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  • Writer's pictureYoram Solomon, PhD

Unlocking Talent: The Ultimate Guide to Hiring Trustworthy Employees

When we interview candidates for a job, we mostly ask about technical and professional capabilities. Can they do the job? While that certainly is important, it doesn’t answer the question: Can we trust that employee if we hire them? Their technical and professional capabilities only represent one component of trustworthiness: their competence. But it doesn’t address the other five components. Some recruiters and hiring managers attempt to assess a candidate's “soft skills.” Still, the issue of their trustworthiness, which would be crucial to successfully integrating the new employee with a team, is hardly ever assessed. This article will suggest a process to assess a candidate’s trustworthiness.

Before posting the job

Before posting the job, you must first identify the six components of trustworthiness and determine what is it that you are looking for in each of them. Since trust is relative and not absolute or universal, and since different jobs are different, there is no single checklist of those items. You must develop them for every position independently. It would depend on whether the newhire would have to work with a team, or individually, at the office or remotely, as an individual contributor or as a leader, etc. Just like you spell out the professiona competence components, you must spell out the trustworthiness components.

Before the interview

There is a lot you can do to assess the “who you are?” components of the trustworthiness model (competence, personality compatibility, and symmetry/fairness) before the interview. One way would be to perform background checks and scour their social media and otherwise digital footprint. What can you tell about them from social media? What comes up when you Google their name?

Reference checks

Checking references relies on the fifth law of trust: that trust is transferrable, and if someone I trust tells me I can trust you, then I will.

Typically, we ask the candidate to provide several references. But there are several problems with that. First, the candidate would typically offer “convenient” references, people they already checked with them to ensure they would only say positive things. The problem is that you don’t know these people; thus, trust cannot be transferred through them, let alone the assumption that those were carefully selected and likely briefed by the candidate.

Another problem with reference checks is that many employers are worried about being sued by a candidate who would claim that they didn’t get a job because of a bad reference, that they either give positive references or avoid giving references altogether. The case of the Continental Airlines Flight 1713 crash in 1987, as provided in the NTSB report, shows the possible consequences of giving a misleading reference.

But there is a way to utilize the transferability of trust in checking references. When you check the candidate’s social media profile, specifically on LinkedIn, see if there are mutual connections between you and the candidate, such that you can trust their references. If so, ask the candidate if it would be OK for you to reach out to them. Don’t do it without the candidate’s approval, as you would violate their privacy and confidentiality, and that is the wrong way to start a healthy relationship.

First impression

Uncertainty doesn’t feel good, so whenever our brain doesn’t have enough facts, it will fill the gap with assumptions. Those assumptions could be based on your prework or on the first impression a candidate makes. Be careful with the latter. Encourage the candidate to wear and behave in a way they will if they work for the company rather than try to make a good first impression. Explain to them that giving a misleading first impression could backfire over the long run, but also make sure that your assessment of the candidate is not driven by first impression-based assumptions with very little data.

The interview

While the interview can be used to fill the gaps on items on the “who you are” list, such as competence and specific “hard” technical and professional skills, it should be used mainly to assess the “what you do” components of the relative trustworthiness model.

The personality compatibility component is somewhat problematic to assess, because trust is relative. The candidate may experience behaviors that would cause you to trust them, but that might cause the team members to distrust them, and vice versa. Remember that the strongest correlation to trustworthiness is shared values.

If an area of personality incompatibility is discovered, you should consider three things: (1) how important is that incompatibility to the candidate and the team in which they will work? (2) can the incompatible behavior be changed (by either the candidate or the team)? And (3) are they willing to put the effort to change it. Some personality incompatibitilies could be so fundamental to the candidate or team members that they could either not be able to change, or there will not be a willingness to change them. If that’s the case, it’s good to know this upfront, because it will be an indication for future friction and low trust with the team. If there is both the ability and willingness to change behaviors, using the 7-step Trust Habits® process would make the change permanent.

When assessing positivity, pay attention to the level of empathy and no-BS demonstrated by the candidate. Try to evaluate whether this is normal behavior for them or interview-specific, just to get the job.

Assessing symmetry and fairness could be done through asking scenario questions such as: “Tell me about a time when you…” or “How would you react if…” You can even utilize games to assess those.

Make sure you spend enough time with a candidate to assess their trustworthiness. If the job requirements are not highly differentiated, and there are many qualified candidates, spending more time with fewer candidates than less time with more candidates is better. Time is vital to accelerate trustworthiness assessment and make it more reliable.

Finally, it is best to hold the interview in person, as it gives you an opportunity to assess the consistency of the candidate’s words and their body language. When those are consistent, you know you can trust them, but when they are inconsistent—you can’t. Using video conferencing (such as Zoom) should only be a remote second alternative.

Team interview

The bad news is that trust is relative and personal. The candidate’s behaviors that may cause you to trust them might caluse the members of the team with whom the candidate needs to intergrate with distrust them, and vice versa. So, it is always better to involve the team with the interview process. Research showed that when a team member is not trusted by the rest of the team, the entire team performance declines, sometimes dramatically.

In order for the team to assess trustworthiness, they should follow similar steps to what this article suggested above. Some of those steps (such as background checks) could be done once and distributed to the team.

One possibility is to have each team member interview the candidate separately because they might be interested in different aspects of the candidate’s personality. However, this might limit the time each team member has and may cause various members to ask the candidate the same questions. On the other hand, having only a team interview could cause dominant team members to get their questions answered by the candidate, while the less dominant members might not be able to squeeze a single question.

For that purpose, you should conduct a hybrid interview. First, hold a team interview. Even the least dominant team members would be able to get a first hand impression of the candidate and how they answered questions. Then, give each team member time alone with the candidate to ask further questions in areas more interesting to them.

Final thoughts

First, even if you have more candidates than you can handle, never leave a candidate “in the dark.” Never “ghost” them. Candidates looking for jobs are very vulnerable, and will remember very well how they were treated. You may end up hiring someone you “ghosted” for a while (because you had a better candidate that eventually took another job), and their first impression of the company is that the company (you are a proxy for it) mistreats candidates, and probably employees as well. This will affect their behavior throughout their employment with the company.

Even if you don’t hire them today, but try to hire them in the future, they will remember how they were treated as candidates and may just choose not to engage with your company.

But even if you don’t hire them, they might show up elsewhere. They might be hired by your customers, suppliers, or other related companies. Are you sure you want them to have a bad impression of your company when your company will now have to do business with them?

Finally, you can tell if you are hiring a trustworthy employee. There is always the chance that they are very good actors and have misled you (and the team) and make a great, yet unreal, first impression, but they have nothing to benefit from it in the long run, because their real personality will come out at some point, and if they can’t be trusted, they will be removed from the team.


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Dr. Yoram Solomon

Dr. Yoram Solomon is an expert in trust, employee engagement, teamwork, organizational culture, and leadership. He is the author of The Book of Trust, host of The Trust Show podcast, a three-time TEDx speaker, and facilitator of the Trust Habits workshop and masterclass that explains what trust is and how to build trust in organizations. He is a frequent speaker at SHRM events and a contributor to magazine.

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