How to Screen Candidates for Good Business Ethics

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“You can always train someone who’s missing desired skills. But it’s impossible to implant core values into someone who lacks them.” — National Ethics Association

Business ethics” refers to ethical business practices in areas such as sales and sourcing, but it also means embracing a corporate culture of fairness and diversity. It is important to recruit ethical employees,  especially middle managers, who interface with employees and often the public.

As a recruiter, how can you make sure you’re hiring people who will behave ethically on the job?

First, Know What You’re Looking For

According to The Hampton Roads Business Journal“conscientiousness” and “organizational citizenship behaviors” are two key behavioral indicators of an ethical employee. Most of us know what conscientiousness is, but good organizational citizenship is less commonly discussed. Employees who demonstrate good organizational citizenship tend to help colleagues, take initiative, comply with rules, and remain loyal.

At every step of the hiring process, recruiters should tell applicants how important ethics are to the company . That starts with the job announcement itself. Business scholar Curtis Verschoor writes in Strategic Finance that “hiring managers who can articulate the benefits of their organization’s strong ethical culture have greater success in obtaining long-term career employees.”

Let candidates know you take honesty seriously and that you’ll be verifying their statements on applications, tests, and resumes. Between 20 percent and 44 percent of resumes contain untruths, according to The Hampton Roads Business Journal. Be on the lookout for inconsistencies. If a candidate changed industries abruptly, has a long gap in their career, or keeps taking positions with less and less responsibility, ask why.

Hiring for strong ethics and diversity also means recruiters should be casting their nets wider, says Tracy Miller, a lecturer at [email protected], the online one-year MBA program from Dayton University.

“Are they just targeting certain schools who have very similar types of skill-set populations?” Miller asks. “Or are they really looking at diverse avenues in order to attract candidates?”

Draft Coworkers to Help Screen Candidates

“The smartest thing any business can do is involve a mix of its best employees in the interview process,” writes Entrepreneur contributor Gael O’Brien. This has benefits beyond simply decreasing each individual’s workload in the recruiting process: “[Your best employees will] bring the perspective of high standards and effectiveness, and are likely to look for the same traits in potential candidates.”

The Hampton Roads Business Journal advises asking middle-management candidates to provide references not just from former supervisors, but also from former employees: “An excellent manager would welcome the opportunity to do so.”

When it’s time for a face-to-face or phone interview, TeamPeople recruiter Susan Wittan says “you can get a ‘spidey sense’ of someone who doesn’t seem quite right.” In such cases, a candidate may be lying — or they may simply have come from a corporate culture very different from your own.

“I try to probe to determine whether my feeling is borne out,” Wittan says. “I will ask follow-up questions to try to get to the heart of the matter.”

O’Brien writes that she awards “bonus points for candidates who already know about and can discuss your organization’s values.” Those candidates are already evaluating your company’s ethics  —  and assessing whether they share your organization’s ethical code.

Read more in Business Ethics

Alison Napolitano is a Senior Marketing Manager at 2U where she supports all community outreach for 2U's programs. Alison has a background in digital marketing and a passion for helping great brands succeed online.