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Blog: How do you interview for ethics?

Research Hub Blog: Linn Byberg


An organisation’s hiring process is a potential employee’s first encounter with its ethical values, so it makes sense that the conduct of employees during the interview phase should be awarded due care.


An interview is a two-way process, as much about the candidate seeing if the organisation is right for them, as for the interviewer to assess the potential employee. Yet, we all have horror stories of unprofessional or inappropriate interviews. From the change of tone after the enquiry into relationship status, or candidates being made aware of unprofessional emails sent between interviewers before the process was even over. 

Employers cannot ignore ethics in their search for new talent, especially when we are facing a skills shortage. This news story - "Millennials want to work for employers committed to values and ethics” -  highlights that almost half the workforce (42%) now want to work for an organisation that has a positive impact on the world. And it is not just millennials. Past surveys suggest that 43% would not work for an organisation which had no ethical or environmental policies.

Guidance on ethical due diligence and ethics in the hiring process tends to focus on what constitutes best practice in recruitment, and less on what should be avoided when interviewing candidates. According to CGMA guidance, developed with the help of the IBE, ethical due diligence in recruitment includes assessing potential employees in terms of their fit within the ethical culture and values of an organisation. How and who you hire creates the foundations for the culture you seek, as employees’ behaviours reflect an organisation’s stated values and corporate responsibilities. 

Some suggest that a good hiring process should include multiple interviews by different people for most positions. But managers may not conduct interviews very often, which highlights a need for interview training. Good practice would be for interviewers to prepare specific questions prior to sitting down with a candidate. This will ensure that the interview remains on professional lines, with a similar structure for all candidates.

The ultimate aim of an interview is to find a good fit for the organisation, not just someone who meets personal preference criteria. However, what a given interviewer deems to be a good fit for the company, may not be an objective judgement call. It is human to subconsciously choose candidates based on shared personal experiences or attributes. But a ‘good fit’ for the company doesn’t mean hiring people who have attended the same university or support the same football team. 

Any emotional biases which influence the assessment of a candidate could be misleading. Making sure the candidate that is eventually hired fits the job description, and not just personal preferences, will help secure a diverse workplace where merits take centre stage. 

Asking uninvited personal questions that are not directly related to a candidate’s knowledge or the job description, may seem intimidating or awkward for potential employees, but also says a lot about the culture of the organisation. For instance, asking a candidate whether they drink alcohol may seem like an innocent question, but it has implications for ‘team fit’, where non-drinkers, who may be ideal candidates, are not welcome. Similarly, asking whether a candidate has children may imply that parenthood is not a desirable qualification.

Good practice suggests that interviewers avoid anything that draws attention to a candidate’s race, religion, age, abilities or gender, as these are legally protected characteristics. However, ‘ethics starts where the law ends’, and any interview questions should reflect the organisation’s values. To that end, interviewers should focus on testing a candidate’s behaviour and attitudes by asking them to identify the values of the organisation, how they will apply them to the role, and what ethical conduct means to them. 

UK employees seem to take a more lenient approach than the European average to questionable workplace practices, according to IBE’s Ethics at Work survey, indicating the importance of employees’ ability to identify ethical issues relating to everyday choices that they might have to face in the workplace and whether they apply ethical values to their decision-making.

While coming up with questions or assessment tools related to ethics might prove more time-consuming, it is worth keeping in mind that a values-based culture is key to the sustainable growth of any organisation. 

Understanding not just how bias can affect ethical culture but the ethical messages which the interview process sends will help diversify the workforce and eliminate groupthink. This ensures that merit will be the only characteristic needed to land the job.


Posted: 02/10/2018

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