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5 Questions Smart Bosses Will Always Ask to Identify a Great Job Candidate

Warren Buffett famously said that you should interview for intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don’t have the last one, don’t bother.

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BY Marcel Schwantes - 11 Apr 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Are you a hiring manager or a person that conducts interviews as part of your job? Well, if you're not employing the science of behavioral interviewing in your hiring process, you're risking disaster by bringing in the wrong people.

Behavioral interviews are the foolproof method to validate skills, strengths, and job fit based on fact, not theory or vagueness. This gives hiring managers a clear edge because job candidates may not get a chance to deliver any prepared stories or scripted answers when faced with behavioral interview questions.

Now let me raise the bar further. When interviewing, how do you judge a potential employee's integrity or ethical standards? I say this because assessing for character should be a higher priority than merely assessing skills or experience for the job.

Warren Buffett famously 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."

Having said that, there are many behavioral-based interview questions hiring managers must ask. While a Google search on the topic will get you an endless list of options, I find these five particularly powerful.

1. "What do you believe compromises the ethical workplace?"

As a good lead-off question to set the stage for a discussion on ethics, you want to listen for examples of your candidates having clearly demonstrated the values and desired behaviors that define a high-trust culture.

2. Describe how being an ethical individual contributor differs from being an ethical company?

It's really a trick question because the answer should always be, "There is no difference." An individual contributor's values and morals should always align with the company's values and ethical standards of conduct, or you can bet that employee, once hired, will begin to show signs of unhappiness and disconnect from his work and work colleagues early on. Ultimately, you may lose that person as soon as he realizes he's not a good fit long-term.

3. "If the situation called for it, would you ever lie for me?"

A job candidate walking the talk of integrity will look at you straight in the eye without hesitation and respond, "I would never lie for you." If this person won't lie for you, you can bet that he won't lie to you.

4. "Tell me about an instance that challenged you ethically."

Here's what you don't want to hear: "Oh, I've never faced an ethical challenge." It's a given that most of us have faced an ethical challenge at one point or another in our careers. For more seasoned candidates operating with integrity, you'll most likely hear them clearly describing how they avoided misconduct, or how they called out someone acting unethically. Don't trust a candidate who says he's never faced an ethical challenge.

5. What are the characteristics exhibited by the best boss you have ever had?

Here's why this question is so important: Every person of integrity will attract a culture that reflects his or her virtues or values, or mirror a leader they trust, follow, or look up to. And every high-trust culture of integrity will demand the same in their future employees. Remember: No integrity = no trust. Your hiring team must ensure that, no matter how talented, experienced, and smart job candidates are, they are listening for clues that tell them "This is a person our fellow employees, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders can trust."

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