When job seekers prepare to face employers in a final interview, the question always comes up about what they can say that would make the most impactful impression on the employer – what can they share that would make them stand out from others. By the time candidates reach the last stage of the job search process, they often have been screened for their hard skills and experience – employers usually don’t invite you to a final interview unless you have been pre-screened for those basic requirements that were listed in the original job posting. So what are employers hoping to learn about you in that final interview?
Reading through interviews with some of the top employers, I noticed an interesting trend. Hiring practices of people such as Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, as well as companies such as Google and Apple, reveal one shared core focus: an emphasis on personal integrity, including such characteristics as humility, honesty, ownership, trustworthiness and openness to criticism.
Warren Buffet famously identified integrity as a key asset for employees:
You’re looking for three things, generally, in a person: Intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two. I tell them, ‘Everyone here has the intelligence and energy — you wouldn’t be here otherwise. But the integrity is up to you. You weren’t born with it; you can’t learn it in school.”
He went further to say that “You decide to be dishonest, stingy, uncharitable, egotistical, all the things people don’t like in other people, they are all choices. Some people think there’s a limited little pot of admiration to go around, and anything the other guy takes out of the pot, there’s less left for you. But it’s just the opposite”. Buffet’s definition of integrity: honesty, generosity, humility.
When asked what he considers as traits of a successful person, Bill Gates listed, among other traits, the ability to be open to criticism: “Embrace bad news to learn where you need the most improvement”, and suggested that “success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose”, once again identifying integrity as a highly valued personal characteristic.
While he was Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations, Lazlo Bock identified “humility and ownership” as key assets in new employees. He specifically mentions a willingness to take responsibility for solving any problem, and an openness to embrace the better ideas of others, referring to what he calls “intellectual humility”: an understanding that you will not always be successful, and that there is something to be learned from failure: “Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure,” he says, “They, instead, commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved. … What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’ ”
Another leading employer, Apple, recognize the importance of hiring “for attitude and not aptitude”, listing humility — the ability to value and give credit to others for their contributions – as key. “Talk with humility about your success in a previous job (…) a hiring manager asks a potential hire how they performed in a previous job. The answer is less important than the way the candidate responds. Apple wants people who credit their teams, instead of saying they accomplished tasks all by themselves.”
Bottom line: many employers attach a high value to candidates who are able to convincingly demonstrate integrity in their behaviours and attitudes. A job seeker who can convey genuine honesty, self-awareness and a self-critical attitude in their interview, through references and in recommendations, is going to stand out among others as most impressive.
Think through your weaknesses and past failures, reflect on what you have learnt from them and find ways to describe yourself so that employers will see you as a confidently self-critical. Potential employers are much more impressed by candidates who see themselves as constantly evolving and improving, rather than those who project a false perfectionism.