Billionaire Warren Buffett maintains that his success is largely dependent on hiring the right talent. While that sounds like conventional wisdom, here’s what’s not. On top of Buffett’s list of qualifications deemed as a non-negotiable, you’ll find one trait elevated above all job-related skills and qualifications (including IQ): Integrity.
Buffett urges us to weigh the personal and organizational value of integrity the heaviest when assessing job candidates during the interview process.
Not exactly conventional wisdom, but it should be. As hiring managers, the tendency is to value technical and functional skills first while placing soft skills on the back burner. In a recent Buffett post, I posed this question to my readers in leadership roles: Do you interview and hire for integrity? Because if you don’t, your company culture may be at stake.
Interviewing for integrity
Interviewing for integrity will sift out job candidates who’ve mastered the art of embellishing their qualifications, fabricating stories, and flat-out lying. Not interviewing for integrity is especially risky during periods of fast growth or high turnover, where hiring managers become desperate to fill positions and rush to judgment by overlooking unwanted behaviors and toxic personalities.
Buffett is well-aware of this fact, which is why he places a premium on integrity, and so should you. But first, as a hiring manager or a person who conducts interviews as part of your job, you have to master the science of interviewing to validate skills, strengths, and job fit on the basis of fact, not theory. This keeps job candidates from delivering any prepared stories or scripted answers when faced with behaviorally based questions.
When assessing for integrity, it starts with asking the right questions to get to the core of a person’s character. I find these five particularly powerful.
1. If we ever got into a bind with a client, would you be willing to tell a little white lie to help us out?
If a candidate answers with a yes, or waffles through his answer undetermined, cut the interview short and wish that person a nice day. The only right answer is a firm and resounding no (and you’ll want to follow up with “Tell me why?” to further validate his or her integrity) because anything else indicates a lesser degree of integrity from the high bar you should be setting for selecting future employees.
2. Describe how being an employee of integrity differs from being a company of integrity.
It’s really a trick question because the answer should always be “There is no difference.” An employee’s values and behaviors should always align with the company’s values and ethical standards of conduct.
3. If the situation called for it, would you ever lie on my behalf?
A job candidate walking the talk of integrity will look the hiring manager straight in the eye without hesitation and respond, “I would never lie for you.” If this person won’t lie for you, you can bet that he won’t lie to you.
4. Tell me the story of you, but the thing you can’t say is anything that’s on your résumé.
This question comes courtesy of Chieh Huang, co-founder and CEO of Boxed. The reason he asks it is to weed out — in his own words — “complete assholes.” What is he listening for, exactly? The real you. Judging potential a-holes really comes down to listening for self-absorption. If Huang hears too many examples of “I did this” and “I did that” and not enough “we,” it’s a good indication you don’t fit the team culture at Boxed. By asking the question, you can also tune in to other clues that point to a person of integrity.
5. What are the characteristics exhibited by the best boss you have ever had?
This question is important because every person of integrity will attract a culture that reflects his or her virtues or values, or mirror a leader he or she trusts or looks up to. And every high-trust culture of integrity will demand the same in its future employees.
As hiring managers, remember this rule: No integrity = no trust. You must ensure that, no matter how talented, experienced, smart, or intelligent a job candidate appears to be, you should be listening for clues that tell you, “This is a person our team members and customers can trust.”