How to Interview to Uncover a Candidate’s Ethical Standards
By: Dona Dezube
Ethical standards are critical to the success of any organization, yet it can be extraordinarily difficult to judge a candidate’s ethical standards during the interview process.
Hiring managers must know how to interview to find candidates with attitudes and characteristics that align with the company’s mission, vision and values.
Interviews that focus on more general ethical standards as well as industry issues and social norms for the local cultures in which the company operates will often yield more interesting -- and informative -- results.
Uncovering Ethical Standards
The biggest challenge in conducting an interview that includes a discussion about workplace ethics is getting a candidate to give honest and meaningful answers.
In any workplace, there may be several acceptable answers to an ethical issue, yet job candidates will be leery of responding in a way that reveals any ethical warts to the hiring manager.
That makes a behavioral approach best when deciding what interview questions to ask, says Patricia Harned, president of the Ethics Resource Center, Arlington, Virginia.
“We know, if you ask people if they’re ethical, they’re going to say, ‘Yes,’” she says. “Behavioral questions tell you that the person was in a situation that they saw as ethics-related and tell you how they thought through the problem and what they did.”
Important Ethics Interview Questions to Ask
Use these nine interview questions to ask about ethics along with interviewer tips from ethics experts during the recruiting process:
1. What do you believe compromises the ethical workplace? Here at XYZ Corp, we are accountable, confidential and stable. How do you define accountable, confidential and stable? This is a great lead-off question to talk about ethics because it’s general.
2. Have you worked for a company that had a code of conduct, and did you have positive or negative experiences there? This is another good opening question because it allows the candidate a lot of leeway in his or her response.
3. Have you taken a course or had any training in business ethics? This question is tailored to campus recruiting and interviews with recent grads, as well as employees with experience in large companies, where ethics training is often required of employees. What did the candidate recall from their training -- how well did it sink in?
4. How does being an ethical individual differ from being an ethical corporation? This is a tricky question because the answer is: “There is no difference,” says Nan DeMars, author of You’ve Got to be Kidding – How to Keep Your Job Without Losing Your Integrity. Employees’ individual values and morals have to match up with the company’s values, or the employee will be stressed, unhappy, unproductive and therefore likely to leave.
5. Would you ever lie for me? The response you’re looking for with this question is: “I would never lie for you." An employee who won’t lie for you won’t lie to you, DeMars says.
6. Tell me about a time that you were challenged ethically. Don’t trust a candidate who says he’s never faced an ethical challenge. You want a candidate who avoids misconduct, not someone who lies and says they’ve never done anything wrong, says Tim Mazur, COO of the Ethics and Compliance Officer Association. The right candidate’s answer might be: “I was part of a proposal team, and the marketing people inserted language that overstated what we were doing. I argued that we shouldn’t include the language, but I lost and it was left in. I signed off on the project.”
7. Did you see the ethics material on our website? Which of our corporate values made an impression on you? The point of this question is to see whether the job seeker considers ethics and corporate values important enough to include in his or her background research on your organization, Mazur says.
8. I see you’ve worked with people from different cultures. What ethics and values did you find you had in common, and where did you differ? This question is especially important when the candidate will work in multicultural settings. If the candidate is from outside the US, be aware that in some cultures, “ethics” is translated into a word that’s more about personal values, and you may do better using the word “integrity” when talking about workplace values, Mazur says.
9. When you’ve had ethical issues arise at work, whom did you consult? Here, you’re looking for an answer that shows the candidate took action by talking to a coworker or manager about their concern, or that they sought out other company resources, Harned says.
Few candidates are going to come right out and confess their past ethical mistakes.
Knowing how to interview with behavioral questions will enable them to open up about their past experience, providing the hiring manager with a good sense of the person sitting in front of them, Harned says.
“Companies want ethical employees, but there is only so much a business can do to encourage ethical behavior,” she says. “We have to ensure that the hiring process takes into account people’s character and gives a good sense of who they are before we bring them into the company.”