THE BLOG

How to Absolutely, Positively Ace Your Job Interview

05/21/2015 10:59 am ET | Updated May 21, 2016

Dress nicely. Be polite. Speak with confidence. You already know this advice for doing well on your job interview.

But what you might not have considered is talking about your character. I guarantee that no other candidate will be discussing character, yet it is this element that distinguishes a competent employee from a truly stellar one.

High-character employees are the good ones, and these are the people smart companies hire and promote.

Chances are, though, that the organizations you're applying to will not bring up the issue of character on their own. That's why you have to.

The people charged with hiring and promoting employees focus obsessively on knowledge and skill, yet as Alan Tecktiel, the global HR manager for Baker & McKenzie, the largest law firm in the world, notes, "knowledge and skill are needed to play, but they're not needed to win." Many of the executives I've interviewed for the past two years told me, "I can teach someone how to do the job, but I can't teach them how to be honest."

That makes sense. Bernie Madoff was very talented in business and finance. He knew how to make a lot of money for his clients. You know the rest.

I've identified 10 crucial qualities of high-character employees. Since honesty is the most important, it occupies the first position. The others are in alphabetical order:

  1. Honesty
  2. Accountability
  3. Care
  4. Courage
  5. Fairness
  6. Gratitude
  7. Humility
  8. Loyalty
  9. Patience
  10. Presence

I've also developed questions that savvy employers can ask job candidates to evaluate the degree to which they possess these qualities. These same questions will be valuable to you in your search for a new job or a better position with your current employer.

A way that companies can assess a job candidate's courage, for example, is by posing this: "Describe a time when you had to disagree with someone in authority and stand your ground. What was the situation? How did the person react? What did you do?"

According to Bill Treasurer, the author of Courage Goes to Work, an authentic response will probably include a reference to vulnerability. Courage, Bill notes, isn't the absence of fear; fear goes hand in hand with doing courageous things.

How High-Character People Benefit the Companies They Work For

They:

  • Make coming to work a more agreeable experience for everyone, which is good for employee morale.
  • Contribute significantly to the organization's financial health by being highly productive and developing strong relationships with clients.
  • Tend to be loyal to their employers.
  • Advance the company's mission of enhancing people's lives.
  • Reflect well on the company, which is valuable for its own sake and also promotes positive word of mouth.

Call to Action!

Do these three things, and you will ace your job interview:

  1. Before applying for a position with an organization, study its mission and vision statements and its code of ethics. Connect with current and former employees to learn more about the company's culture. Look for examples from the company's website, the news, and business literature that describe how the company has put its values into practice.
  2. During your interview, emphasize not only that are you highly qualified in your field but that, as someone who takes ethics seriously, you are committed to doing the right thing every time, everywhere. Be prepared to cite the examples of the company's commitment to integrity that you researched. Use stories from your own experience, like those from my book The Good Ones, to illustrate how honesty, accountability, and the like were critical in helping you deliver results in the previous jobs you've had.
  3. Send a thank-you note after the interview. Mention some of the company's values and reiterate that you are deeply committed to upholding these values in everything you say and do. Sending a hand-written thank-you note instead of an email is an especially nice -- and rare -- touch.

Very few, if any, of your competitors will be saying or doing anything like this. Simply mentioning ethics, honor, or character in your communications will set you apart from the rest, and when you back up these statements with evidence that demonstrates that you are a person of high character and how this commitment has helped you deliver results, you will rightly jump to the top of the company's short list of contenders.

What will you plan to do differently as a result of this blog post when you apply for a job? If you used any of this advice when you interviewed for a job, how did it go? Write to me via my website and I'll send you a thank-you gift.

This blog post is based on the book The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite independent bookseller like Powell's in Portland, Oregon.

Copyright © 2015 by Bruce Weinstein.

Bruce Weinstein, the author of The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character People, helps organizations hire and promote high-character people. He is well known as The Ethics Guy® and is an in-demand speaker whose over 300 diverse clients have included The Home Depot, Northrop Grumman, and the National Football League. Watch excerpts from his keynote speech. Book him to speak to your group. Come to his talk at the New York Public Library (Science, Industry and Business branch) on May 28 at 12 noon; he will present more strategies for acing your job interview. Give him a call at 646-649-4501.