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The Essence of Ethics

The Essence of Ethics ~ April, 2009

Late at one around for miles - and yet you stop at the red light and wait. Why? You stop because it's the ethical thing to do. We trust each other to stop, whether or not anyone is watching. You could say that trust is the outcome of ethical behavior.

It's difficult to define, exactly, what ethical behavior is; and it's impossible to measure. But we can sense when ethics are present in an individual or a company culture - and especially we sense it when they're not. Ethical behavior is a two-way street. Companies and customers cannot effectively engage unless there is trust between them. And, to my point in this article, neither can companies and candidates.

In recruiting, where much of the interaction is often between just two people, a recruiter and a candidate, it's incumbent on both parties to act with the highest ethical standards. If misrepresentations are made on either side and a wrong hire results, the impact in dollars and emotions is high - and entirely avoidable.

Put Simply: don't lie

If ethics were black and white it would be simpler for all of us. Instead, they are nebulous and subject to personal interpretation - and that's why we sometimes get into trouble. As author and HR strategist Kevin Wheeler says, "Ethics define our moral rights and duties, and involve a commitment to doing the right thing." However, a "commitment" can be a long way from the actually "doing" what we know is right.

In our no-time-to-waste competitive business environment it's tempting to do what seems simplest, fastest and easiest, instead of taking a moment to consider what is right. In the rush to succeed, some even believe that taking time to do the right thing may put them at a competitive disadvantage. In the long term the opposite is true: high ethical standards enhance reputations and build successful brands that draw people and business to you.

Both recruiters and candidates could benefit from a set of guidelines for ethical behavior. This would prevent slippage into rationalizations and justifications that often lead to unethical actions. Ethics for employers and candidates begin with a simple principle: don't lie. Everyone wins when both company and candidate are open and honest about their histories, goals and expectations. Honesty should be a stated cultural value and modeled throughout every organization, including the recruiting process.

Ethical guidelines for recruiters

Even though a company may post written recruiting guidelines that help ensure a thorough and fair hiring process, the personal and business ethics of individual recruiters inevitably come into play in the decision making process. What should you say about a company's poor financial performance? Should you mention the company's high turnover rate? Should you enlarge the responsibilities or authority of a particular position to get the candidate you want? The questions asked of candidates and the information revealed about the company have much to do with the ethical behaviors that are valued and promoted within a company's culture. Following are suggestions that will help recruiters set guidelines to help ensure ethical behavior throughout the process:

  • Define the position requirements realistically and in detail and include performance expectations. Unnecessarily strict requirements can exclude otherwise qualified candidates; and placing candidates in a role they are not qualified for may jeopardize both the organization and the candidate's career.
  • Accurately represent the key elements of the position in ads or other means of sourcing.
  • Don't pose as someone else in order to gather the information you need about a candidate. You can find what you need without such subterfuge, which clouds ethics in the recruiting profession.
  • Allow enough time to thoroughly interview candidates and give them adequate opportunity to present their qualifications - and to make a thoughtful decision. Communicate both the candidate's strengths and weaknesses to the hiring manager, overcoming the desire to "push" the candidate you like personally.
  • Share a realistic view of the company, position, promotion opportunities and compensation. Glossing over the shortcomings of a manager or division or other relevant information can lead to inappropriate and costly mismatches. Full knowledge of the realities, on both sides, is the best way to ensure a successful, long-term outcome.
  • Offer salaries and benefits that are within accepted, appropriate ranges for specific positions. Compensation significantly lower than market rates shows a lack of respect for the candidate.
  • Check references that are representative of a candidate's many relationships, and not simply those references the candidate provides, which are almost guaranteed to be positive. Informing the candidate that you intend to contact people outside their list of references is the ethical thing to do.
  • When in doubt about the right decision, weigh your alternative choices based on the fairness of probable outcomes and your organization's values.
  • If you need additional input, ask a trusted colleague for help in making ethical recruiting decisions.

Ethical guidelines for candidates

Candidates should keep in mind that ethical behavior will not only help get you the best position for yourself, but it protects your reputation as well. As much as people move around, if you misrepresent yourself in the market or act in other unethical ways, the word will get around and limit your opportunities. Following are things candidates can do to ensure their own ethical behavior and a positive impression to recruiters:

  • Interview with organizations you are sincerely interested in. Don't accept a position as a step in your job search and then continue interviewing with other organizations, or renege on a job offer you've accepted.
  • Be truthful in everything you say and in all the information you provide to recruiters. Make certain that you are allowed time to fully demonstrate your qualifications for the position.
  • Reverse the interview process to get answers to all the questions that are important to you about things like culture, management, and barriers and opportunities for promotion. The more informed your decision, the better for you and the organization, whether you accept or reject an offer.
  • Be honest and open about your future plans and aspirations. If they don't match with what the hiring organization can offer or accommodate, you may want to go elsewhere. Conversely, you may open up new opportunities for yourself within the organization.
  • Negotiate honestly. Don't play one company against another; you may lose both opportunities.
  • Be upfront about your desired salary and the date by which you need to make a decision.
  • Provide a variety of references that enable the recruiter to see you from many sides.

Keeping the end goal in mind

The goal of recruiting is to find highly qualified talent that fits your culture and accelerates or enhances your business growth. The goal of the candidate is similar: it's to land the right position with an organization that matches your talents, fits with your character and personality, and provides opportunities to grow. Achieving these goals is possible only if both parties operate ethically, even when on one is watching. You have to live the results.

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