How to Hire Fair People

Of the ten crucial qualities of high-character employees that we’re exploring in this 10-part series, fairness—the commitment giving to others their due–is among the most difficult to evaluate in job candidates.  But having fair people on board makes the lives of HR managers easier, because there will be fewer fires to put out.  The questions below are a modest attempt at evaluating fairness in job candidates.
What are your biases?
Why not just come straight out with it? All of us have biases.  They may not be on the level of Jack Welker, the neo-Nazi in Breaking Bad, but they’re there.
The problem with this question is that it all but begs the interview subject to lie. What person who seriously wants a job will be specific about his or her prejudices, should they even be aware of them in the first place?
Still, some answers are better than others. A round of applause goes to the interviewee who speaks of having reflected on this subject already and how he or she has worked to overcome their limitations. 
Tell me about a time when you were discriminated against. How did it affect you, and what did you do as a result?
How would a high-character person talk about what he or she learned after being unfairly discriminated against? Here are some possible responses:
  • “The experience gave me an insight into prejudice that I didn’t have before.”
  • “It made me want to make sure that I never treated anyone like that myself.”
  • “It’s one of the major reasons I went into this line of work.”
If I were answering this question, I would talk about how I had been fired for no good reason when I was working at a fast-food restaurant in high school. The job of cashier required making a note of every twenty-dollar bill we received. One busy Sunday morning when I was working the cash register, I received a lot more twenties than usual. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I’d noted the twenty I’d just been handed, so I made a note of it, which turned out to be a mistake. The register thus said I’d taken in twenty-one bills when I’d really taken in only twenty, and the next day the manager accused me of having pocketed it. He fired me on the spot.
Being fired for any reason is stressful, but when it’s unjustified, it’s hard to describe the sense of indignity one experiences. Granted, it’s not on the level of being sentenced to prison for a crime one didn’t commit, but it’s still unjust. And I believe it played some role in my decision to write about and teach ethics for a living.

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts on how to hire high-character people. The first four were How to Hire Honest PeopleHow to Hire Accountable People, How to Hire Caring People, and How to Hire Courageous People.

Next time, we’ll look at what it means to be a grateful person and how to evaluate this quality in job applicants.

Dr. Bruce Weinstein is on Twitter @TheEthicsGuy. A more in-depth version of this post appears on The Ethics Guy Blog.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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