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Warren Buffett Says Everyone Has Intelligence and Energy but Without This Success Trait, Forget Everything

The Oracle of Omaha says you’re looking for three things when interviewing a job candidate. But only one really counts.

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BY Marcel Schwantes - 06 Aug 2018

Warren Buffett Says Everyone Has Intelligence and Energy but Without This Success Trait, Forget Everything

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

When Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, imparts his wisdom, your best option is to drop whatever you're doing and tune in because you're about to get schooled.

As I've read his books and annual letters and listened to his speeches over the years, one quote that has stuck me relates to hiring the right individuals. He said:

"You're looking for three things, generally, in a person: intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don't have the last one, don't even bother with the first two. Everyone has the intelligence and energy--you wouldn't be here otherwise. But the integrity is up to you. You weren't born with it, you can't learn it in school."

Buffett has also said that if you don't have integrity, intelligence and energy will kill you. He also comically quipped, "If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy."

Buffett, I believe, is spot on. His intelligence and hard work over 60 years as one of the world's top investors has made him a billionaire. Integrity, however, has always been a choice for Buffett, and will always be a choice for any of us seeking success.

"You decide to be dishonest, stingy, uncharitable, egotistical, all the things people don't like in other people," says Buffett. "They are all choices. Some people think there's a limited little pot of admiration to go around, and anything the other guy takes out of the pot, there's less left for you. But it's just the opposite."

How to find integrity

When it comes to finding the right people, hiring managers must dig hard to get the answers they need to feel confident that the best job candidates have the integrity to perform with the utmost excellence. Otherwise one bad apple can be costly to a business.

While there are various means to investigate the choices someone has made through background checks, drug screens and other investigative means, I suggest the following preliminary behavioral-based interview questions to get to the core of a person's character.

1. Tell me about a time when your trustworthiness was challenged. How did you react/respond?

2. Tell me about a specific time when you had to handle a tough problem which challenged fairness or ethnical issues.

3. When was the last time you "broke the rules"? What was the situation and what did you do?

4. What would you do if you suspected that an employee was stealing or harassing another employee?

5. Describe a situation where you saw a coworker do something you thought was inappropriate. What did you do?

6. Think of a situation where you distrusted a co-worker/supervisor, resulting in tension between you. What steps did you take to improve the relationship.

7. When working with people, in general, describe your preferred relationship with them. (this question is used to assess honesty and the capacity for open communication.)

8. What values do you appreciate the most in a team environment? [hint: you're looking for things like honesty, fairness, openness, and trust in your answers.)

9. If we ever got into a bind with a client, would you be willing to tell a little white lie to help us out?

10. What would your current/past manager say makes you most valuable to them? (Hint: listen for clues that point to integrity.)

Remember, if you hire someone with high energy and high intelligence, you might get a rock star. But hire a rock star with high energy, high intelligence, but low integrity and you'll get a smart, fast-moving thief.

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