Today’s worker needs integrity as never before

INTEGRITY is everything. It’s a critical component of a good leader, precisely the kind of people we are often called upon to find for our clients, to lead their companies.

It’s amazing though how often those very candidates – who appear to tick all the boxes – squander their own integrity, all by themselves.

We were caught 20 years ago. There wasn’t the technology that there is today. We had a client who had two ID books, with two different numbers, but didn’t tell us. We checked out everything he said to us, his qualifications. They were all legitimate.

Six months into his new job, the Human Resources department at his new company asked him for his ID book. He gave them the other one, forgetting which one he’d given us.  Not a single credential checked out, there was no record because he’d never received them under that ID number. But he was qualified. It didn’t matter, he and the company promptly parted ways because they couldn’t trust him.

We had another case where a person declared that they had a master’s degree even though the job specifically didn’t require it. We did the verification and found out the person was lying. When we disclosed this to the client – even though the candidate was more than suitable for the job, the person didn’t even make the shortlist.

Candidates, especially at the C-suite executive level where we operate, have to be immensely careful. Standard pre-screening involves providing your fingerprints, copies of all your qualifications, your ID book and – sometimes – your last payslip too. We have to vet every single one of them.

We start with the candidate’s CV – that the person has provided us with – and then we cross check it against that person’s LinkedIn account. We look for gaps in the narrative and then we dig deeper. Some candidates get angry when we probe there. An unexplained two-month hiatus in a career timeline might often hint at a less than amicable departure. Cross-refencing this with a Google search can find news stories that might have run at the time, suggesting the candidate was actually fired for misconduct.

In this day and age, we check social media too. We get reports graded from A to C, with A being present on social media but inactive through to C where the person is so active they comment on everything to such an extent that it might pose a reputational risk to the client company, especially if that commentary is bigoted and divisive.

Degrees these days are the new barrier to entry. Most companies will specify a master’s degree for C-Suite candidates, which means anyone without a comparable qualification won’t even get a call back. Not all master’s degrees are equal, sometimes clients will specify master’s in particular disciplines. MBA degrees are even more problematic. Sometimes clients will specify the actual business schools which they will accept, with fewer and fewer South African institutions making the cut. We have to validate them all, especially the chancers who think they can slip under the wire with a three-day MBA off an internet ‘business college’.

Obviously, experience is important – but only at the interview level. To get there you have to make the cut as determined by the wording on the advertisement. Clients dare not sidestep this by sneaking in a candidate, especially an internal one with all the experience, if they’ve asked for qualifications higher than what that person has. If they do, they stand to have their appointment challenged and perhaps even declared null and void by a court.

The client expects us to be investigative, thoroughly and brutally so, the risks are simply too high to get it wrong – for the shareholders and the staff of the company, but that doesn’t mean that if there are skeletons, big or small, in your closet they’re an automatic disqualification.

On the contrary, honesty is a key element of integrity. Clients are far more forgiving and indeed accepting of an individual’s past transgressions if they are (a) not material to the post being applied for and (b) if they know about them beforehand and can still appoint the person because the candidate’s other attributes far outweigh the negative.

As South Africans we have seen all too clearly just how material non-disclosure can ruin the continued tenure of even best qualified and most capable individuals – and how quick and fast institutions will act to jettison that person and distance themselves.

In the end, integrity is everything – and if people don’t have it they certainly shouldn’t even begin to consider pursing a C-suite appointment. The process will only end in pain, theirs.

  • Lucia Mabasa is managing director of pinpointonehuman resources, a Johannesburg based executive search firm.

6 November 2018