Steve Weiss

Ethics in the Job Search

Steve Weiss’ (BSBA ’80) definition for ethics is simple: “Try to do the right thing in every situation.”

It’s an approach not only for business professionals, but also for students about to begin their careers. Weiss, an Executive Vice President and Corporate Ombudsman at CACI International, offered advice to Warrington students about how to tackle ethical quandaries they may face in their career pursuits. His presentation, sponsored by the Poe Center for Business Ethics, included instant polling technology, allowing students to provide instantaneous and candid feedback.

Question 1: Is it okay to exaggerate on your résumé?

Poll Results: No = 51%; Yes = 49%

Weiss made the distinction between exaggeration and “selling yourself.” He said you should highlight your experience and accomplishments, but don’t misrepresent them. He said most companies will conduct some form of a background check so major entries—like education and job history—can be verified easily.

“You can’t exaggerate education,” Weiss said. “I’ve met some very successful people that just didn’t finish [school], but that’s okay because they brought great work experience. Those kinds of things are hard and fast. Someone is going to figure that out.”

Question 2: If you already accepted an offer, do you need to uphold that agreement even if a better offer (your dream offer!) comes to you a few days later?

Poll Results: Uphold Agreement = 66%; Back Out of Agreement: 6%; It Depends: 29%

The majority of students would accept the first offer, and honor the commitment.

“To a company, your job acceptance is one of the first things used to judge your character,” said Heather Blum, a marketing major and President of the Poe Center’s Business Ethics Ambassadors. “When I apply to jobs, I want that acceptance to show my commitment to the company, and not a half-hearted commitment until something better comes along.”

Others said they would back out because you may have only one chance at your “dream job.” For them, Weiss would advise them to be forthright with the first employer.

“Go back to that person at the first job and say, ‘I am fully prepared to take this offer, but I just want to let you know that my first choice—the one I was dying to take—has now come in,’” Weiss said. “‘My heart is in that job, but I want to talk to you about it.’”

If Weiss was the hiring manager in that scenario, he said he would have more respect for the candidate for having that conversation with him. He also said that display of strong character would keep that candidate on his radar for future openings.

Question 3: Rank the following in terms of importance in an interview: Technical Skills, Character, Organizational Fit, Experience/Education.

Poll Results:

  • 1st = Character  
  • 2nd = Organizational Fit
  • 3rd = Experience/Education
  • 4th = Technical Skills

Weiss said that all these factors are important when managers are evaluating candidates in interviews, but character stands out above the rest.

“As you develop your reputation, and you’re going into your third, fourth or fifth job, if you have a reputation for great character, that will carry you forward more than these other things,” Weiss said. “You’ll never go wrong if you have high character.”

“I think character is one aspect of career readiness that a lot of students forget to highlight about themselves because it is less obvious initially,” said Kelsey Noris, a master’s student in the Information Systems & Operations Management Program and Poe Ethics Ambassador. “Moving forward in my career, I want to make a conscientious effort to let the employer know that being ethical is important to me.”

Some additional tips from Steve …

  • Find a mentor: You shouldn’t have to deal with ethical dilemmas on your own. Find a manager in your company that you trust to help you through those situations.
  • You can be ethical and profitable: “The bottom line is important, but you can do it the right way,” Weiss said. He points to a 2011 study by the Corporate Executive Board that shows companies with high “Integrity Capital” have 10-year shareholder returns that are as much as 16 percentage points higher than firms with low Integrity Capital.
  • Promote ethics in the workplace: Weiss said talking about ethics and rewarding ethical behavior are effective ways of infusing ethics in a business culture.