How to Make Ethics a Part of Your Hiring Process

How to Make Ethics a Part of Your Hiring Process

In late June, Mark McClennan’s tips were featured in The Pinnacle, an online, monthly newsletter for APRs created by PRSA National. If you didn’t see it, it’s a great start for those who are involved in hiring new talent.

I gave him a call to ask a few more questions to flesh out this topic even further.

Mark is a former Chair of PRSA. He’s also a great resource for all of us regarding ethical behavior as a PRSA member and as a working professional. He not only taught Ethics for five years at Boston University, but he recently wrote a book entitled, EthicalVoices, a compilation of his many interviews with PR pros from his popular blog and podcast of the same name.

“The bottom line is that unethical behavior can damage your brand,” he says. “It’s as simple as that. We work very hard to create our brands and build our businesses. Unethical behavior at any level within your organization can not only hurt your reputation but also harm your clients.”

Who you choose to be part of your team is always a reflection of you and your brand. That’s why this topic is so important. Along with the tips below, Mark also suggests asking job candidates questions like, “What is your North Star?” or, “Where do you draw a line in the sand?” How a candidate answers indicates what’s really important to them and what motivates them. It can be very telling.

Mark also explained that it’s not always the big, ethical blunders that can harm a brand. “Don’t ignore all the little things, like padding expense reports, making up excuses, telling white lies, exaggerating results or cutting corners, etc.” he says. “These can add up very quickly and ultimately, you’ve ruined your reputation in the process. It’s the same with our clients. As PR Pros and Consultants, we are not paid to always do or say the easy things,” he says. “We must speak out when we see unethical behavior. Remember, silence is complicity.”

Creating a team of like-minded, highly ethical individuals should always be your goal. Here are the rest of his tips as seen in the newsletter:

When the time arrives to hire a new public relations employee, many of us follow the same process. We meticulously review the resume and cover letter, and administer a writing test. We conduct a series of interviews where we probe their resumes and past experiences, and challenge candidates with a few hypothetical scenarios.

Unfortunately, ethical reasoning is often overlooked in the hiring process. As APR professionals, we have signed the pledge and discussed it as part of earning our APR, but not everyone in the industry has done so. We need to make ethics questions an integral part of the hiring process. I am not saying to ask for their views on Kant and teleology. But rather we should ask questions that illuminate how central ethics is in their approach to public relations.

Here are four practical elements you can adopt immediately to incorporate ethics into your hiring process:

Make gray ethics questions a part of the interview. The APR preparation materials provide a wealth of relevant resources.
Ask candidates about the most difficult ethics challenge they faced. This is equally as effective for entry-level and seasoned candidates.
Present scenarios (layoffs, conflicts) where people can demonstrate their ethical reasoning.
Take inspiration from Patrice Tanaka of Joyful Planet LLC and ask people about their purpose in life. Patrice says half of the folks look at her like a deer in the headlights, so she moves on, but for the others, it is a revealing indicator if they think primarily of themselves, their family, their company or society at large.

So please, moving forward, make every interview like your APR panel — commit to asking ethics questions of potential employees.

By Mark W. McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA

Julie Smith-Taylor, APR
2023 Chapter Ethics Chair

Let’s keep the conversation going! Please contact me with any questions you may have or if you would like to share your own insights about hiring practices and incorporating ethical behavior as a job qualification as part of our PRSA Code of Ethics. Email me at or call me at 760-213-5686.

The post How to Make Ethics a Part of Your Hiring Process appeared first on PRSA San Diego.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top