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by Eileen M. Levitt, SPHR | March 10, 2009


Over the past three years of writing this column and responding to questions on the recruiting message board, I've noticed a great number of messages posted by job seekers looking to either cover up information or prevent information from being discovered, as well as from applicants hoping that missteps won't be uncovered.

Questions relating to: "Will a DUI impact getting hired?" "I was convicted of a crime, is this important?" "I lied about my GPA, what should I do?" "I really didn't finish my degree, will they find out?" "I was fired, how do I embellish it?" "I left after a short period of time, do I need to include it in my resume?" "I put down in my application that I knew something that I don't." "I have bad credit, oops." "I accepted a job, and now I've changed my mind." The list goes on and on.

I have found this theme to be quite interesting and a little sad. Has our society experienced a moral decline? Are job seekers today looking to cover up things more? Are they concerned about the actual cover up, or just the potential employer discovering it? More importantly, are they simply emulating society?

How do the job seekers justify their actions? I hear excuses that range from, "George Bush had a DUI, so I am just like the president" to "Enron was much worse" and "It was the only way I could get a job there," etc.

What does all of this mean? Job seekers are emulating society and its organizations, which indicates that aside from thoroughly checking references, organizations need to take a hard look at how they address ethics issues. What can organizations do? When I asked a colleague at the Ethics Resource Center (, he provided me with best practices, guidance and questions for organizations to use when taking a good look at their ethical conduct. Here is an overview:

Organizations need to ask themselves a number of questions (below) then address those issues raised.

  • Do we have clear standards?
  • Are there ethical role models at all levels?
  • Are there congruent formal systems? More importantly, are there congruent informal systems?
  • Do we measure and reward the right things?
  • Do we communicate and educate?
  • Do we put our money where our mouth is?
  • Do we do the right things for the right reasons?
  • Do we have an effective program to prevent and detect ethical misconduct as well as legal violations?
  • Is our ethics agenda based on our core values?
  • Is there a common language and a process for ethical decision making/reasoning?

In addition (and more importantly), for heads of the organization to be effective ethical leaders and role models, they need to:

  1. Make the ethics of their decisions visible.
  2. Legitimize ethics as a business issue.
  3. Encourage ethical conduct in others.
  4. Acknowledge observed ethical actions.

Now that you've looked at your organization and determined what you want to be, why not create an ethics policy? Make sure that policy is also distributed to potential applicants. Let them know through examples that the policy isn't just a bunch of words and give them an opportunity to come back with corrections without repercussions. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised with the results.p


Filed Under: Job Search