Warren Buffett is most widely known for his investing prowess (and the considerable wealth it's earned him), but the Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO still maintains that his most successful investments are thanks to the people behind them.

Buffett explains that "I really have only two jobs. One is to attract and keep outstanding managers to run our various operations." And it's his succinct definition of 'outstanding' that deserves much of the credit for Berkshire Hathaway's sustained success.

"We look for three things when we hire people," says Buffett. "We look for intelligence, we look for initiative or energy, and we look for integrity. And if they don't have the latter, the first two will kill you, because if you're going to get someone without integrity, you want them lazy and dumb."

Integrity Above All

So why does integrity reign supreme in Buffett's list of qualifications? It's simple. The intelligent and driven people who lack integrity are the ones who will embezzle money from your company, sell proprietary information to a competitor, or leave and take your entire roster of clients with them.

Hiring for integrity isn't easy, but it's worth the effort. The next time you're combing through a list of prospects for an important position, make sure you're following these three steps.

1. Reach out to references.

All of them. If a hire hasn't been able to come up with any, that's a bad sign. Even a recent college grad should be able to put an advisor, coach or mentor as a character reference. Someone with real work experience should have access to plenty of glowing references. Call these people and take the time to ask them a few questions. The process can reveal more than you expect.

2. Look for small misrepresentations.

There are plenty of stories out there about people faking entire degrees, but those instances are hopefully few and far between. Besides outright lies, you should be on the lookout for small misrepresentations that might indicate a candidate takes liberties with the truth. Whether they've inflated their previous salary or hidden a small criminal offense, anything short of the truth is a sign that you should move on.

3. Ask about previous co-workers and managers.

If a candidate is more than willing to badmouth a previous employer or their former co-workers, they probably aren't the type of person you want on your team. They might spin a compelling yarn, but there are at least two sides to every story, and it's virtually impossible for you to verify the facts presented to you by someone who left their previous job on less than stellar terms. This trait might not always indicate a lack of integrity, but it tends to point in that direction.

As you make your hiring decisions in 2020, be sure to internalize the advice of one of the most successful businessmen of our time. If integrity is Buffett's North Star, I would argue that it's good enough for anyone. By taking the above steps, you'll be better prepared to spot a lack of integrity -- before it can wreak havoc on your organization.

Published on: Jan 21, 2020
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