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Describe Your Work Ethic

It’s a given that companies want to hire hard workers and not slackers. But how do you quantify how hard you work? It’s a tricky feat without some sort of standardized scorecard.  Nevertheless, work ethic is a key quality many hiring managers will ask you about. We’ll explain how to convey this complex quality during a job interview and nail the question, “describe your work ethic.”

Why do interviewers ask about your work ethic?

Work ethic is defined as the belief that work is intrinsically valuable, above and beyond monetary or other tangible rewards. Interviewers want to find out why your job is important to you beyond just collecting a paycheck. Workers who find meaning in their jobs are more likely to be successful and stay with their companies longer, which are both things an interviewer is trying to achieve when hiring.

When asking about your work ethic, an interviewer wants to find out if you’ll give the job the level of attention it deserves. Are you reliable? Will you show up to work and put forth your best effort even on days when you’d rather be doing something else? All of these are elements of work ethic an interviewer is trying to identify.

What interviewers are looking for when they ask you to describe your work ethic

Though the answer to this question will be personal to each candidate, there is a wrong way to answer it. You don’t want to give the impression that you only want the job for the money or that you’ll be counting down the minutes until 5 o’clock each day. 

So, you want to use descriptive language that helps convey your passion and enthusiasm for your job beyond the practical benefits of income and career advancement. Here are some good keywords to incorporate into your answer:

  • Motivated
  • Hard-working
  • Self-starter
  • Independent
  • Positive
  • Resilient
  • Reliable
  • Consistent
  • Persistent
  • Determined
  • Responsible

How to answer the interview question ‘Describe your work ethic’

Determine what work ethic means to you

First, begin by asking yourself a basic question: why do you want this job? And specifically, why this job and not any of the thousands of others that are out there? Your reasons for choosing your career path can be a good guidepost to describing your work ethic. 

Sometimes, your understanding of work ethic will be something that was modeled to you by someone in your life, like a family member, past boss, or mentor. This is a great personal detail to work into your answer.

Come up with an anecdote that demonstrates your work ethic

Using the definition you came up with, think of an anecdote from your work experience that illustrates your values. For example, if you value hard work because it makes you feel like you’ve contributed to society, you might describe how you love seeing happy customers’ faces after you’ve helped them find the right product.

Tie it to the company culture

Your background research on the company should have told you a few things about what the organization values–things like transparency, respect, innovation, and so on. Try to tie these values into your own answer to show that you align with the company culture.

How not to answer

Seeming unsure

You don’t want it to appear as if this is a topic you must think about. You want to convey that it’s obvious to you why work is important. So, prepare ahead of time and practice your answer to this and other tricky interview questions.

Sample answers to ‘Describe your work ethic’

Example #1

“Both my parents worked two jobs to make ends meet. I saw firsthand what hard work really is. I was the first person in my family to go to college, and because of this, succeeding in my career is very important to me. Not only do I want to work hard to make my family proud, but I also want to set my own children up for an easier future than their parents and grandparents had before them.”

Example #2

“I once heard the saying, ‘how you do anything is how you do everything,’ and it really stuck with me. It means that everything you do is a reflection on you, even when it’s a small task or something that seems unimportant. Because of that, I’m motivated to give my best effort on every project I work on.”

By describing qualities that are important to the employer and putting your own personal spin on the definition of ‘work ethic,’ you’ll help convince your interviewer that you’re a hard worker they can rely on to get the job done.