Warren Buffett Says Integrity Is the Most Important Trait to Hire For

Ask These 12 Questions to Find Integrity in Your Candidates

Billionaire Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, has lived by a set of awe-inspiring values and principles that has led to unbelievable success.

A photo of a compass rose pointing to the word Integrity

So whenever he imparts his wisdom, you want to tune in. As it relates to hiring the right people for your company, he said:

Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.

Warren Buffet

Why integrity is so important in your hiring decisions.

First of all, we’re not negating the other two traits as deemed of lesser importance. You absolutely need intelligence in a knowledge economy. And energy is the fuel that propels passion and motivation.

But a lack of integrity? Like Buffett asserts, it’s a clear non-negotiable. When you hire someone with integrity, it’s the central pillar that holds all three together or the structure collapses.

Integrity is what makes it hard to question a person’s decisions. His or her actions are open for everyone to see and you can rest assured that he or she will use good judgment.
In tight, collaborative spaces, colleagues of such hires will quickly see them as dependable and accountable for their actions, which is a laser path to developing team trust.

Hiring people with integrity also addresses the leadership void. A person who walks-the-walk of integrity eventually becomes a role model who commands respect and exercises great influence. These are the type of leaders people desire and whom you want to promote to management roles.

12 questions to ask when interviewing and hiring for integrity.

Practically speaking, assessing integrity is really about asking the right questions that will get to the core of a person’s character (in addition to standard tests/assessments, “job auditions,” and role-play exercises). But first, whomever is on the interviewer’s seat must be skilled in the science of behavioral interviewing. Here are twelve questions I have used in the past:

  1. Tell me about a time when you experienced a loss for doing what is right. How did you
  2. Tell about a specific time when you had to handle a tough problem which challenged fairness or ethnical issues.
  3. Tell about a specific time when you had to handle a tough problem which challenged fairness or ethnical issues.
  4. When was the last time you “broke the rules”? What was the situation and what did you do?
  5. What would you do if you suspected that an employee was stealing?
  6. Describe a situation where you saw an employee or co‐worker do something you thought was inappropriate. What did you do?
  7. Think of a situation where you distrusted a co-worker/supervisor, resulting in tension between you. What steps did you take to improve the relationship.
  8. When working with people, in general, describe your preferred relationship with them. (this question is used to assess honesty and the capacity for open communication.)
  9. What values do you appreciate the most in a team environment? [you’re looking for things like honesty, fairness, openness, transparency, and inclusiveness in your answers.)
  10. If we ever got into a bind with a client, would you be willing to tell a little white lie to help us out?
  11. What would your current/past manager say makes you most valuable to them? (Besides intelligence, energy or technical and hard skills, listen for clues that point to integrity.)
  12. What are the characteristics exhibited by the best boss you have ever had, or wished that you have had? (A person of integrity will mirror those they follow or look up to, so listen for clues.]

Remember: No integrity = no trust. Your hiring team must ensure that, no matter how talented, experienced, and smart job candidates are, they will protect your company, your employees, and your customers by hiring people every person can trust.

Integrity, intelligence, and energy = a great hire.

Putting all the pieces together, you have a great package deal. And while integrity may weigh heavier, the bar must be set equally high for each of the three traits. Writing for CBS Money Watch, author Tom Searcy explains it like this:

  • Hire someone with high energy, high intelligence, but low integrity and you’ll get a smart, fast-moving thief.
  • Hire someone with high intelligence, high integrity, but low energy and you’ll get a shopkeeper, not an engine of growth.
  • Hire someone with high energy, high integrity, but low intelligence and you’ll get a strong functionary, but not a great problem solver or visionary.