Monday, August 17, 2009

How Integrity is Like a Great Dog

I'm back from vacation, back from stewing over the events of the past year, and back in action.

Today an article caught my attention. Seems that they've finally indicted a guy suspected of stealing a wee bit of credit card information — about 130 million records, give or take. Congratulations to our government, who finally tracked the guy down in his very, very secret hiding place: prison.

But that's another matter. Here's the bit that really caught my eye:
Mr. Gonzalez once worked with federal investigators. In 2003, after being arrested in New Jersey in a computer crime, he helped the Secret Service and federal prosecutors in New Jersey identify his former conspirators in the online underworld where credit and debit card numbers are stolen, bought and sold.
Now, when the Secret Service is looking for informants, it's not like they can call on me or one of my friends. They need somebody who is currently employed as a scumbag, so he (let's face it: it's a “he”) can rat on his scumbag buddies.

But all too often, employers will take the same “it takes a thief” approach. This case is a great example of why that's a stupid idea: integrity totally eclipses skill and experience when it comes to hiring. That made me think of something I saw recently.

In this diagram, the "Big Dog" star, VY Canis Majoris — the biggest known star in the galaxy — is compared to another humungous object, our Sun. The Sun occupies a central position in our perception, giving depth and color to everything we see. And yet, way out there, in a place where we can't directly observe it, is this unimaginably huge, gigantic, enormous star. But it doesn't make itself known to us directly — we have to search it out.

In hiring decisions, the applicant's skills and experiences often color our entire vision of that person. And yet, floating out there is something much bigger, but less obvious. We have to make the extra effort to identify the underlying character of the person behind the skillset, and then determine if that individual has the qualities that we want to bring to the organization. If not, there's just no amount of technical ability that is going to make up that deficit.

On a related note: if you're wondering about this image, it is in the public domain. It just wouldn't do to write an entire column on integrity and then steal the central image, would it? :-)

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