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Screening Candidates for Performance Saboteurs

Screening Candidates for Performance Saboteurs

By: Shirzad Chamine, author of Positive Intelligence (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2012)

You may have experienced it: job candidates who are poised throughout the interview process, check out well on resume and references, who then dash your hopes shortly after they’re hired. 

One way to avoid this type of hiring mistake is to screen for what I refer to as Positive Intelligence. 

Analyzing Positive Intelligence
Positive Intelligence is a measure of one’s degree of self-sabotage. In my lectures on Positive Intelligence at Stanford, I reveal 10 mental “Saboteurs” that undermine or derail us. 

These sneaky characters have names like Controller, Judge, Avoider, and Stickler. 95% of the executives in the Stanford program report that one or more of these Saboteurs cause “significant harm” to employee performance and their personal fulfillment.

Every candidate you interview, and for that matter everyone you know, is being undermined by some Saboteurs. The question is how strong they are.

Since Saboteurs become more visible under stress, you might not easily see them in the controlled interview environment. They will show their true faces under the real stress of the real job.

Saboteurs are the internal enemies. They are a set of automatic and habitual mind patterns, each with its own voice, beliefs, and assumptions that work against our best interest. 

To illustrate, when our mind tells us that we should prepare for tomorrow’s important meeting, it is acting as our friend, causing positive action. 

When it wakes us up at 3:00 a.m. anxious about the meeting and warning us for the hundredth time about the many consequences of failing, it is acting as our enemy; it is simply exhausting our mental and physical resources without any redeeming value. No friend would do that.

Saboteurs start off as our guardians to help us survive the real and imagined threats to our physical and emotional survival as children. 

For example, the Judge Saboteur represents a bias for noticing and exaggerating the negative. This bias is a critical evolutionary design for our ancestors to have survived the dangers of the jungle. When the tree leaves started shaking, the early human who assumed the worst and ran from an imagined tiger was the one that survived and passed his genes.

By the time we are adults, these Saboteurs are no longer needed, but they have become invisible inhabitants of our mind. They form the lens through which we see and react to the world, without knowing we are wearing any lens. 

Spotting Saboteurs in the Recruiting Process
Of course most of your job candidates are unaware they actually have Saboteurs, so simply asking them about it would not be productive. There are a few ways for you to remedy that. 

You can have them take the online Saboteur assessment and discuss their results with you. Or they can take the PQ Score assessment. 

PQ stands for Positive Intelligence Quotient and shows the percentage of time someone’s mind is serving them as opposed to sabotaging them. 

Ideally you want a candidate who scores above 75, which is the tipping point PQ score for optimal performance. Both these assessments require honest responses to be accurate, but you can still detect a lot from the way candidates present and discuss their results (find both free assessments at

Screening Candidates for Saboteurs
Another way for you to screen would be to probe during the interview for specific Saboteurs that appear, likely based on someone’s strengths. Saboteurs often represent the dark side of what someone considers to be their strength. 

For example, someone priding themselves on attention to detail might suffer the Stickler Saboteur. Many leaders with a forceful and confident style suffer the Controller Saboteur.  Someone who is good at relationship harmony might suffer the Pleaser or Avoider Saboteurs. 

The following table offers a summary.




Description  Lie


 Discernment, responsibility and accountability

Focus on negative in self, others, or circumstances Unless I constantly point to what's wrong, nothing will improve


 Confidence and initiative

Need to always control and dominate Controlling always ensures best outcome


 Detail orientation and organization 

Need for order and perfection taken too far  

Perfectionism is always the preferred way  


 Appreciation and positivity 

Avoid difficult or unpleasant tasks and conflicts.  Procrastinate

I am just being positive.  No good comes out of dealing with conflict


 Flexibility and risk tolerance  

Constant need for busyness. Rarely at peace with current activity 

This is the way to accomplish and experience the most


 Caring and compassion 

Constantly helping, pleasing, or rescuing others, hoping to be liked 

I do this to help and expect nothing in return


 Emotional self-awareness  

Continuous focus on painful and deflating emotions

This is my best way to attract attention and affection


 Objectivity and logic 

Over-application of the rational function in dealing with people  

Emotions are useless distractions.  Greatest leader strength is logic 


 Reliability and dependability 

Continuous intense anxiety about dangers and what could go wrong  

Best way to protect self and others is through hyper-vigilance


 Goal and achievement orientation  

Narrow focus on achievement to the detriment of relationships, balance and perspective

Greatest success comes from achievement-at-all-cost 

Resumes and employee references only point to potential. Screen candidates for Positive Intelligence if you want pepole who are likely to actually reach their true potential.

And remember, strong Saboteurs don't have to be career derailers, so long as Positive Intelligence tools are used to conquer them.

Author Bio:

Shirzad Chamine is author of the New York Times bestseller, Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential AND HOW YOU CAN ACHIEVE YOURS (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2012). He is Chairman of CTI, the largest coach-training organization in the world. A preeminent C-suite advisor, Shirzad has coached hundreds of CEOs and their executive teams. His background includes PhD studies in neuroscience in addition to a BA in psychology, an MS in electrical engineering, and an MBA from Stanford, where he lectures. Find free assessments, tools, and blogs on  

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