Job Search Tip of the Week #24 (2018)

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How to Ace Your First-Round (or Really, Just About Any) Interview

Think Like an Interviewer – Q18



According to a survey from the Ethics Resource Center (ERC), nearly half of all U.S. workers witness unethical behavior at least once a year. “It’s just part of being employed,” said Patricia Harned, PhD, ERC president. “You’re going to observe some kind of misconduct on the job. One of the biggest challenges is having to figure out what to do after you’ve observed it.”

Since moral and ethical dilemmas are common at work, your interviewer wants to know how you’d respond in such situations. That’s why “Tell me about a time you faced an ethical dilemma” is one of the most commonly asked interview questions — so whatever you do, don’t say, “I’ve never been put in a position where my values were tested,” because that’s almost certainly untrue.

Some common examples of workplace wrongdoing that you could bring up are:

  • Abusive behavior like disrespect, bullying/harassment, mistreatment, and discrimination and hostility
  • Breaking laws or regulations
  • Employee fraud or theft
  • Misreporting time worked or misusing company time
  • Inappropriate Internet usage
  • Lying to employees or clients
  • Cutting corners on a project
  • Falsifying records and reports
  • Giving or accepting bribes and kickbacks

But be careful! Give enough detail to illustrate the severity of the situation, but don’t provide identifying information. This is especially important when talking about a previous employer, because naming names tells the interviewer who may not be a trustworthy professional reference.

The key to successfully answering this interview question is to provide an example of when you objected to something on moral or ethical grounds, and stood firm in your convictions and didn’t compromise your integrity. Remember, the hiring manager wants to test your honesty, judge what your standards of morality, and see if you’re able to differentiate – and choose – between right and wrong.

Since this is a behavioral interview question, don’t forget to use “PS CAR” to frame your answer (Fun fact for you car non-aficionados: Pferdestärke (PS) refers to horsepower.):

  • People: Who was involved
  • Situation: What was it and why was it particularly problematic (Which of your values were threatened? This is an opportunity for you to show your interviewer that your values and morals align with the company’s and that you’re a good cultural fit.)
  • Cause: What led to the problem / How did the situation arise
  • Address: What specific actions did you take, and why did you choose that particular course of action over the alternatives
  • Result: What was the end-result, and what did you learn from it (Was it what you’d expected? If so, why? If not, why not? What would you do differently the next time you face a similar situation?)

Remember, the magnitude of the ethical dilemma you choose to speak of is far less important than your thought and action process. So when you tell your story, make clear the ramifications of each choice and why you went the moral route. (And if you reported non-ethical behavior and experienced retaliation, talk about what you did about it and whether you’d do anything differently.) Doing so shows that you understand ethical issues can be tough and complex, and that every possible course of action and the consequences of each must be explored to make a fully considered, informed decision. A sound, ethical decision maker and strategic problem solver — that’s who hiring managers are looking for!


Sound Off: Describe a time you found yourself in a sticky situation at work that tested your ethical boundaries. How did you solve the problem?


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