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The Vital Hiring Trait Warren Buffett Swears By: Why it Matters More Than Anything Else

“Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.” – Warren Buffett

“Hire someone with high energy, high intelligence, but low integrity and you’ll get a smart, fast-moving thief.” – Tom Searcy

Most will agree integrity is important when you are adding a new person to your team. Few will do the hard work in advance to make sure you are hiring someone with integrity.

Some startling facts:

  • Employee theft costs businesses around $50 billion each year (Statistic Brain)
  • The average dishonest retail employee costs their employer $1,551.66 annually (National Retail Security Survey 2021)
  • 43% of employees exaggerate how many hours they work (Software Advice)

These egregious acts of dishonesty are bad enough but there are more subtle examples that erode trust:

  • Promising something the associate has no ability or intention of doing
  • Failing to follow up and reporting that an attempt was made
  • Taking credit for an idea that actually came from another associate

Once an associate is known to lack integrity they have lost the most valuable commodity any team member can have – trust.

What can you do in the hiring process to increase your chances of hiring someone with integrity?

Trent Innes of software firm Zero Australia uses the coffee cup trick in every single interview. Whenever someone comes in for an interview, Trent will take them on a walk deliberately past the kitchen and make sure they come away with a hot drink. After the interview is all done, Trent watches to see if the person offers or attempts to take the empty coffee/tea cup back to the kitchen.

Speaking in a podcast Trent says, “You can develop skills, you can gain knowledge and experience but it really does come down to attitude, and the attitude that we talk a lot about is the concept of “wash your own coffee cup.” (Manchester Evening News 6/2/2019)

Pre-Hiring Checklist:

  1. Conduct a background check to verify the candidate’s employment history, education, and criminal record. Honest people will appreciate this.
  2. Check references provided by the candidate to confirm their work ethic and honesty. I have been hired for jobs I know never checked a single reference. In retrospect, I’ve learned that says more about the laziness of the employer.
  3. Observe the candidate’s behavior and actions during the interview process, paying attention to how they respond to questions and how they interact with others. Are they polite and kind to everyone, even those from whom they have nothing to gain? Even better, take them out to lunch and notice their manners and the way they treat those serving you.
  4. Ask scenario-based questions to evaluate the candidate’s ethical decision-making skills. “Tell me about a time you were asked to do something you felt crossed the line ethically. How did you handle that?”
  5. Review the candidate’s social media profiles to assess their online behavior and activities. Poor judgment here means poor judgment in the workplace.

Skills can be improved – resources can be provided – but integrity can’t be taught.

Don’t hire a fast-moving thief.

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