How Your Hiring Process Could Predict Unethical Behavior

Hiring processes screen for so many things these days. They want to know if we work hard. They want to know if we can collaborate. They want to know if we are psycho murderers before the office is covered in blood and spooky candles. But one thing that typically cannot be screened for easily is morality. How are we to know if the candidate being considered is a good, honest human being underneath all the other factors? A surprising answer has been uncovered. In an interview at strategy+business, Laura W. Geller talks to Taya Cohen, associate professor of organizational behavior and theory and the Carnegie Bosch Junior Faculty Chair at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, about an important quality to watch out for: the presence of guilt.

Good to Feel Bad?

Cohen has identified “guilt proneness” as a great indicator of a moral leader, for assorted reasons. Guilt demonstrates a conscience, and people who feel guilty over their actions are people who care about how hard they make work for their employees. Thus, guilt reflects that we care about the positive or negative effect we have on others.

However, Cohen also distinguishes between guilt and shame, the latter of which is a bad thing. People who experience shame might choose to express it through anger, avoidance, or anxiety, which is self-destructive and actually inwardly-focused. Shame is a disdain for the self, rather than an expression of concern for those outside of the self.

Now that this has been established, the question remains of how to screen for morality. Cohen offers some example interview questions in the article, one of which is to ask candidates how they think a current or former employer would describe them. There will be nuance in how they answer:

What’s been revealed by our research is that even though people say positive things in response to that question, people who are low in moral character often come across as boastful and self-centered. Whereas those with high moral character may also answer the question in a positive way, but come across as more considerate of others, more modest or humble. Information about a person’s moral character “leaks out” in response to certain types of behavioral interview questions. And the more a person tries to make himself or herself look good, the more information about character leaks out.

This is pretty fascinating stuff, I think, so I would recommend you peruse the full interview here:

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