During one of my live Q & A calls with a group of nursing leaders, one of the participants asked a great question: “How do I make sure I’m not hiring a bully? Do you have any interviewing tips?”  My first response, from the gut was, “Nope. I’m terrible at interviewing. Does anyone else have any suggestions?” We all laughed and then I explained myself.

As a nurse manager many years ago, I interviewed a lot of nurses and nursing assistants. It was during one of our most profound nursing shortages and the temptation was to hire anyone who had an active license and breathed. However, I knew the importance of hiring the RIGHT person. Even though I knew that, I failed miserably.

I can honestly say that interviewing is not one of my strongest skills. In fact, it’s one of my weakest. Why? Because it’s easy to bamboozle me during an interview. Like so many of us, I see the good in people and think everyone is soooo nice! I hired people whom I thought were amazing who turned out to be Attila the Hun reincarnated.

It took me a while but I learned how to adapt my interviewing technique and build in a safety net.


Knowing how important it is to hire the RIGHT person, I finally got smart and adopted a new interviewing strategy, which is the advice I shared with my group:

Utilize behavioral interviewing techniques

Behavioral interviewing allows you to assess how well someone has performed in the past so that you can determine if they will fit in well within your organization. If you want to avoid hiring a bully, asking behavioral based questions is essential!!! Here are a few:

Tell me what kind of people you find it difficult to work with.

Give me an example of a conflict at work and how you handled it.

Give me an example of when you’ve made a mistake and how you dealt with it.

Describe a stressful situation and how you handled it.

[easy-tweet tweet=”If you want to avoid hiring a #bully, asking behavioral based questions is essential!”]

Ask your staff to interview them as a group

Some people can totally ace the behavioral questions. They know the right language, or have pre-planned and rehearsed the “right answers” to the most common behavioral type questions. However, your staff hasn’t been trained in these techniques and may be able to catch them off guard by asking questions they hadn’t anticipated. And, the beauty of asking your staff to interview the potential hire, you’re tapping into the collective power of others who might ultimately be better than you at interviewing. As a bonus, they feel more involved in the process and will make sure this person is a good fit!

Insist that they shadow at least 4 hours with someone on your unit

What I know about people is this. When you meet them, you are actually meeting their representative. You’re not meeting who they really are. However, if left to spend a few hours, or if you can, an entire shift with front line staff, they will unravel, perhaps just a bit. But it’s enough to get a glimpse into their true personality.

One manager shared that she had a male interviewee spend time with another male nurse. This potential hire aced the interview, was well educated and extremely polite (the manager was a woman). After spending a few hours with her nurse, he began to unravel. Twice, he made a comment about “these hot young nurses”, walked out of a patient’s room to find the nursing assistant to put a patient on a bedpan and when asked said, “Well isn’t that their job?” and casually dropped the “F” bomb in the break room.

Do you think the manager hired him? Not a chance!! But she would have if not for insisting that he shadow.

By asking your interviewee to shadow with one of your high performing (must be clinically and professionally competent), he/she can observe for any sign of rudeness or incivility.

When I adopted this strategy, I finally started hiring good people and avoided hiring the bad. It’s funny. I interviewed someone for a nursing assistant position and right from the beginning didn’t think she was a good fit. She just seemed to be apathetic, not very articulate, and I just didn’t get a good vibe. Knowing that I didn’t want to rely on my own opinion, I went through the process of a staff interview and shadow. My staff LOVED her! So I hired her and she turned out to be one of the most competent, compassionate, committed people on my entire team.

I’m telling you – this strategy works!

Spend more time up front making sure you bring in the right people and avoid hiring the wrong ones.  Remember, once you get them in – it’s hard to get them out!Be kind. Take care. Stay connected.

Helping you cultivate a healthy happy workforce,


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6 thoughts on “How to Avoid Hiring a Bully in Your Hospital”

  1. Love this article! You are so right, behavioral based questions are essential part of an interview. I also use behavioral based scenarios questions so they can tell me what they would do. Trust me I have avoided hiring few bad apples.

    1. Renee Thompson

      Thanks for commenting Ivette! It’s so so important to scrutinize every potential hire for any evidence of disruptive behaviors or negative attitudes BEFORE you hire them. It’s better to avoid filling a hole on your staffing grid than bringing someone in who isn’t a good fit!

    1. Renee Thompson

      Thanks for taking the time to comment! We all need to do a better job addressing workplace bullying!

  2. Linda Rasmussen

    Totally agree with job shadowing and not just for outside hires. Shadow time is also a great way for staff to discern whether or not a department transfer is a good fit. What about HR and Risk department concerns? We no longer offer shadow shifts due to legalities etc. Any thoughts?

    1. Thanks Linda. I’ve been hearing more and more about that. My solution is to create an extended interview process where the candidate takes a tour of the unit and has an opportunity to meet everyone. Not as good as shadowing though.

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