Why Interviewers Ask about Ethical Dilemmas: How to Answer
September 22, 2019
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Almost every type of interview – whether for a job, medical school, community service position, or other – will ask you to describe a time you dealt with an ethical dilemma or a time when your values were challenged.
The purpose of this question is to determine that you have sound ethical decision making, you generally deal transparently with people, and your values align with the core beliefs of the organization. The interviewer posits that if you’ve been ethical in the past, you will be in the future.
Take this as an opportunity to show you’re a person of integrity with a transparent approach to resolving difficult problems. Here are some pointers to answering the question.
Avoid these no-no’s
Some answers are better than others. Do not answer this question with an unsubstantiated, general statement of how you believe honesty is the best policy – that’s a well-worn reply. Do not say you volunteer a lot or give to the homeless as a way to prove you are nice – that’s not the question. And definitely do not give an example where you were unethical and had a change of heart – that’ll only raise more questions about you.
Find one or two strong examples from your experience
When thinking of examples from your experience, choose an unambiguous ethical conflict. Avoid picking a situation where the ethical dilemma was dubious or subjective. A colleague being lazy and not taking their share on a project is a bad practice that should be corrected, but it’s not the clear ethical dilemma interviewers are looking for.
Instead, pick a lapse we can all agree was wrong. For instance, you discovered an instance of lying or cheating within the company. Or a colleague wanted to overbill a client. Or someone at work was being called names or harassed by a colleague or superior. Those are unambiguous examples you can lean into in your answer.
Use the STAR method to talk about it
We have a video tutorial on the STAR method here. We find that the STAR method is a direct, clear and logical framework for answering all kinds of interview questions. STAR stands for: Situation, Task, Action, and Result. When you structure your response to this question, first talk about the Situation surrounding the ethical dilemma. Second, talk about the Task needed to resolve it. Third, the Actions you took. And fourth, the Result of your actions. Spend only 30% of your time on the S &T and 70% on the A & R.