There may be times in your professional life when you’re confronted with decisions that call your ethics into question. How do you react? It’s important for a prospective employer to know, and consequently, a topic you may be asked about during a job interview.
We’ll explain how to navigate the sensitive interview question, “Tell me how you handle an ethical dilemma,” and formulate an answer you can feel good about.
Why do interviewers ask how you handle an ethical dilemma?
Ethics are at the forefront of everyday duties for some positions, like a bank teller handling large sums of cash or a nurse administering controlled medications. A prospective employer must carefully vet potential hires’ ethics in these positions.
However, regardless of the field, ethics can come into play in any position. How you respond when your ethics are challenged will give an interviewer an idea of your integrity, decision-making skills, and problem-solving capabilities, all of which are important qualities when selecting the right candidate.
What interviewers are looking for when they ask about ethical dilemmas
When asking how you would respond to an ethical dilemma, an interviewer hopes to learn more about what kind of person you are. They’ll be looking to understand how you determine the “right” thing to do and the factors you consider when deciding.
An interviewer will also be paying attention to how comfortable you seem with the idea of such a scenario. Does it seem like something you’d struggle with, or would tackling an ethical dilemma be a no-brainer? Your response will be an indicator they’ll use in assessing whether your values align with the organization’s.
How to answer the interview question ‘Tell me how you handle an ethical dilemma’
Talk about your personal ethics
Start with a strong opening that explains the importance of ethics to you. You can describe how they’re an important part of someone’s character or how they help guide your decision-making. Your explanation should convey a strong sense of your own ethics.
Relate it to the company
Next, draw a correlation between your ethics and the organization’s. You can explain how their values drew you to the company or highlight the fact that you share a similar outlook on doing what’s right.
As you explain your decision-making process, you want to emphasize that you would always prioritize what’s in the organization’s best interest. For example, if you discovered that an employee was stealing, you’d bring it to the attention of a manager rather than looking the other way.
Give an example
Depending on how long you’ve been in the workforce, you may or may not have much experience with ethical issues at work. Still, it will strengthen your answer if you can describe a time you’ve navigated an ethical situation successfully in the past. If you don’t have a specific experience, you could describe a hypothetical situation, like “if a client asked me to go against company policy, I would…”
How not to answer questions about ethical dilemmas
Discuss personal ethical situations
Your answer should focus on work-related activities. Avoid discussing an ethically questionable situation in your personal life, as it could lead to unintentional bias.
Sample answers to ‘Tell me how you handle an ethical dilemma’
By incorporating your decision-making process and the positive outcome of your actions into your answer, you’ll help the interviewer see your integrity in action and view you as the trustworthy, dependable person that you are.