Talk Up Your Integrity!
In Friday’s Wall Street Journal former HP Chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina wrote “Never have common sense, good judgment and ethics mattered more.” I completely agree with her. In a week that revealed Illinois Governor Blagojevich’s horrifying venality and Wall Street eminence grise Bernard Madoff’s massive fraud, might honesty become valued again? When business was booming, asking questions and raising doubts was not in style.Although employers professed to care about ethics, what they really wanted were employees who would keep the good times rolling. The recruiting mantra from 2004-2007 might be summed up as: “Skeptics and naysayers need not apply.” Now that so many institutions have crumbled, basically due to a lack of questioning and doubt-raising, maybe common sense, good judgment and ethics will come back in vogue.
It occurred to me that a renewed interest by business in these old-fashioned values might actually work to the advantage of relaunchers—those who are reentering the workforce after a career break, most often after staying home to raise kids. Now’s the time to emphasize, in a creative way, some of the intangibles that you have to offer.
Honesty—One woman we know who recently reentered the workforce after 17 years at home told us that everyone with whom she interviewed remarked upon her sincerity. When asked about specific experience or skills, she candidly acknowledged what she thought she could handle immediately and where she might need additional training or ramp-up time. She was offered two jobs within two months of starting her job search.
Thrift—I don’t think I really understood the meaning of cash flow until a small company where I was the CFO back in the late ‘80s didn’t have the cash to make an interest payment one quarter. And then I got a refresher when my husband and I faced our own cash flow crisis in 2000. If you’re managing your home finances or those of a volunteer organization, you understand in a very visceral way that every buck counts, both in amount and timing. Emphasize that you’ll treat the company’s money like your own in the sense that you’ll negotiate with every vendor and watch every dime.
Work Ethic and Standards—How many of us would tell a bright kid that we were satisfied with “average” performance or that the hastily dashed off book report passes muster. We have standards. Tell the interviewer about times when you went above and beyond the call of duty, either in your prior work experience or in your volunteer endeavors, to illustrate that “OK” isn’t good enough for you.
Fair—Nothing undermines an organization’s morale more than a lack of fairness. We tell our kids that life isn’t fair, in order to prepare them for the world’s brutal reality, but nevertheless we try to act fairly to the best of our ability. Even if you’re interviewing for a non-management role, espousing fairness will set you apart as a real team player rather than one who simply uses the word.
Value—I won’t pay $7.99 for a box of clementines, no matter how much I want them and even though I can afford them. I admit that “whatever the market will bear” is a valid pricing mechanism, but I prefer to give my business to merchants and providers who keep an eye on value. In an interview, make the case that you’re the value hire. That doesn’t mean you’re the lowest priced candidate, just that you’re going to be focused on making sure the company gets its money’s worth.
Not afraid to ask questions—A friend of mine recently told me she was thrown off the Board of a volunteer organization, for asking too many questions. What a great story to tell in an interview! If I were running an honest, sensible organization, I’d hire her in a minute. Don’t we all wish that some of those highly-paid financial hot shots had asked more questions?
Have you talked about your values in an interview? Tell us about it.