Honesty, honor, trustworthiness, uprightness of character, strong moral principles – these are all synonyms for Personal Integrity.
This article will take a deep dive into the concept of personal integrity and why it is so important for all of us to understand and live by this concept.
We will focus on how it impacts people in transition, and why it is so important to maintain the principles of personal integrity in our thinking, actions, job, and, quite frankly, in all that we do.
Just What Is Personal Integrity?
We have studied the meaning of personal integrity from a number of perspectives over the years and found this to be one of the simplest and best definitions of this most human quality:
Personal integrity is a system of internal principles and choices that each person makes for him or herself that guide their behavior and their interactions with others.
Personal integrity must consistently reflect all of the following qualities:
Consistency is the keyword here. The qualities of personal integrity must be consistent and cannot be contradictory or irrational.
For example, you can’t continually call for staff meetings and then cancel them. People will stop trusting you and may stop taking you at your word regarding other things as well. One cannot be trustworthy only when it is convenient. It is important to be trustworthy all the time and for others to know that you are!
And remember, outside forces should not be able to influence one’s personal integrity!
Sometimes it is easiest to think of personal integrity as doing what is right, even if no one else is watching or listening.
What About Ethics, Isn’t It the Same as Personal Integrity?
The concept of ethics and personal integrity are closely intertwined. It seems that you hear them spoken about almost in the same breath and at the same time. And while they are closely related, there are differences.
Ethics can be best described as external while personal integrity is more internal.
Let’s take a look at ethics, compare it to our previous definition of personal integrity to help clarify the differences between them, and also what makes them so closely aligned.
Ethics is generally thought of as a set of external rules and regulations produced to govern our behavior and the behavior of the group. In business, the employer often sets the rules in a Code of Conduct that all employees are expected to follow. Failure to follow these rules may result in disciplinary action and even termination.
Society has a set of ethical standards that all citizens are expected to follow. These are often codified in local, state, and federal laws that set the standards for behavior. Breaking these will certainly result in criminal charges and/or civil actions.
Other ways of being considered an ethical member of society might involve:
- voting in elections
- involving oneself in public affairs
- standing up for civil rights
- looking out for others less fortunate than themselves
In order to be an ethical person, one must have a high degree of personal integrity. This is where the two concepts come together.
If, for example, a company’s code of conduct expressly prohibits employees having conflicts of interest, a person of high personal integrity would never consider taking advantage of a situation where a potential conflict can be ignored for his or her own gain or advantage.
On the other hand, someone with little or no personal integrity might not see this as a rule that applies to them and would look for a way around this requirement.
Detecting a Lack of Personal Integrity
How does one detect a lack of personal integrity in others?
Think about the opposite of personal integrity… One term springs to mind, and that’s self-interest. Of course, we all recognize that each one of us has to look out for ourselves to a certain extent.
However, ensuring that one’s own self-interest always comes before all other interests may lead to behaviors that are hurtful, disruptive, or even illegal.
How might you detect a lack of integrity?
Let’s look at a few examples:
If It’s Legal, It Must Be OK – Some people may feel this way, but even if certain actions may be legal, they may not always meet either ethical standards or the moral code set by one’s personal integrity.
Although it is not illegal to break a promise to a friend, to do so is morally wrong, especially when it is done to serve one’s own personal interests.
In the same vein, lying for personal gain, while not illegal (unless it is done to cover up a criminal act) is also one of those actions that really tests the limits of one’s integrity.
So, Who’s Watching – Remember when we said personal integrity is “doing what is right, even if no one else is watching or listening”?
Keep an eye out for anyone who always seems to be doing “the right thing” when they are sure someone else, especially “the boss” is watching. They try their best to step into the limelight and to be seen by people who can advance their careers or who will endorse them for something they are trying to achieve, but he or she does not act that way when they believe no one is watching.
Defensiveness – People who are constantly defending themselves and offering excuses for why something did not get done or was done without the proper input from others, are practicing deception that will only cause harm to themselves by eventually exposing their faults and shortcomings.
It’s Not My Fault – Where have we heard this before? Somehow, it is never the fault of the unethical person. They lack the personal integrity to accept responsibility for any problem or situation that causes trouble as a result of their mistakes. A person of integrity will take ownership of a mistake and work to make it right.
These are some of the “tells” to be aware of when dealing with a person who lacks personal integrity. Recognizing them and understanding the motivations of such people, will help you deal with the situations they create, whether it’s in your personal or business life.
So, how should you deal with someone who lacks personal integrity?
- Confront the deception or the lie, especially if you know it could cause harm to you or others. If you know them to be wrong about an issue, stand your ground and don’t doubt yourself. (More about types of lies in job hunting you will find reading the article further.)
