How to Answer "Tell me about a time you faced an ethical dilemma"

interview ethics

This can be a pretty tough question to answer for anyone during the interview. Most of us can think of ethical dilemmas we have faced in our lives, times when we were given a choice to do the right thing or the wrong thing. Unfortunately for humanity, we often choose the wrong thing instead of the right thing.

However, if you can think of a time when you made the right choice, you will be able to give the perfect answer.

Why the Question is Asked

When an interviewer asks you this question, they're looking for your opinion of yourself. There are always going to be times when we do the right thing, just like when we do the wrong thing. But, if your first answer is a time when you made the right choice when faced with a moral dilemma, it shows that you think of yourself as an ethical person.

Ethical problems are common at work, no matter what you do. You're always faced with two choices - right and wrong - and you have to make the decision of what to do. Even if no one finds out what you're doing, there's still that choice.

Your interviewer wants to see how you respond in situations like this. Of course, you're going to be ethical when there's a chance someone will find out what you're doing and punish you, but what about in situations where there is no risk of consequences? That's when it, and that's what the interviewer wants to know.

How to Answer the Question

Think about an ethical dilemma that you had to face in your work life:

  • Were you ever offered the chance to steal from the cash register?
  • Was there a way to allocate funds to yourself with no one ever finding out?
  • Did you have a way to earn a bit of extra money by doing something slightly unethical, but not illegal?
  • Did you find someone else doing something illegal or unethical?
  • Has a friend violated regulations and you were faced with the choice of reporting them or not?

There are so many dilemmas that you can think of, but you need to find one you handled correctly.  

Now, when the interviewer asks the question, paint a picture of an ethical dilemma you faced using broad strokes of the brush – i.e., no specific details.

Example: "In a previous company, I was given the chance to get a promotion if I would report a superior for something that they were doing wrong."

This is the perfect example to use. You are supposed to report superiors, so there's nothing wrong there. Earning a promotion isn't bad, but doing so by "ratting out" a superior is a bit shady.

You can wrap up the story by saying:

"I did report the superior for the wrongdoing, but I didn't do it to earn the promotion. I said that I would only take the promotion if I had actually earned it by merit of my work, and not because I reported my manager."

Whether you got the promotion or not doesn't matter. What does matter is that you show you are a person who has good ethical and moral convictions.

Have you ever been asked this question? How did you answer? Your thoughts and comments below please…

See Also: How to Answer, "Which Type of Work Environment Do You Prefer?"