How To Hire Accountable People

How To Hire Accountable People

Author: Bruce Weinstein

Accountable employees keep their promises, consider the consequences of their actions, take responsibility for their mistakes, and make amends for those mistakes.


The following questions may help you discern a job candidate’s level of accountability.


Describe a situation in which you took responsibility for a mistake you made. What were the consequences to you for doing so?


Brad, a mailroom worker at a large pharmaceutical company, threatened a coworker. He initially denied what he had done but eventually admitted it and added that he hadn’t intended to follow through with the threat. Geri was the HR director at the company. She believed in Brad and rebuffed efforts to have him fired.


Brad agreed to take an anger management course and went on to become Employee of the Month. In Geri’s telling of the story, Brad’s hardscrabble background made owning up to his mistake especially challenging. But he did it, and that’s why Brad is one of the Good Ones—high-character employees who consistently deliver superior results.


For doing right by an employee, Geri is a Good One too!


Have you ever taken responsibility for a mistake that a member of your team made?


One of the people I interviewed for The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees, told me that his boss Harvey took the heat for a mistake that a direct report had made that cost the company a lot of money and aggravation. The magnitude of the problem was so severe that Harvey submitted his resignation to his own boss, Suresh, but Suresh wouldn’t accept it. In fact, he promoted Harvey for doing something that not enough managers do: accept responsibility for something that occurred on their watch.


Walk me through a typical working day.


Asking a job applicant to provide details of a working day is an attempt to discover the person’s work/life balance. The point is to get the applicant’s assessment of how work fits in with his or her life. People with a strong work ethic are accountable people, because they keep their promises to their employers to do their jobs well. They’re neither lazy people nor workaholics.


“But this question is too personal to ask, even if it’s legal to do so,” one might object. Yes, it’s personal, but in an entirely appropriate way. The interviewer is trying to get a fuller sense of the person before him or her. What role does work play in the job candidate’s life?  How much does he or she value having a rich and varied personal life? Asking about the candidate’s sex life or religious views are out of bounds; inquiring about work/life balance is not.


This is the second of a ten-part series called How to Hire High-Character Employees. The first part was How to Hire Honest People. Next time we’ll look at How to Hire Caring People. See you then!

Through his keynotes,webinars, in-house training programs, FORTUNE contributor Bruce Weinstein, The Ethics Guy, works with organizations that want to do the right thing every time and that know the key to their success is the high character of their employees. More information about Bruce and his services can be found at or he can be reached at 646.649.4501. 

Bruce lives in Manhattan with his wife Kristen Bancroft, who was recently a contestant on Jeopardy!

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