- Cut ties with the person if possible. Although this may be very hard to do, in particular, with someone who you work with, or even your boss, working with a liar and deceiver can be toxic to the point. It may hurt your ability to do your job, and if you go along with their behavior, it may even hurt you in advancing your own career. In extreme cases, you may have to report the behavior (anonymously to protect yourself) to a company hotline if the action is truly egregious or harmful.
- Even hiring managers may appear to lack integrity, and you must decide from their behavior whether this is the company for you.
Confronting Lies – on the Job or Job Hunting
There exists what we like to call The Hierarchy of Lies. It is a step-by-step process that helps us recognize how the small, perhaps inconsequential stuff, can grow and morph into the much bigger and more dangerous kinds of lies. Whether on the job or in a job interview, lying can be harmful to relationships and will eventually hurt both the liar and those they lie to.
Eva Rykrsmith, an organizational psychologist and development consultant as well as a blogger for the Fast Track Blog by Intuit QuickBase, lists the following 7 types of lies:
- Error – A lie by mistake. The person believes they are being truthful, but what they are saying is not true.
- Omission – Leaving out relevant information. Easier and less risky than an outright lie. It doesn’t involve inventing any stories. It is passive deception, and less guilt is involved.
- Minimization – Reducing the effects of a mistake, a fault, or a judgment call.
- Restructuring – Distorting the context. Saying something in sarcasm, changing the characters, or altering the scene.
- Denial – Refusing to acknowledge the truth. The extent of denial can be quite large – they may be lying only to you just this one time, or they may be lying to themselves.
- Exaggeration – Representing something or someone as greater, better, more experienced, more successful.
- Fabrication – Deliberately inventing a false story.
As you can see, the types of lies grow up through the seven examples from what just might be an error or misunderstanding up to and including an outright fabrication or falsehood.
Added to this list is the “Little White Lie,” or, as it is sometimes called, “The Polite Lie.” This one is often used to cover up for a mistake you made, like saying to your boss, “Sorry I was late for work, the traffic was awful,” when, in fact, you overslept and did not want to admit it.
However, with this type of lie, things are not always so straight-forward. Let’s look at this example:
Joe attended a job search group event and later told the facilitator of the webinar that it was “…informative and thought-provoking, and I will be glad to attend the next one.” Actually, he really did not like the event very much, he thought it was boring and did not think it was that useful or helpful to him. Joe probably will not attend the next one, however, he told the facilitator a “polite lie” because he did not want to hurt her feelings.
Was Joe really sparing the facilitator’s feelings, or was he simply telling a polite lie because it was easier?
Perhaps the best approach would have been to explain why the webinar was not really helpful to him, giving both honest and tactful reasons why and suggesting some future improvements.
He might have said something like the following, “I thought the speaker was interesting, and she really seemed to be on top of her topic, but it did not turn out to be as helpful to me as I had hoped. Perhaps I did not clearly understand the description of the event and was expecting something different.”
In this way, the facilitator would think about ways to better describe future events to attract the right audience.
Lying, whether it is on a resume, or in an interview, or on the job, may, in the end, hurt you, and should be avoided at all costs. Why? – Because, eventually, the lie will come back to haunt you and your career!
Personal Integrity in the Job-Hunting Experience
As we all know, behavioral questions are asked by employers as a normal part of the job interview process.
They might ask:
- What is your greatest weakness?
- Tell me about your greatest professional accomplishment.
- Describe a time when you had to admit a mistake to your coworkers.
Or any of a dozen or more similar questions!
Don’t be surprised that most behavioral questions have a strong element of personal integrity built into them. Your response should demonstrate to the interviewer not only how you dealt with the situation, but it should also reflect your commitment to honesty, trustworthiness, and responsibility.
Remember, when you are asked behavioral questions by the interviewer, they are looking to ensure that your own moral compass is in sync with that of the company!
How you answer their questions tells them a lot about you as a person and as a prospective employee.
Here’s an example of an answer to “What is your greatest weakness?”
“I find that I sometimes have trouble saying no to colleagues who ask for help. I always look for ways to help others when I am needed and see this as a very important part of who I am and how I do my job.
For instance, last year, the team I manage had a tight deadline to complete a project, and Helen, one of our key team members, had a serious family obligation that was hindering her ability to finish her part of the project.
I could not simply force her into an untenable choice between family and work and looked for ways that I could take on some of her responsibilities to help her out, knowing that this might put me in a bind, time-wise.
I solved the problem with the help of the other team members by dividing up her work among the entire team (including Helen), and we were able to finish the project on time.
My solution allowed me to give her the time she needed for her family commitment, as well as meeting her obligations to the company.”
