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Hiring Ethical Employees

By Curtis C. Verschoor, CMA, CPA
July 1, 2016
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Missing jigsaw puzzle piece with words  CORE VALUES. Business concept image for completing the puzzle.

Hiring managers are increasingly prioritizing ethics-related character traits, such as integrity and accountability, when evaluating job candidates.

 

For the past six years, the Career Advisory Board of DeVry University has studied the gaps between traits and skills that employers are looking for in job candidates and the actual characteristics possessed by the applicants they meet. The 2015 Job Preparedness Indicator (JPI) surveyed 503 full-time hiring managers who screen and hire applicants with at least a college education.

 

The report concludes that “hiring managers are able to find valuable skills and traits more easily than in prior years.”

 

INTEGRITY IS MOST IMPORTANT

 

This year’s JPI report shows that character traits rank higher than job skills. Previous years’ surveys indicated that it was essential for all candidates to have integrity, but in 2015, integrity was the most important trait for applicants at all experience levels. Respondents suggested they were most concerned with honesty, having received falsified résumés or having been lied to about a candidate’s background in the past. A strong work ethic, self-motivation, and accountability follow integrity in importance for entry or mid-level positions.

 

For senior-level positions, the characteristic of accountability ranked high, while abilities to make decisions and solve problems were next in importance. Hiring managers didn’t assign as much importance to higher-order traits of strategic perspective, business acumen, and global competence as prior-year respondents did.

 

DePaul University Career Center’s Ten Tips for Job Search Success lists strong ethics as the number one most desirable characteristic, advising candidates to “be honest with employers. This includes your online profile, résumé, and cover letter. Honesty is integral during the interviewing and job offer process.”

 

IDENTIFYING INTEGRITY IN A CANDIDATE

 

As in past years, JPI hiring managers say the conversational interview format still ranks as the most common method for assessing candidates, with 73% reporting that they use the method. Thus, interview skills that demonstrate honesty and integrity are critical to an applicant’s success. Honesty in portraying a specific desirable outcome that resulted from a team effort is a better approach than listing achievements on a résumé to emphasize single-handed accomplishments. For example, the statement, “Working together with IT, my department was able to speed monthly closing time by three days” is preferable to “I was able to shorten monthly closing by three days.”

 

Pre-employment tests are used by 37% of JPI respondents and are available for a number of attributes, including integrity. The provider of one of the integrity tests notes they are used “to evaluate an applicant’s honesty and trustworthiness including attitudes towards risky workplace behavior, theft, lying and unethical behavior. Questions are designed to examine the applicant’s attitude and approach towards misuse of company resources, e-mail and Internet abuse, use of drugs and alcohol, trust with confidential information and personal responsibility.”

 

Dependability is another key element of employee integrity that must be discussed in a successful interview. Management accounting and finance applicants should be prepared to present a strong work ethic, including timely arrival at work, regular attendance, disinclination to overuse sick days, and a desire to follow company personnel policies.

 

ETHICAL CLIMATE

 

A key component of successful recruiting is assuring that a new hire fits into the ethical climate of the organization. Candidates for management accounting and financial management positions should prepare for an interview, whether by telephone or in person, by researching as much as possible about the industry and the organization’s place in it, especially ethical practices and reputation. This work should be done well in advance of an interview and followed up by questioning during the interview. A particular area for discussion could be the company’s position on sustainability and any related experience the candidate may have.

 

It’s especially important for candidates in finance positions to inquire about the organization’s code of conduct as well as the nature and frequency of ethics training provided. “Employers want you to show that you’ve done your research and prepared for not only an interview, but also for a career in their company and industry,” said Madeline Slutsky, Chair of the Advisory Board. “In today’s job market, candidates must differentiate their expertise to stand out from the competition.”

 

Job seekers should be aware that hiring managers have natural skepticism, so they should develop the ability to authentically share instances from previous work experience in which they acted ethically. For example, applicants could relate how they discussed and successfully resolved a question of how much revenue could be booked in a current period when the sales organization was pushing hard to meet its goal.

 

Open communication between employees and employers, a key component of a strong ethical climate, can occur only when there’s an atmosphere of trust in the workplace. Employees who can speak up honestly about workplace issues facilitate greater overall worker productivity. Employers who trust employees with details of company policies and explain the reasons for changes made in the workplace lead to greater employee satisfaction, lower turnover, and higher productivity. Hiring managers who can articulate the benefits of their organization’s strong ethical culture have greater success in obtaining long-term career employees.

 

Individuals with the CMA credential should rank high in integrity as job candidates, considering their requirement to annually comply with the IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice and to maintain high professional competency in ethics and integrity through continuing ethics education. Hiring managers should be able to rely on the strong ethical quality expected of all IMA members.

 

IMA ETHICS HELPLINE

 

For clarification of how the IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice applies to your ethical dilemma, contact the IMA Ethics Helpline.

 

In the U.S. or Canada, dial (800) 245-1383. In other countries, dial the AT&T USA Direct Access Number from www.usa.att.com/traveler/index.jsp, then the above number.

 

The IMA Helpline is designed to provide clarification of provisions in the Statement of Ethical Professional Practice, which contains suggestions on how to resolve ethical conflicts. The helpline cannot be considered a hotline to report specific suspected ethical violations.

 

Curtis C. Verschoor, CMA, CPA, is the Emeritus Ledger & Quill Research Professor, School of Accountancy and MIS, and an honorary Senior Wicklander Research Fellow in the Institute for Business and Professional Ethics, both at DePaul University, Chicago. He also is a Research Scholar in the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley University, Waltham, Mass., and chair of IMA’s Ethics Committee. Trust Across America-Trust Around the World awarded him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016 as a top thought leader in trustworthy business. His e-mail address is curtisverschoor@sbcglobal.net.
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