We asked “The Ethics Guy” about his favorite interview question

ethics2Bruce Weinstein presents ten qualities that clarify what it means to be a high-character employee in his latest book, The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees.

Stories from employers and employees illustrate how these traits are critical to the long-term success of your nonprofit and to the employees who exhibit them. This book contains advice for the employer, the interviewee and employee in search of a character fit.

We asked author Weinstein about his favorite interview question. 

CausePlanet: What is your favorite job interview question that reveals character and why?

BW: “Have you ever cheated, and if so, what did you learn from it?”

Several of the leaders I spoke with in doing research for The Good Ones told me, “You’d be surprised how often people will just come out and tell you about the dishonest things they’ve done.” I agree.

From time to time I interview high school students who are applying to the college I attended, Swarthmore. A few years ago, I mentioned to Rob, the young man I was interviewing, that I’d written a book called Is It Still Cheating If I Don’t Get Caught? I told him how dismayed I was by the stories of cheating in high schools and colleges and asked him point-blank if he had ever misrepresented himself.

“Yes,” he said. “My friends and I have done it more than once. School is so competitive now, you have to cheat to get good grades.”

Rob got a “Do not admit” recommendation from me on the college evaluation form.dishonesty

There are two downsides to asking a job candidate a direct question about dishonesty. First, it immediately strikes fear in the candidate’s heart, even if the candidate is an honest person. I don’t like the idea of making people squirm.

The second downside is that the question seems to present a no-win situation. The candidate may reason that if she admits to having cheated, she won’t get the job, but if she lies, she’ll get caught in a fib.

But the savvy interviewer will not reject candidates simply because they have admitted to cheating. What bothered me about Rob wasn’t so much his academic dishonesty but the fact that he exhibited no remorse for having cheated and even attempted to justify it.

The honest person has a strong emotional commitment to the truth, and leaders who evaluate for character as well as competence serve their employers—and themselves–well.

I’m happy to help readers of CausePlanet any way I can.  If you have any questions about this material, please call me any time at 646.649.4501 (U.S.).

See also:

The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High Character Employees

Match: A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time

Mission-Based Management: Leading Your Not-for-Profit in the 21st Century, 3rd Ed.

Image credit: carnegiecouncil.org, skiprichard.com

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