5 Common Ethical Interview Questions and Sample Answers

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated November 13, 2022 | Published July 26, 2021

Updated November 13, 2022

Published July 26, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Related: Top 6 Common Interview Questions and Answers

Jenn, an Indeed Career Coach, breaks down the intentions behind employer's questions and shares strategies for crafting strong responses.

Interviewers and hiring managers ask various questions to assess your background, skills, experience, and character traits during interviews. Ethical questions evaluate your core values and indicate whether you're a good addition to the organizational culture. By practising ethical questions, you can be better prepared to express how your values align with the company's. In this article, we discuss what ethical interview questions are, review the most common questions, provide sample answers, and cover tips for answering ethical questions to help you prepare for an interview.

What are ethical interview questions?

Ethical interview questions assess your integrity and approach to solving problems. Integrity is the ability to tell right from wrong and treat people with respect. These questions help employers determine whether you would promote ethical standards when faced with challenging situations. Apply the STAR interview response technique to give an effective answer to interview questions. STAR stands for:

  • Situation: Describe the ethical situation you faced.

  • Task: Discuss your role and those of others involved.

  • Action: Explain the actions you took.

  • Result: Highlight what the outcomes of your actions were.

Read more: How To Use the STAR Interview Response Technique

5 ethical interview questions and sample answers

Review the most common ethical interview questions to help you craft effective answers to them in your next interview:

1. Tell me about a time you faced an ethical dilemma.

An ethical dilemma is a situation that requires you to choose between options that test your integrity. Interviewers ask this question to understand how you responded to the ethical situation. Explain your thought process for the example you give, and how you relied on your morality and integrity to make the right decision.

Example answer: "In a previous role, we worked on a project which required the team to use multiple tools and software packages. My manager provided the required software, but I noticed an issue with one of them immediately after I installed it.

After researching the software application provider, I found we had a pirated version. I struggled with the dilemma of embarrassing or upsetting my employer, but I couldn't stand to use a software package that was illegally pirated. So I reached out to my manager and explained my findings. Since the company couldn't afford the licensed application, I recommended a cheaper alternative for the ongoing project."

2. What would you do if you witnessed a colleague acting unethically?

Showing integrity involves holding yourself and others accountable. By asking this question, an interviewer wants to learn your approach to ensuring teammates maintain ethical standards. In your answer, describe what steps you'd take to caution the employee politely and whether you'd notify upper management.

Example answer: "Depending on the situation's severity, I'd reach out to the colleague and correct them or inform my supervisor about the situation. When I worked as a sales associate at a local store, I noticed a product always went out of stock by the week's end. However, we weren't selling very many units of this product.

At first, I thought the inventory specialist kept the units at a different storage location, but soon found that those storage locations were also empty. I paid attention to my colleagues and discovered one of the cashiers was stealing the product. I reached out to the store's manager and explained the situation to her. After terminating the cashier, my manager developed a policy of reconciling product records with daily sales and ensuring everything was accounted for at the end of our shifts."

3. How do you handle your mistakes at work?

The purpose of this question is to find out whether you'd take responsibility for your mistakes. When answering, describe how you'd acknowledge the error. Then outline that you'd apologize, find a creative way to correct it, and develop strategies to prevent similar errors at work.

Example answer: At my first job as an accountant, the company's auditors noticed a missing expense when auditing the books. Initially, I thought the issue was with our accounting software, but I later looked more closely at the books to analyze the situation. I noticed I forgot to enter a record into the system.

Since the audit wasn't over, I could have quietly corrected it and kept it to myself. However, I knew taking responsibility would set a good example for others and encourage me to be more detail-oriented. I apologized to the auditors, and they thanked me for notifying them of the issue before it became urgent. I also shared my plan to prevent similar errors from occurring, which I still use today."

4. What would you do if a supervisor asked you to perform an unethical task?

Interviewers ask this question to find out whether you'd maintain your ethical standards and values, even if directed otherwise. When answering, express how you'd politely address the situation and stick to your ethics. Ensure your response shows you'd respect the supervisor's position when explaining your reason for not taking their directions.

Example answer: "During my undergraduate, I had an advisor who met with me monthly to discuss my research paper's progress. In one of our sessions, he implied I find a clever way to rework someone else's paper without citing the source.

I thought about the situation critically and didn't feel comfortable with his suggestion. So, I scheduled a meeting with him and politely explained my thoughts. He agreed with what I had to say and appreciated me for bringing it to his notice and upholding my moral standard. I eventually took a week to write the chapter in my words and cited all sources."

5. What would you do if you suspected a manager was behaving unethically?

The purpose of this question is to find out how you'd handle challenging ethical situations that involve upper management. Show the interviewer that you'd apply your core values to ensure their actions don't impact the organization. Make sure you express your commitment to taking the right actions.

Example answer: "I would first gather my facts and questions and talk with the supervisor or another manager about the situation. In my last position, the number of patients receiving treatments suddenly decreased. This situation was unusual because the hospital had one of the best medical facilities in the province. I decided to talk to medical professionals at the hospital about it. In one of my discussions, I learned that a doctor was withholding treatment to meet budgetary and insurance-policy goals. I knew their actions could hurt the hospital's reputation.

So, I gathered my facts and reached out to a manager who could address the situation better. The medical director set a new policy that ensured every patient who showed the necessary identification and met other requirements accessed our medical services. She also gave the concerned doctor a stern warning and kept a close eye to ensure it didn't happen again."

Tips for answering ethical interview questions

Use these tips to answer ethical interview questions successfully:

Recall an ethical situation you faced from your professional experience

Responding to interview questions with an example is often the most effective strategy. Think of a situation in your career where you faced a dilemma and took action against unethical behaviour. You may also discuss an experience on how you used your problem-solving skills to act ethically under pressure. When using examples from your professional experience, maintain confidentiality by leaving out specific details, such as the involved colleague or company's name.

Relate the decisions you made to the company's core values

Explain your actions and why they resonate with the company's principles. Doing this helps an interviewer understand how your beliefs and core values motivate you to resolve ethical dilemmas. For example, if you notified your manager about a colleague who repeatedly used company resources unethically, outlining your actions can show you value trust, accountability, and transparency.

Related: 17 Interview Tips To Help You Get the Job

Focus on the company's interests

In your response to interview questions concerning ethics, consider how your actions and their outcomes apply in the company. For example, if you described how you handled a manager asking you to misrepresent information, consider explaining how you'd uphold similar standards at the company. Prioritizing the company's interests positions you as a good candidate for the position.

Outline your skills and personality traits for handling ethical dilemmas

Aside from integrity, ethical questions during an interview require you to show your attention to detail, critical-thinking, decision-making, and communication skills. Make sure you explain how having these skills helped you navigate ethical situations. For example, if your answer describes how you prevented theft in the workplace, explain how being detail-oriented helped you spot the issue.

Read more: How To Be More Detail-Oriented (With Definition and Resume Tips)

Ask for clarity when necessary

Always ask the interviewer for more information if you're unsure of how to answer an ethical interview question. For example, suppose they ask you what you'd do if someone acted unethically. Politely ask whether the question relates to a manager or a colleague. Doing this helps you answer the question correctly and give them the information they're interested in.

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