Warren Buffett is most widely known for his investing wisdom, but the Berkshire Hathaway CEO maintains that his success is largely due to hiring the right people.

Buffett advises leaders to weigh integrity above all traits when assessing job candidates during the interview process. 

"We look for three things when we hire people. 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."

The smart, self-starting rock-star employee is dreamy to most, but today hiring managers must dig hard in an interview process to get the answers they need to feel confident someone has the nonnegotiable trait of integrity. Otherwise, "dumb and lazy" may be costly to a business.

As Buffett wrote in one of his annual letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders years back, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it." 

When it comes to hiring, it's a sure bet that some job candidates will display a lack of integrity in the interview process. This is especially true in the Covid-19 era, when companies are in a rush to hire and onboard new employees and may be more prone to overlooking unethical behavior.

Candidates lie more than you think.

Checkster, a leader in helping organizations make better talent decisions, recently surveyed 400 job applicants and found some surprising things. About 78 percent admitted they had lied or would lie about their credentials and capabilities. GPAs, college alma maters, degrees, expertise, accomplishments, job titles, and even references were ripe for faking or fudging.

And there's more. When Checkster asked 400 hiring managers, HR professionals, and recruiters about their ethical hiring practices, 66 percent said they'd accept misrepresentations and even lies if there were good explanations, or if they couldn't find other good candidates.

The Checkster study, entitled, "Is Your Company Hiring Charlatans? A Study of Ethical Standards in the Hiring Process," reported that applicants lied on a variety of levels:

  • 39 percent gave a false university or degree
  • 60 percent inflated their skills
  • 41 percent gave false job titles
  • 32 percent appropriated others' achievements
  • 44 percent gave false references

Checkster's CEO, Yves Lermusi, weighed in on the response: "It's shocking that so many applicants were willing to misrepresent information during the hiring process, with only 16.1 percent of respondents reporting they never lie. That means there's a lot of fraud."

What's even more disturbing is that lack of integrity is a two-way street, as most companies do not weed out these fraudulent applicants during the hiring process. In fact, 66 percent of employers would let them get away with it, as detailed here:

  • 3.3 percent would always hire someone who lied
  • 14.5 percent would hire if the hiring manager accepted the lie
  • 13.6 percent would hire if they couldn't find any other candidates
  • 29.4 percent would hire if there was a good explanation
  • 34.4 percent would never hire someone who lied

"This data suggests that there are most likely hiring managers in your organization with vastly different ethical standards who would knowingly offer a job to someone who lied on their resume or during the interview," Lermusi says. "False trust is a recipe for disaster in organizations that rely on strong, productive teams to achieve their goals."

With nearly 8 out of 10 people lying about at least one aspect of their qualifications, and two-thirds of employers saying they would hire them anyway, the odds of your workforce being comprised entirely of people with energy, initiative, and integrity are not great.

Warren Buffett knows this. That's probably why he's always placed such a premium on integrity. It may take longer to hire the right person with this philosophy, but chances are, in the end, the added time will prove to be an investment worth making.