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Warren Buffett Says Hire Integrity First

August 19, 2022

By Tom Jackson, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

When a company assesses new talent, they look at hard skills, soft skills, work experience, reasons for making particular career moves, cultural fit, and a plethora of other criteria before making a hiring decision.

Some of the criteria listed above can be captured using traditional skills-based interviews and formatted assessments, but other information such as integrity is difficult to assess and requires a behavioral interviewing strategy.

Why is integrity important? Well, it seems to be very important to Warren Buffett and here is why.

In an article that I read the other day, Warren Buffett provided his insight on what he looks for in new employees. He was talking to a group of new MBA graduates where he said he finds integrity to be the key to hiring good people. He went on to say:

“We look for three things when we hire people. We look for intelligence, we look for initiative or energy, and we look for integrity. And if they don’t have the latter, the first two will kill you, because if you’re going to get someone without integrity, you want them lazy and dumb.”

He suggested that in the interview process you should ask five behavioral questions of each candidate to assess their integrity. The questions he suggested are as follows:

  1. Tell me about a specific time when you had to handle a tough problem that challenged fairness or ethical issues. What happened and how did you respond?
  2. When was the last time you “broke the rules?” What was the situation, and what did you do?
  3. When working with people, how would you describe your preferred relationship with them? (Use this question to assess honesty and the capacity for open communication, a clear hallmark of integrity.)
  4. What values do you appreciate the most in a team environment? (Use this question to look for other trustworthy traits, like fairness, transparency, and inclusiveness — all hallmarks of integrity.)
  5. If we ever got into a bind with a client, would you be willing to tell a little lie to help us out? (This is a “trick question” to drill down to a person’s core values. Anyone operating with integrity will raise a red flag and object to the question. You can explain your motive for asking it later, once you determine the individual has passed the lie test.)

So, next time you are hiring new talent into your organization, you might want to consider adding integrity to the list of attributes you seek, because a bad hire can cost an organization far more than just money.

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