Almost all of us have had to make a decision at some point that challenges our morals. Whether it’s personal ethics, work ethics, or some other level – everyone has been faced with making a choice about what is the “right” thing or the “moral” thing to do. And many people realize that some choices they’ve made may have compromised their ethics or morals. It comes down to what level their ethical meter is set.
Because people have different perspectives when it comes to ethics, the big question for companies that are hiring is not whether a person has ethics, but rather whether his or her level of ethics matches the level expected at the company. The old saying about “honor among thieves” indicates that even thieves have some level of expected ethics in their interactions. The problem becomes how to determine whether the person you’re considering hiring has the level of ethics you desire to maintain in your company.
There are a lot of online honesty tests available for the hiring market, geared to both lower-level and upper-level positions. Obviously, there are costs associated with these tests. Perhaps if you’re in a business in which either the nature of the work or the nature of the talent pool makes ethical or honesty violations particularly risky, you may want to consider using such tools.
Most companies are not interested in using honesty tests in their hiring process. They want to rely on interview questions to help make the determination of which candidates have the ethics desired at their place of business. Unfortunately, traditional questions about ethics and honesty allow candidates to tell you what they would do in an imaginary situation, and they can make up an answer that has no basis in truth. A question such as “Would you be willing to miss a deadline if it meant compromising quality?” could be answered by the candidate based on what they perceive the interviewer wants to hear. They don’t require a truthful answer, and someone with a lower bar for ethical behavior is even more likely to lie convincingly. Luckily, there is a better alternative.
Behavioral interviewing is based on the premise that the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. This is especially true for behaviors such as honesty or acting ethically since most people do not change these kinds of behaviors based on a whim. Naturally, there are always exceptions, but I think it is better to hedge your bets by focusing on the rule as opposed to the exceptions.
There are many behavioral questions that can get at the existence of evidence of ethical behavior. The questions must depend on the job for which the person is being interviewed. You can start with something like, “Give me an example of a time when you have been late to work. Why were you late and what did you do about it?” It is unlikely that anyone is going to say, “I have never been late.” That is unrealistic and probably indicates that the person is lying to you. But if the response was more like, “I occasionally have to be late because of the distance I commute. I try to leave in plenty of time, but you never know about the traffic. If I see that I am going to be late, I quickly call in and give them a heads-up on my situation and give them my best estimate for when I will be there.” That answer rings true and additionally tells you that the person is conscientious. If you would like a bit more detail, then you can explore the issue further. If they live their life always being late, then that gives you more information. Their behavior is neither good or bad, it is just a question of whether it matches your requirements on what is acceptable or not.
Here are three questions I would suggest that you ask any candidate, to get the information you need to make a decision on whether someone has the level of ethics you require.
To me, these three questions will tell you a great deal about the person sitting in front of you. With enough practice, you will be able to ask these questions with ease, and also to follow up with secondary questions to confirm the information you receive.
But, of course, there is always a dose of truth serum you could put into the drink you offer them. Or would that be unethical?
International HR Director for OSF Global Services, Andreea is a veteran recruiter who has seen them all. She developed HR recruiting strategies and retention programs that guarantees the success of the company. She is a people person and she handles very easy new relationships with new employees, but her most interesting challenge is to find the middle way between company’s best interests and employee’s needs. To learn more about Andreea contact her on LinkedIn.