Steps to Help Grads Determine if a Company is Ethical and Questions for Them to Ask Themselves

These days, a lot of experts are giving advice to college graduates about entering the workforce in a challenging economy. Many college graduates are worried by headlines like College Grads Searching for Jobs in a Bad Economyor “Toughest test comes after graduation: Getting a job.” But there are students who are going out in the workforce with their portfolio and an optimistic outlook on their future, and some of those are getting a chance at an interview and a position in their field.

Graduates might feel a sense of desperation for a job due to the high profile topic of “college grads and the economy,” but that doesn’t mean that they should accept an offer just because it’s an offer without knowing if the company shares their goals and values.  Interning with a company before you begin to work for them is one of the best ways to determine if they are a good fit for your passions as well as your core values.

In a recent article, Jeffrey Smith, director of the Banta Center for Business, Ethics and Society at the University of Redlands, shared the following steps,  which I’ve elaborated on, to determining if an organization is an ethical match and to see if a grad can match those standards:

1. Research. Go to the organization’s website to read about their mission and purpose.  If they don’t have a stated mission or values on-line, ask the person with whom you interview. What problem is the company trying to solve?  How are they doing it better than anyone else?

2. Listen. Pay attention to examples of how the interviewer or the company met a specific challenge and how they handled it.   Be sure to share your examples of exemplary behavior like how you said “no” to a classmate who wanted you to help them cheat or any other way in which you took the moral high road.

3. Question. Ask questions or listen to clues of how decisions are made or controversy is handled within the company. Open, transparent communication is a positive indicator of an ethical company.

4. Ask. Grads should ask themselves what values they want the company to be known for and compare how the company responses and public face measures up.  They should also be clear on how ethical they are and how they will uphold these standards with their personal behavior in the workplace.

5. Prepare. Grads should spend time practicing responses to questions about their personal values and ethics and be ready to share examples of situations where they were challenged.  They can also share situations where they saw others take the high road and what they learned from their examples.

Whether new grads are going after jobs in a company or starting their own business, defining their personal code of ethics is an important step to becoming the professional who lands a job, grows in their job, and becomes a respectable leader. “Effective leadership has by necessity an ethical component mindful of trust, fairness, and open communication,” says Smith.  Leaders have to inspire others by their positive and courageous actions which means having sterling integrity.   Bottom line:  do you like the person interviewing you? Do they seem like they could be someone you could respect and learn from? Do the other people, while different have the qualities of being smart, trustworthy and inspiring?   Do you have those same qualities?

If you’ve never thought about your personal code of ethics, now is the perfect time to reflect on your values and record your rules for professional conduct. Having a personal code of ethics will prepare you for questions about how you would react in certain situations, your work history, and your fit in the company. If you already have a code of ethics, make sure it’s still accurate. Many people update their code of ethics every five years as elements in their life shift.

References: “College graduates in search of ethics agreement, says Director of University of Redlands Banta Center for Business, Ethics and Society” -


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