Grads Seek Ethics Agreement

work environment

REDLANDS, CA (May 16, 2011)— Graduates of the class of 2011 will soon find themselves out of the classroom and on with their careers.

“This transition can be a recipe for happiness or heartache,” says Jeffery Smith, director of the Banta Center for Business, Ethics and Society at the University of Redlands. Graduates who “find themselves in an environment that is in agreement with their personal values can more seamlessly transition from personal to professional life.”

“When a graduate lands in a work environment that conflicts with his or her values, dissatisfaction and disillusionment can take their toll— on both the employee and employer,” Smith says. “That is why it is so important for graduates to match not only their skill and experience with an organization, but their ethical identity as well.”

The field of corporate ethics has had a presence in the C-suite for less than 20 years, according to Tim Mazur, chief operating officer of the Ethics and Compliance Officer Association. While it began in response to defense contracting practices during President Ronald Reagan’s administration, today organizations as diverse as Starbucks and Newmont Mining are known for their social responsibility and ethics codes.

“Ethics responsibilities and leadership are found at the top of companies from the CEO to the Board of Directors, but they are the responsibility of every employee and embedded in all management decisions. Organizations are looking for candidates with a strong work ethic and values,” Mazur says.

To determine if the organization with which a graduate plans to interview or accept a position is a match, Smith advises graduates to take the following steps: 1.

  1. Visit the organization’s website to see if it provides public information about its code of conduct and company values. 2.
  2. Listen carefully when the interviewer gives an example of how the company met a specific challenge or handled a recent controversy. 3.
  3. Ask questions about the company’s communications climate or listen for clues when the interviewer explains how decisions are made or controversy is handled. Open, transparent communication is a positive indicator of an ethical company. 4.
  4. Graduates should ask themselves what type of values they want the organization to be known for and examine the company responses and public face to see how it measures up. 5.
  5. Be prepared to respond to questions about his or her personal values and ethics and provide examples of situations in which they have had to confront decisions that might have challenged them.

“Before the internet, information about a company’s ethical performance was much more difficult to ascertain. Now information is readily accessible and it is a mistake to forgo investigating this area as well as other attributes of potential employers,” Smith says.

Graduates may be surprised to find the diversity of ethics and values stated on the Fortune 500 companies websites, according to Mazur. “People often think they will find the same five or so values within each organization’s statement but that is not the case.”

Smith emphasizes that ethical decisions are not silo-styled decisions in and of themselves. Rather, ethics are integral to every leadership decision from finance and human resource questions, to supplier relations, logistics, and more.

“Effective leadership has by necessity an ethical component mindful of trust, fairness and open communication. Graduates seeking such an environment should take steps to match that desire with the companies they seek to work for after college,” he says.


Jeffery Smith, Director, Banta Center for Business, Ethics and Society, University of Redlands, (909) 748-8785; cell: (909) 557-7416

Tim Mazur, Chief Operating Officer, Ethics and Compliance Officer Association, (781) 647-9333; cell: (920) 644-3262

University of Redlands students contribute more than 100,000 hours of community service annually.
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