“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Maya Angelou

From The Business of Creativity

Keith Granet shares some eye-opening advice about clients and staff in Chapter 5 of The Business of Creativity titled “The People You Don’t Need in Your Life.” He declares right away that the title is misleading because it really is about finding deserving and worthy people as clients and staff. However, in order to ensure that you know how to pick good employees, it is just as important to be able to identify the traits and red flags that make for bad employees.


In this post, we turn our focus on the section of the chapter that covers the signs and warnings of bad employees. Keith states that “people are our greatest asset, building the right team is everything.” It is absolutely vital as business owners to identify employees who are not the right fit early on because it has the potential to do lasting damage to your business. You must make it a point to hire slowly, take your time to review good prospects, and assess whether a candidate is a good cultural fit in your organization.

Ten Signs of a Bad Employee

As a company principal, sometimes you have to step back from your day-to-day to assess how each employee in your organization fits in the overall culture of your business and even the entire industry. The illustration below details ten distinct warning signs of existing employees.


If you notice that a current staff member exhibits any of the above traits, it might be time to reassess whether or not that person has a future in your company. You should especially be alarmed if they show two or more of these signs.

The Warning Sign During the Interview Process

Now we will cover the warning signs of a potential bad employee during the job interview process. You should pay close attention during the interview process to see if a potential candidate displays any of the following warning signs:

1. A résumé that doesn’t add up

Pay close attention to any inconsistencies in dates, gaps, and the overall logic of how job experience on the résumé is presented.

2. A lack of attention to appearance

People should look their best when applying for a job so even if your office culture is casual, take note of how candidates present themselves and explain dress code another time.

3. Difficulty communicating

Look for candidates who speak clearly with confidence and if they answer your questions clearly. It is vital to have employees who can interact comfortably with coworkers and clients.

4. Overconfidence

When a person comes across as a braggart whose past experience and work seems a little too good to be true, it could mean that the candidate is overcompensating for a weak job history.

5. Put-downs

The candidate speaks poorly of past employers and colleagues during an interview and such negativity right at the beginning is a red flag.

6. Hyperawareness or Overpreparedness

It is good for a potential employee to research the company but take note of when they go too far and delve into personal details of your family, friends, alma mater, etc. Trust your gut when assessing if a person has googled too much about you and your company.

7. A questionable online trail

Take note if someone overshares on the Internet—whether on their personal site, blog, or social media channel—and if the information about the candidate is damning. Think about the coworkers and more importantly, clients, who can also discover possibly salacious information about your staff member.

8. Money talk

This is always a delicate matter but it is not good decorum for a candidate to speak boldly and at length about compensation and benefits before being offered a job.

9. Lateness

Candidates should be well aware of how critical it is to be on time for their interview and make accommodations for traffic, weather, and other complications. Punctuality demonstrates a good sense of planning.

10. Plagiarism

As in school, this is an automatic disqualifier if you discover a candidate’s portfolio is stolen from another designer. The relative small size of the design community makes this difficult to do; so trust your instincts if designs look familiar.

During the interview process, some of the above warning signs can be overlooked and even corrected. Obviously lies on the résumé and a stolen design portfolio can be dismissed immediately, but you can correct lateness and encourage someone to be a better communicator. It is generally useful to keep all of the warning signs in mind when interviewing for a new staff member as it will help you quickly separate the wheat from the chaff.

Lastly, as a business owner you have certainly put in the work and gained experience that has given you natural instincts to assess if an employee or candidate is the right fit. The advice of this blog post will help you articulate and define your instincts and gut feelings about current and future staff members.

Chapter 5 of The Business of Creativity has much more great advice about hiring the right people for your company including how bad employees affect an office, converting a bad employee into a good one, firing a bad employee, and other types of individuals you don’t need in your company.

This is the eighth in an occasional series of blog posts drawing from ideas explored in Keith Granet’s books The Business of Design and The Business of Creativity. To get more detailed insight on best practices for your design business, you are encouraged to read both books and they can be found at your local bookstore or click on each book image to purchase online.

This is the fifth in an occasional series of blog posts drawing from ideas explored in Keith Granet’s books The Business of Design and The Business of Creativity. To get more detailed insight on best practices for your design business, you are encouraged to read both books and they can be found at your local bookstore or click on each book image to purchase online.

Alternatively, if you have already read either book and want to share your experiences using its advice, send an email to contact@studiodesigner.com.