How to Hire Loyal People


Loyal employees make the lives of HR managers a lot easier.  The following questions will help you evaluate how loyal a job candidate is likely to be in the organization.

How have you responded at a previous job when a better opportunity with another employer came along?

Even for someone who has just begun his or her career, loyalty doesn’t necessarily mean turning down a job offer. Character is revealed by how one responds to the offer, not whether or not one accepts it.

But suppose a job candidate — let’s call her Emma — works for Nadir Pitchforks, which hasn’t treated her well.  She learns of a similar position that has opened at Acme Halos. Emma is a loyal person and would rather not to have to switch jobs, but it would be self-defeating to stay with the pitchfork people.  How can Emma show the halo folks that she really is loyal? And how can she avoid bad-mouthing Nadir?

It would be smart for Emma to focus on why Acme’s offer is irresistible. She might also talk about how she has demonstrated loyalty to other employers.

Has a valued employee who reported to you ever left the company because of a better opportunity elsewhere? If so, how did you respond to the employee? If not, how would you respond?

I began my career as a professor, and within a year of my appointment, a prestigious think tank invited me for an interview. It was a tremendous honor, but I worried about being disloyal to my employer and told one of my senior colleagues, David, about my concerns. I’ll never forget how he responded.

“This would be a great opportunity,” David said as he drove me to the airport. “We want the best for you.” That alleviated my anxiety enormously, because had I been offered the job, I could have accepted it knowing that I wasn’t letting the university down. Although I wasn’t offered the position, the whole experience was worth it just to have experienced David’s graciousness.

No employer wants a valuable employee to leave, but sometimes an opportunity comes along that is too good to pass up. A job applicant who answers this question along the lines of David’s response is someone who recognizes that loyalty doesn’t have to mean staying with one employer for years. Such a person is one of the Good Ones—people whose high character consistently delivers positive results.

What were some of the things you liked most about your previous job?

Talking about a strong relationship with a previous boss is an indicator of loyalty. One would also expect to hear the candidate discuss close ties with colleagues. Robert Levering, a creator of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” says that employees at those top companies said they felt as though they were part of a team or even a family.  That may be why Whole Foods, one of Fortune’s top companies, refers to the people who work there as “team members.”

It’s worth paying special attention to the nonverbal signals in a candidate’s response to this question. It’s hard to fake joy. When someone talks about an experience working in a team- or family-like environment for a boss who truly cares about the employees, the positive feelings that go along with the words are palpable.

This is the eighth in a series of blog posts on how to hire high-character people. The first seven were How to Hire Honest PeopleHow to Hire Accountable PeopleHow to Hire Caring PeopleHow to Hire Courageous PeopleHow to Hire Fair People,  How to Hire Grateful People, and How to Hire Humble People. Next time, we’ll look at what it means to be a patient 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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