How do you interview for integrity?

That’s a question Tom Foster asked in a recent post. His reply: “You can interview for anything that you can connect to behavior.”

The first step in the process seems obvious.  How does a person who has integrity behave?

Describing what integrity look like is not as easy as it seems.  Integrity is more than just honesty.  A person can be honest but lack integrity. Integrity is so much broader than just telling the truth.  Integrity requires doing the right thing even when it’s hard.  It also requires humility – accepting responsibility for your actions and knowing that you are not a one-man show.

Sometimes honesty and doing the right thing clash.  Sometimes accepting responsibility for what you’ve done compromises your family and the community. Does integrity include not harming others, not protecting the greater good?

There is not one right or wrong answer to many integrity related questions. The right behavior might depend on the culture, the environment, or whose shoes in which you’re standing.

For example, here is an integrity dilemma making the news – Edward Snowden.  Did his actions show a high level of integrity? Was he honest? An even broader question is: are whistleblowers good examples of people with high integrity?  Snowden feels he did the right thing. A lot of people feel he exposed a big wrong.  But he also violated the trust of his employer and might have risked the lives of many people. Personally he risked his job, his safety and even his quality of life to do it.  Did he cross the line?  Should he be punished or rewarded?  There is no right or wrong answer. That’s the problem with trying to pin down one definition of integrity.

Here’s another scenario that I present to clients.  You are invited to take part in a high-level meeting where you learn that several employees will be terminated. The news is confidential and secrecy is of the utmost importance. One of those employees is your direct report who just happens to be on the verge of purchasing a new home, closer to his job.  Do you tell him and violate your commitment to management? Or violate their trust and report it to your employee who could be placed in a very risky financial situation?

The bottom line is that the right description of integrity is the one that works for you and exudes your company values. But beware!  Integrity is often seen in the eyes of the beholder and your customers, vendors and even the community might disagree.

Foster offers a few excellent recommendations how to conduct a behavioral interview for integrity. I agree 100%. He even presents in his article a series of questions you can follow:

Tell me about a time when (my favorite lead in) you were working on a project, where something happened, that wasn’t supposed to happen, and you were the only one who knew about it?

Tell me about a time when, you found out that someone took a shortcut on a project that had an impact on quality, but you were the only one who knew about it?

Tell me about a time when, you were working on a project, and someone confided in you about a quality standard or safety standard that everyone else had overlooked, and now, the two of you were the only ones who knew about it?

Tell me about a time when, you were in charge of quality control on a project, and in the final audit, you discovered something wrong, and it took significant re-work and expense to fix.

“Once the candidate has identified a possible circumstance, then ask about the behaviors connected with integrity.”

What was the project?

How long was the project?

Who was on the project team?

What was your role on the project?

What went wrong on the project?

How did you discover it?

How were you the only one who knew about it?

What impact did the hidden problem have on the project?

What did you do?  Who did you talk to?  What did you say?

How was the problem resolved?

What was the impact of the re-work required in costs, materials and time?

Tell me about another time when you discovered something wrong and you were the only one who knew about it?

While Foster’s interview format is near flawless, interviewing for integrity holds the same risks as interviewing for problem solving skills, leadership style, or planning and organizing.  Candidates are well coached these days and may know the right responses – or at least the ones you want to hear.

Confirming if a candidate will do what he said he would do is a critical step in the employee selection process. A proven method to assess how a candidate or employee might approach integrity dilemmas is using employee assessments