How HR Managers Can Assess the Ethics of Candidates

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What methods can HR managers use to assess the ethics of job candidates?

When a company states it has a "strong workplace community," what that often translates to is a workforce with a solid moral backbone. Building that sort of company culture requires the right, key pieces — individuals who directly contribute to the community — and that starts in the interview room. We asked six HR professionals how they assess a candidate’s ethics to see if they’d be a good fit for their company’s workplace culture. Here’s what they had to say.

Here are six methods HR managers can use to assess the ethics of job candidates:

1. Learn About Previous Workplace Conflicts or Disagreements

Ask your candidates about how they handled conflict or disagreements with their former employees. For example, "Tell me about a time you disagreed with your manager and how you solved this conflict." By asking a specific question from a real-life experience, you will better understand how the candidate acts when faced with conflict and also how they describe their previous manager. Are they angry while sharing their experience? Do they blame their previous manager and take no responsibility? Their answer will inform you of their ethics and the behavior you can expect from them moving forward.

Jessica Ulloa, MyPerfectResume

2. Look Into Their Social Media and Public Information

A candidate’s casual behaviors can be a big hint to their ethics. It would be nice if we could assume that professionals can maintain a complete separation of work life and casual life, but it’s unwise to think that someone who behaves unethically in other situations wouldn’t do so in a work environment. While there is no need — or reason — to track down every source of personal activity, publicly open routes like social media are not in any way off limits when assessing a candidate’s ethics. In fact, many businesses use social media as a way to glimpse at their candidates’ social behaviors. You should have no misgivings about using publicly presented information in your assessment of a candidate’s ethics; it’s not a form of trespass. As a representative of your company’s interests, it’s your duty to make sure that the candidates you hire are right for your company.

Boye Fajinmi, TheFutureParty

3. Gauge Responses to Hypothetical Situations

It’s easy for a candidate to talk about their ethics or give the standard answers to ethical questions, but one of the best ways to determine a person’s ethics is by providing them with a hypothetical situation in the evaluation process. A candidate being asked about ethics in the abstract does little to provide a common understanding of how they would behave in a real-life situation. Providing candidates with scenarios that challenge their ethical standards in areas that involve coworkers, community impact, customer service, and internal operations — and then paying attention to the small details in their answers — can give you a true vision of their values. By presenting candidates with situations rather than just asking them their beliefs, you can avoid the programmed answers and find out what their true ethics are.

Adelle Archer, Eterneva

4. Ask Directly What Ethics Means to the Candidate

Ask candidates an open-ended question about what ethics means to them. Interviewees will often lead their answer with a character trait or value most important to them — such as kindness or honesty. Use each candidate’s anecdote to evaluate how they align with your core company values. Ethics is the base for a healthy workplace, so never shy away from this question.

Breanne Millette, Bisoulovely

5. Figure Out if the Candidate Will Cut Corners on Issues

I like to ask a simple question: "If you’ve encountered an issue in the workplace that has something to do with discrimination or an ethical right and wrong, and you’ve have reported it to your manager but nothing has been done, how do you handle it?" Most people have a decent moral compass and will report issues up the food chain, making it "someone else’s problem." But only the rare ones will follow up to make sure this issue gets resolved no matter what. Generally speaking, those are the ones who have a strong sense of ethics, and they won’t cut corners when it matters.

Daniel Ndukwu, UsefulPDF

6. Challenge the Candidate’s Core Beliefs

The topic of ethics is an interesting question, as it may be defined differently by different individuals based on their social, economic, or even cultural backgrounds. I think it’s important that the hiring manager is clear on what values and ethics the organization believes in, and whether or not those are followed currently. If so, it becomes easier to focus on identifying candidates that align with similar values. The hiring manager can choose to include an interview question or two about the candidate’s values and why those values are important to them. Another method is to ask the candidate to share an example of when they’ve had one of their values challenged. It’s one thing to say "I believe in X," but how the candidate has behaved when challenged on their belief can be very telling.

Lia Wilson, Aerotek

How JobsInTheUS Can Help

Since 1999, JobsInTheUS has helped employers find the top local talent they need to grow their business — through our network of state-specific job sites, including JobsInME, JobsInNH, JobsInVT, JobsInMA, JobsInRI, JobsInCT, and more.

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