Integrity

A very smart friend of mine has been surfing the job market and was recently offered a position at a start-up. The CEO let him know that he had until the end of the week (three days at that point) to give his decision. By the time I talked to him, he only had a fraction of that time left to decide and was asking for my opinion about whether I thought joining the company would be a good career move. [1]

I told him that while I didn’t know much about the company, my gut response would be not to sign with them. I said this because to me, the CEO’s behavior reflects a flaw in his personal integrity. In my opinion, any employer unscrupulous enough to pressure a candidate to accept a job offer is going to be less likely to have qualms over:

I come from perhaps an old-fashioned school of thought because I believe that being an employer is not about owning another person. In my opinion, a candidate has the right to work for whoever he/she wants, and should be free to pick the best option available to them [2]. (In this view, it’s almost more as if the candidate owns the employer). If as an employer, I am unable to give a candidate a highly competitive offer and growth opportunity, then why the hell am I hiring in the first place?

This CEO’s behavior bothers me because I personally want to help every candidate make the best decision for him/herself regardless of whether or not they decide to join our company. For example, one of the candidates we’ve extended an offer to intends on making her final decision about where to work as late as September. Not an issue here. Another very strong candidate of ours ultimately decided to work at a bigger company, and I encouraged him to do so because I believe that given his circumstances it was the correct play for him.

One of the reasons I started this company was that I wanted to create an environment in which people who can do good work would find worthy of joining [3]. In my mind, you have entirely no hope of doing that without integrity. That’s how much of a mistake I feel that the aforementioned CEO is making.

[1] To put things in perspective, he really is a qualified candidate and will be able to get other offers if not for this one. I don’t suspect that my advice would be too different though, even if this were likely to be his only offer.

[2] I will say that as much as I think that it’s important for an employer to have personal integrity, a candidate should also be held accountable for his/her actions. For example, I would not think much of a candidate who lies or vastly over-exaggerates their resume (it’s really not as hard as you might think to find out these things).

[3] Yes, I know that I’m being overly-idealistic about this - as I am about a lot of things in life - but I have to say it anyway because I believe it. I think that perhaps a flaw of Stanford entrepreneurs is that they get overly passionate about changing the world when the world really doesn’t want to change, and that is definitely a flaw of mine.

[no real footnote] My personal opinion is that in business (and really for life in general), you’re expected to regularly interact with people whom you may not personally like. That said, I would still make a deal with someone whom I did not personally like. However, I would be hard pressed to make a deal with a partner whom I considered to have low integrity. Imagine buying a product from a vendor with no integrity: what’s to stop them from just taking your money without delivering the product?

 
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