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I'm a hiring manager at a US tech company, and I often struggle with questions that would help me assess the integrity of a candidate. E.g. what types of questions, answers and omissions may reveal high or low integrity.

Are there any known frameworks or published guidelines (e.g. HBR or alternatives) that provide recommendations to assessing a candidate's integrity? I'm interested in the broad sense of the word, but if helpful, I'm looking to assess, e.g.:

  • Whether or not a candidate would be more prone to lying when caught doing something wrong, or instead acknowledge a wrong and seek help.
  • What it means for them to behave ethically
  • How they navigate non-trivial situations where they could advance their self-interest at the expense of the company, or the team.
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  • Isn’t that what those psych tests show?
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 19:42
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    What do you think about relying on references? Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 20:39
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    Behavioral interview techniques, of course. But why do you expect that an employee wouldn't put their self-interest ahead of the company's? There are ethical fine points to consider but, generally speaking, only a doormat personality would sacrifice their career for the benefit of the company.
    – teego1967
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 10:59
  • @teego1967 I'm not saying they would or should not put their self-interest ahead of their team or company. I'm asking how they would navigate that natural tension in non-trivial scenarios. A big part of behaving ethically and with high integrity is to not always put yourself first.
    – Josh
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 16:31

3 Answers 3

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Ask SPECIFIC questions about past behavior. Examples

  1. Tell me about a time you had to deal with conflict
  2. Tell me about a situation where you had to make a very difficult decision
  3. Tell me about a occasion where your own values got challenged a work situation
  4. Tell me about a time where you made a mistake.

The key to those questions is that you need to insist on specific examples. Generic question like "how do you deal with conflict?" are useless since you just going to get a cookie cutter answer "I'll bring the parties to the same table and we'll collaboratively work on a win-wins solution".

If the candidate can't come up with an example, that's also helpful to know. Everybody makes mistakes, if they can't remember any or are not willing to talk about them, then they are not able to handle mistakes properly.

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In my past experiences interviewing candidates, I have found behaviorial questions to be useful to assess the traits you have listed. Ask them to think of a situation from their past work experience in which they encountered an ethical dilemma and how they handled such a situation. Generally I believe the best predictor of future behavior in a specific situation is past behavior in a similar situation.

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O. F.'s answer is a good overview why you can't judge a person's intergrity in an interview, but it's not constructive enough. Instead, I suggest you focus your efforts on the following:

  • improving your company security practices, so that a single malicious hire cannot destroy your key assets / run away with your codebase / steal your clients

  • setting up productive KPIs. By "productive", I mean that an employee only has high KPIs if he's useful for the company, and vice versa. This will help with potential lying: lying should not bring an employee anywhere unless they can show the employer quantifiable results of their work. In the same vein, set up report requirements: what means a job is done, and what means a job is incomplete.

  • setting up a probation period: within this period, it's easier to part ways with an employee if you find them to be a bad fit, for whatever reason.

  • make asking for help easier: set up company-wide resources that show which employees has specific expertise on specific questions, maintain documentation and make standard operating procedures readable and accessible, make sure that managers have time for one-on-one meetings with their direct reports.

  • never criticize an employee for being honest. If admitting mistakes and asking for help comes with a scolding, or worse, with a pay cut, fewer people will do that. If admitting mistakes comes with a verbal praise, more people will do that.

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