Hiring Managers: Asking About Integrity

I once said that Integrity is the Most Important Requirement in a Manager. I still believe that. But you can’t just ask, “How much integrity do you have?” That’s a leading question. Or, what if you are a company like Enron, where the entire upper management culture was one of deceit?

You have to get to integrity in another way. If you are hiring a management candidate, you want to ask the question in this way: “Tell me about some recent times you had to make a difficult decision, one that affected your personal integrity. What were the circumstances and what happened?”

Now, you hush. You keep your mouth shut and your ears open. Listen for whether it was about product shipment, employee relations, or financial issues—or all three. If a manager candidate—especially a senior candidate—says he or she did not have these decisions, this candidate has not been a manager. Or, is living on another planet. Or has no integrity. Or you didn’t ask the question properly. It’s difficult for me to believe that a manager has not encountered a problem where he or she has not made a difficult decision about something that has brought his or her personal morals or integrity up against the company’s stated needs.

Watch for my blog post about Hiring Effective Executives on Vistage’s blog on Jan. 8, 2013.

About Johanna Rothman

I help managers and leaders do reasonable things that work.
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One Response to Hiring Managers: Asking About Integrity

  1. Tom Parmenter says:

    Interesting to speculate about how Enron interviewed to build a staff of crooks.

    My most ethically twisted moment was shepherding a green-card employee through the maze of continuing to work. The idea was demonstrating that there were no American citizens capable of doing the job. The process included posting ads in places where we thought there wouldn’t be any applicants, Computerworld for OS programers, for example. Then we had to interview applicants, looking for any reason to disqualify them. Sadly, most of them didn’t read the ad and turned out to be other green-card people, not American citizens, but I had to talk to them personally.

    I did it because I wanted to keep the guy and the company had a whole office full of experts on how to do this, but it still bothers me. It worked, but after I left the company had to park him in Canada for a couple of years to continue his employment. His unique qualification, btw, was knowledge of a programming language that had been used on one module of the product, one that hardly ever needed any work.

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