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How to Deal With Ethical Problems on a Job Interview

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Interviewers want to learn about your character and values in addition to observing your personality and skills. You might encounter a request to describe an ethical dilemma you faced before or a hypothetical ethical situation to solve. No matter the scope of the ethics question, answer in a way that reflects your character and experience in the field. If you don't know what your values are, interviewers won't know if they can trust you.

Pick a Scenario

If you're asked about an ethical dilemma you've faced before, pick a scenario that you remember in great detail. Don't pick a situation that would violate a confidentiality agreement you signed or make your former bosses look like unethical professionals. Choose a situation with a former co-worker or a customer. Keep the description brief. For example, say that you reported a friend who was approaching customers and trying to sell them outside products. Explain how you felt it was your moral obligation to let the company know how customers were being treated.

Solve an Ethical Dilemma

You might be asked to solve an ethical dilemma like this: A boss asks you to change the numbers on your travel expense report so your company won't have to compensate you for your meals. Show how you're supportive of company policies but ready to stand up for what's right in an ethical situation. Answer the question briefly, being sure to give a solution. You might answer: "I'd refuse to change the expense report and would tell my boss that I have receipts that prove what I spent. I'd be happy to take the matter up with human resources if my boss wants to mention it again."

Ask for Guidelines

Ethical organizations may publish guidelines to help employees address various ethical situations. You can say that you would like to read an employer's ethical code before answering a question about an ethical dilemma. Use the list of do's or don'ts for employee behavior in the document as a starting point. You could answer: "I see that your ethics policy places a strong emphasis on accurate recordkeeping. I believe having a good paper trail is best for business. I would solve the situation involving missing petty cash funds by going through the record and seeing who has had access to petty cash. I would interview each employee to see if he or she remembered getting cash but not being asked to fill out the form. Interviewing might not reveal anything but an employee who is unsure about the reporting system."

Inspire Trust

You want to work in an organization that shares your values. It's not OK to do unethical things or observe unethical actions by others and do nothing. Instead, convey how trustworthy you are in the interview and how you are willing to go to others for advice when you're not sure how to solve a problem. An interviewer asks how you would tell a co-worker that a behavior was disrespectful. You could say: "I was training a new employee and I felt his exchange with a complaining customer was disrespectful. I wasn't sure how to approach this, and I went to my manager for advice. She suggested I speak from the heart, explaining how the customer might have felt as a result of that communication. I followed that advice, and the co-worker acknowledged that and changed his communication style for the remainder of our training time." You show you want to preserve the working relationship with your co-worker and you want what's best for the organization.


Audra Bianca has been writing professionally since 2007, with her work covering a variety of subjects and appearing on various websites. Her favorite audiences to write for are small-business owners and job searchers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in history and a Master of Public Administration from a Florida public university.

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