Ethical Qualities to Look for in Employees

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When you’re tasked with allowing new people into your company, how do you know who is good and who is bad? Whom can you trust with important decisions? How do you make sure you don’t miss out on any important detail that can potentially lead to disastrous ethical issues down the line?

Paving the way for long-term ethical behaviors starts with the hiring process. A candidate might have an “awesome” resume but lack the most basic of traits when it comes to honesty, ethics, or integrity. To fully determine what a candidate would bring to the table, it is critical to run a thorough ethics screening before you take them on board.

A great ethics screening brings together procedures like analyzing behavioral information from cover letters and resumes, running comprehensive background and reference checks, putting hypothetical ethical dilemmas on the table during the interview process, implementing sanction screening questions for financial roles, and conducting personality surveys.

How to “Detect” Ethical Qualities in Potential Employees

Before diving into the hows, let’s look at what qualities make for behavior that is ethical. Here are the ethical qualities you might want to look for in potential employees.

  • Honesty. An ethical employee will always put honesty before everything else – even when it comes to failures or mistakes they might be responsible for.
  • Integrity. An individual who values integrity can be fully trusted, especially when it comes to crucial positions in an organization.
  • Impartiality. The quality of impartiality is critical to foster teamwork and building a thriving workplace.
  • Loyalty. From talking bad about their workplace to revealing confidential matters to outsiders – a lack of loyalty can be disastrous for a company. Determine whether a candidate has the potential to transform into a lifelong ambassador of your company by looking at their work history and asking why they chose to leave their previous position.
  • Dedication. While ethical qualities like honesty, impartiality, and integrity are important, you want your employees to stay motivated and dedicated to the work they do.
  • Responsibility. A responsible employee puts the organization’s prosperity in the spotlight. They are the ones you can count on when the time comes.
  • Accountability. Instead of concealing their mistakes, an accountable person will not shy away from accepting or correcting them.

Analyze Each Resume Thoroughly

A great yardstick to predict an employee's future behavior is to understand their past behavior first. Look for any red flags in a candidate’s resume to detect the possibility of any ethical lapses in the future. A few of these red flags could include:

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  • Long and unexplained gaps in work history. This could mean the candidate is not revealing something.
  • Multiple and abrupt career shifts. While some may transition into new careers due to genuine reasons, others could make this move because they’re backlisted from their former industry.
  • The inability to follow directions. A great way to weed out unfavorable candidates is to include a specific requirement for cover letters or resumes. If a candidate fails to tailor their resume to this requirement, it’s a sign they’re self-filtering. 

Deep Dive into the Employee’s Past Experience

The past lays the groundwork for the future. Through resumes, background checks, and reference checks, you can gather comprehensive material to determine a candidate’s ethical caliber. Look for ethical qualities like accountability and responsibility. For example, when looking for ethics in healthcare, a candidate who cares about the welfare of others will have several volunteering activities to show. A candidate who has served on a work committee is someone you trust and rely on.

Check Whether their Application Shows Ethics Training or Experience

When a candidate is already trained in ethics, they have a deeper understanding of the values that constitute ethical behavior and bring values like honesty, integrity, fairness, dedication, and loyalty to the table. They are also highly unlikely to be the reason for misconduct in the workplace.

Look for and verify any certificates or training the candidate may have in ethics and honesty. If a candidate includes these certifications in their applications, it is most likely a good sign.

It’s also a good idea to look for their work history in organizations that hold high ethical standards. Each year, several companies are recognized for their honesty and integrity. Applicants who have a background in any of these companies are usually more promising and contribute to ethical work culture.

Run Reference and Background Checks

Reference and background checks are often the best way to verify resume information.

Reference Checks: The most relevant source of a candidate’s weaknesses and strengths is the previous supervisor’s perspective on their performance. Reference checks help gauge the behavioral indicators of the ethics a job candidate brings to the table. These indicators include the ability to follow directions, attendance record, disciplinary and timeliness history, and the capacity for teamwork.

Background Checks: They are critical when it comes to determining an applicant’s prior work history, academic accomplishments, and other work-related elements. Background checks also bring a candidate’s criminal records, credit checks, motor vehicle reports, and Social Security verifications out in the open. In other words, they help you determine “who” you’re really letting inside your company.

“Extract” the Truth through Personality Tests

Every interview process must include a personality survey. These tests make it considerably more difficult to “fake” information. Out of the many personality measures, two predictors shine the brightest: conscientiousness and organizational citizenship behavior.

Conscientiousness is the yardstick of a person’s sense of work ethic, responsibility, and dependability. A conscientious employee is often reluctant to participate in “cover-ups” or deceptions that occur in the workplace.

Organizational citizenship behavior is generally associated with work-related help behavior. It shows a person is willing to go beyond just their work requirements to help others with their work-related problems. They naturally oscillate towards organizational loyalty and compliance.

Have a Look at their Social Media Accounts

Social media lays a candidate’s public opinion bare. This can help determine (to a certain degree), the ethical or unethical nature of a candidate.

See how a candidate presents themselves online. More often than not, a simple google search is enough to find out if an applicant had previously been involved in criminal cases or scandals in the past. When looking a candidate up on the internet, make sure you don’t make a judgment based on someone’s name alone and ensure you don’t have the wrong person.

During the Interview…

By the time an interview unfolds, the organization already gathers all the ethics-related information associated with the candidate. By asking strategic questions during the interview, the interviewer can detect and analyze any inconsistencies and information gaps from this information.

Ask a job candidate if they faced any ethical dilemma at work and how they managed it. In case a person hasn’t experienced any ethical dilemmas before, you can translate the question into a hypothetical situation and ask them to respond accordingly. For instance, asking a question like, “how will you respond if your co-worker or boss asks you to do something unethical?”

Ethics screening may not be a walk in the park. But in the long run, it creates an unbreakable culture of compliance, paving the way for a happy and successful workforce.

Author Bio:

Giovanni Gallo is the Co-CEO of Ethico, where his team strives to make the world a better workplace with compliance hotline services, sanction and license monitoring, and workforce eLearning software and services.

Growing up as the son of a Cuban refugee in an entrepreneurial family taught Gio how servanthood and deep care for employees can make a thriving business a platform for positive change in the world. He built on that through experience with startups and multinational organizations so Ethico’s solutions can empower caring leaders to build strong cultures for the betterment of every employee and their community.

When he’s not working, Gio’s wrangling his four young kids, riding his motorcycle, and supporting education, families, and the homeless in the Charlotte community.