The individual responding to this behavioral question not only related how he addressed his “weakness,” he did so by also showing a high level of personal integrity. He could not and would not leave his colleague in a situation that might hurt her career.
He resolved three issues by offering her the help she needed, avoided taking on an extra burden for himself, and moved the project to a successful completion with the help of the entire team.
Interview Feedback and the Problem of “Ghosting”
Feedback is a vital component of any interaction between two or more people, and this is especially true when it comes to job interviews. If you do not know what the hiring manager is thinking following an interview, how will you know where you stand regarding the position itself?
On the other hand, if you do not let the hiring manager know of your interest (or lack of interest) in the job, how will he/she know what next steps to take regarding your candidacy?
Personal integrity extends to this part of all job interviews, whether in person or virtual, whether it’s with a recruiter or a hiring manager. It is incumbent on both sides to communicate properly and, in so doing, demonstrate their personal integrity. You owe it to one another.
We reached out to Darren McMoore for his insight on this subject. Originally from New Zealand, he has lived & worked in Australia, the UAE, and the U.S. where he recently became a proud citizen.
Darren is the founder of Intaviu, an online tool that helps job seekers, organizations, and their recruiters meaningfully communicate through the job-seeking process. It allows them to share actionable feedback from an interview so that if the job seeker is not hired, they can improve for future interviews.
Stuart: Darren, tell us what you think is the major problem that job seekers face following an interview.
Darren: Thanks for the opportunity to discuss this important topic! Everyone has heard of "ghosting," and, unfortunately, most of us have experienced this problem.
You finish an interview feeling that you did very well and are surely in contention for a follow-up interview or even a job offer. Then the expected “short wait” turns into days and maybe weeks with no response from the hiring manager. In fact, you never hear from them. What happened? What went wrong? Was it your fault?
Stuart: Darren, you have hit the nail on the head! I don’t know anyone who has never been ghosted. How can this be so prevalent, and what can be done about it?
Darren: As I see it, there are two sides to the issue of ghosting:
The biggest problem is on the side of the company doing the hiring. They often overwhelm themselves with the number of candidates for each position, advertising it on multiple job boards, marketing it heavily through as many venues as they can find.
Ultimately, they may wind up with an unmanageable number to sort through. This almost never-ending supply of candidates that I like to refer to as the “body bank” often creates logistical problems for companies.
How can they be fair to candidates? How will they manage to sort through all of them, even after the Applicant Tracking System eliminates many of the initial resumes?
They should try to cap the number to a manageable level, giving themselves the opportunity to treat each candidate fairly and with respect, especially following an interview. This goes for recruiters as well as hiring managers, all of whom have an ethical obligation to follow up with each candidate they meet with.
Those who lack personal integrity will use the excuse of too many candidates to deal with as the reason for not being able to get back to them all. Those with personal integrity will never allow themselves to think this way. They will see to it that every candidate they meet with knows where they stand.
The second issue is with the job candidates themselves. When you are finishing the interview, you should always tell them how interested you are in the job, and you must ask the interviewer what is going to happen next. Politely but firmly put them on the spot to commit to letting you know when and how you should expect to hear from them. If you are truly not interested in the position, you should let them know.
You also must send a follow-up email (or mail them an actual written note, if you prefer), not only thanking them for the opportunity but also asking where you stand in the process, requesting that they let you know your status as soon as they are able. This is also an opportunity to inquire about how well you did, and if they saw anything they might suggest improving how you handled the interview.
Stuart: Darren, these are great thoughts! Is there anything else that you would recommend our readers do to help themselves in this process?
Darren: I am sure that many of your readers are using a tool such as a Kanban board to manage their job hunt. It helps them keep track of their progress for each position they are seeking.
I would recommend that as part of maintaining their records, that they make note of anyone who may have ghosted them or in any other way behaved negatively towards them during or following an interview. Information about a recruiter’s or hiring manager’s past behavior may prove useful in any future encounters with them.
Remember, personal integrity is like a moral compass. It helps guide your interactions with others, gives you the competence to judge right from wrong, and act accordingly.
If you have heard the expression, “I’ll know it when I see it,” you will understand that personal integrity is the innate ability to make the right call and do the right thing in just about all circumstances.
Practice it, and live it as close to 100% of the time as you can, and you cannot go wrong!
About the Author: Stuart Weiner has over 25 years of experience as a compliance officer and auditor, primarily in the healthcare field, and is currently the Principal of Integrated Compliance, a compliance consulting firm. He also serves as the registrar for the training committee at the Professional Service Group of Central New Jersey (PSGCNJ) – a U.S.-based organization that helps job seekers in their career transition.