Ellen Warden, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
WorkPlace Synergy, LLC
Atlanta, GA

Entitled, lazy, selfish.  Ask just about any BV firm leader and they’ll likely grumble about “poor work ethic” in describing the emerging workforce.  Instead of lamenting the loss of work ethic in Millenials, revisit your hiring process.

How do you recruit candidates who have the attitude and values that are essential for success in your firm?  Make certain you’re asking job candidates the right questions to get them to describe in detail how their past work-related performance demonstrates the values you hold sacred.

What are you seeking when you interview a candidate?  Reliable, hard-working people who you believe will impact your firm positively with consistent, high-quality work.

Working hard is a learned habit—something that is instilled within a person from a young age and develops over time.  We’re all products of our upbringing.  The parenting norms with which we grew up shaped us, as did the events, people, and issues we encountered.  While these may change by generation, it’s important to assess people on their individual merits, not their age group.

Here are some examples of questions you can ask to help determine if job candidates have a strong work ethic:

  1. Tell me about a situation when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done. A hard worker does what it takes to get the job done.
  1. Tell me about a time when you overcame a significant challenge to finish a project on schedule. People who are up for a challenge are usually going to be the ones who will go above and beyond what is asked of them.
  1. Tell me about a time when your superior came to you with a problem they wanted you to fix but you didn’t know how, or what to do. A motivated employee takes initiative, including researching and/or finding someone who knows how to perform a task and can teach them.
  1. Tell me how you remind yourself to complete projects and tasks. If they don’t have a process for keeping track of important details and responsibilities, they could be missing the significance of working hard and hitting deadlines.
  1. Which of your previous positions were not a great fit for you and why? Which positions were a great fit and why? If candidates are looking for a challenge and ready for something that will stretch them, they likely have the drive to work hard. Responses like “I needed less hours” or “the office was really close to my house” indicate trouble.

In addition to asking the candidate the above questions, also consider:

  1. What has been the candidate’s responsiveness throughout the interview process? If the candidate is taking a long time to respond to emails or phone calls, this might reflect how quickly they will get work done. Give the potential new hire an activity to perform to see how well and how quickly they do it.
  2. Scratch below the surface on references. Specifically request former managers as references.  Be proactive in asking what is the candidate’s quality of work? Do they finish projects on time?  Ask about the person’s work ethic.  Cross check responses and be alert for any discrepancies between what a candidate says and what a reference says.

Have you ever interviewed a candidate who talked a great talk, but didn’t end up cutting it in the actual job?   Asking specific, targeted questions about behaviors that define a good work ethic can reveal much more during an interview and get to the heart of who a job candidate really is.

Ellen Warden
Ellen Warden