the good ones: identifying high character in prospective employees

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Have you ever wished there were a simple test for identifying the high character traits (or lack thereof) of future employees in advance? Actually, some of these tests do exist. Some work places conduct personality style or even psychological assessment testing of their incoming applicants. Others test Emotional IQ through specifically designed evaluations.

Bruce Weinstein, known in his Fortune magazine columns as The Ethics Guy, is trying to make the process easier in his new book, The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High Character Employees. They are as follows:


Wow! These are core characteristics that are seldom measured by traditional employee assessments. A resume doesn’t cover them. But if you consider the greatest leaders and employees you’ve worked with, many or possibly even all of these characteristics come to mind.

To identify them in employees you haven’t yet hired, consider deep discussions that dig for an indication of whether these values are present or not. For example, a favorite question I ask of incoming public relations employees is, “Tell me about your finest day in public relations? What happened, and what was your role in it? What made it so great?” The answers to these questions are extremely telling:

“I secured a chance for my client to throw the opening pitch at a Yankees ballgame.” (Me—all me.)

“Then I found out the client couldn’t throw the pitch—he told me he’d suffered a shoulder injury as a child.” (Did he show the courage to take responsibility for the situation? Not in this case.)

“So I told him, ‘You have to. There’s no way out of this.’” (Not only is the employee not displaying care or fairness to the client, he is clearly proud of the power he was able to wield.)

“So I made him play catch with me every day, for two weeks, to strengthen his shoulder enough so he could throw that opening pitch.” (Now he’s gloating over the access to the famous individual he was able to wield.)

So how did it come out? “Actually, the game never happened. The day it was scheduled was 9/11. The game was cancelled. But what an experience to play catch with XXX XXXX those 10 days.” Okay, this story has told me a great deal about the character and the motivations of this prospective employee.

Does the story speak of teamwork? Gratitude? Courage? Accountability? Or does it gloat about lucky breaks or short cuts taken, or place blame on co-workers while the storyteller is singlehandedly saving the day?

Likewise, you can ask “what if” questions about tricky honesty and morality questions. If you observed a fellow employee falsifying an expense report or habitually leaving work early on the pretense of a client appointment, what would you do? Would you report them? Would you speak to them directly? How would you handle this? How have you handled it when a situation like this has come up in the past?

How do you define integrity in the workplace? (A recent candidate replied that it would mean not participating in gossip, or actually speaking up in a situation where a fellow employee or leader was being undermined. It was a very good answer.)

How about loyalty? (An employee who talks about being extra deserving at a former workplace because, during the great recession, “I didn’t quit,” is telling you more than they realize. They are assuming their presence alone is an above and beyond contribution, not recognizing or realizing that the sacrifices their employer and company made to protect their position was a significant gift.)

In all, each of these traits is the mark of an employee or team member you will look back and remember as “one of the good ones.” Beyond core competencies and even beyond personality and likeability, you will have a better team and organization as you learn to seek and reward these moral character traits.

By cheryl snapp conner
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Comments (1)
Bruce Weinstein

Wow! Thank you so much, Cheryl, for such a lovely piece about my book. I really appreciate your support.

August 19, 2015   |   Reply
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