The number one hiring mistake I see people make is prioritizing skill and experience over integrity and the ability to learn. As counterintuitive as it may seem, skill should be the least important thing you vet for when hiring. Instead, follow the lead of one of the most successful companies in the world: Visa.
"Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind. Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with all the other qualities."
Without integrity, you have nothing. If you build a team of individuals with high integrity, everything else becomes easier. If you build a team of individuals with low integrity, everything else becomes harder.
Is it possible to interview and vet for integrity?
How do you "test" for integrity? Is there a way, or is it a gut feel?
Testing a candidate for integrity is possible, and it's actually rather simple. The way to do it is to ask candidates open-ended questions that will enable them to show you how they approach solving problems when integrity is a roadblock to a path ahead.
That last part is important, so let me say it again. You have to see how they approach problem solving when integrity is a roadblock to a path ahead.
The question I've found most effective is: "Tell me about a time when your boss or someone of authority asked you to meet a deadline you didn't think was achievable?"
If the candidate can't think of a time, my backup question is: "Tell me about a time when you had to complete a task and you couldn't see how achieving it was feasible?" This can be a work related task or a personal task.
If you ask one of these two questions, you will be amazed at the responses. I once asked a candidate the first question, and his response was:
"One time, my boss asked me to get a group of people to a meeting that started in an hour. It wasn't possible given the transportation options. So, I stole the keys to the company car and drove them all."
This is a candidate who is going to cut corners and be dishonest when needed. This is not someone I want on my team. An answer that would have been acceptable--if it was true--would have been:
"One time, my boss asked me to get a group of people to a meeting that started in an hour. It wasn't possible given the transportation options. But I realized I could get them there if I drove the company car. So, I asked my boss if I could grab the keys and take the car."
If you ask one of these two questions, and you're not sure if the candidate has high integrity, it's your responsibility to keep asking questions until you have formed an opinion. It's not OK to come out of an interview and be on the fence about this. Here are some great follow-up questions that can help get you to a place where you can say definitively if you believe that candidate has high integrity:
"Tell me about a time when you made a commitment to someone that you then realized you couldn't keep."
"Tell me about a time when someone on your team cut corners to hit a deadline or get a project done. What did they do? What did you do?"
"Tell me about a time when you overheard a co-worker lie to another co-worker."
Here's the bottom line: Integrity is the most important quality to hire for. Take the time to do it right. You'll be glad you did.