No matter how much you communicate with your employees about the importance of ethics, or how strong your Code of Ethics might be, it is critical to hire people who respect and uphold your ethics standards.
Unfortunately, hiring ethical employees isn’t as simple as running background checks on all new hires, which would only turn up past public records or criminal activity. However, there are a few other ways you can try to really gauge job applicants’ character.
The first way to read between the lines for ethical red flags is by closely examining resumes. Candidates who play fast and loose with the facts of their employment and educational backgrounds are not likely to respect your values of transparency and honesty. Candidates who have frequently changed companies, or even industries, should also be able to provide a good explanation for doing so. Long resume gaps may have perfectly innocuous explanations—taking time off for family, a layoff associated with an economic downturn—but they may also indicate trouble getting re-hired if an employee developed a reputation for poor judgment or ethical lapses.
It’s standard to ask applicants for references. However, it’s important to actually attempt to contact them. Most references won’t say anything overtly negative about the applicant, both as a courtesy and to protect against lawsuits. Some companies have a policy that they won’t say anything beyond confirming dates of employment. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn anything by talking to them, though.
Many employers will be happy to chat about applicants who were trustworthy, so long as they parted on good terms. If a former employer says they are able to talk, but seems hesitant to discuss specifics about an applicant’s performance or character, that should be cause for concern.
Of course, the most important way to assess an employee’s cultural fit, including their values, is the interview process. Some companies choose to incorporate personality assessments to rate employees’ “conscientiousness.” Others ask candidates for examples of past ethical quandaries they have dealt with, or hypothetical questions about ethical problems somebody in their role might face. Depending on your preferences, any of these could be appropriate.
No hiring process will ever be perfect for weeding out unscrupulous applicants. However, by carefully questioning applicants on their resume gaps, following up with former employers, and asking smart interview questions, you can do your best to ensure that your team members’ values remain as strong as yours.
Read more about how to extend your culture of ethics to all employees.