Tough Interview Question – Describe a Time You Faced an Ethical Dilemma
It’s tough to say who is truly a “moral” person. Morality is subjective, and everyone – even humanitarians, saints, philanthropists, unicorns and superheros – have skeletons in their closet that would make them appear immoral to a casual observer.
- Have you ever smoked?
- Have you ever kicked a puppy?
- Have you ever ogled a bar patron?
- Have you ever scratched yourself in public?
- Have you ever broken the speed limit?
Depending on who you ask, these are unethical. They represent character flaws. Character flaws represent possible risk for the employer. So one popular behavioral job interview question is to hear you describe a time that you faced an ethical dilemma, in order to judge what your standards of morality are and if you have the ability to differentiate between right and wrong.
How to Answer
Like all other interview questions, you want your answer to be related to your professional career. This can, however, be somewhat dangerous, as you do not want to give away that an employer you worked for did anything unethical. This could reflect poorly on your work history. The first thing to imagine is if you faced an ethical dilemma in a job you held during high school or early college. If not, see if you can find an ethical dilemma that relates to your education, possibly the ability to cheat on a test (that you refused, of course).
“At my last job I found out that my employer was using illegal tax write offs. They asked me to go along with it, and I did for a while in an effort to keep my job but ultimately I had to quit.”
This is an example of you making the wrong decision, and it shows that your previous employer probably does not qualify as a good part of your work history or a trustworthy reference.
“Back in high school I worked for this local grocery store. Someone had dumped over 2 dozen broken computer monitors in the parking lot. They would cost hundreds of dollars to legally dump, so the store manager asked me to wait until darkness and move the computer monitors to the local Goodwill so that they would be forced to pay for the dumping. I refused, and called the local trash services, notifying them of the illegal dumping on our property. They agreed to pick it up for free.”
Here you show that you are not only moral, but that you are also a problem solver. This is an example of how to successfully answer this question, and the job was long enough ago that it doesn’t reflect poorly on your future abilities.
Take Away Interview Tips
- Look for an answer in your distant professional past. Never use a recent employer.
- If nothing comes up, use a chance to cheat in school or something innocent.
- Always describe not only how you chose the moral route but also anything you did that makes you appear to be a problem solver (if applicable).