What Would You Do If You’re Asked to Do Something Unethical?

Have you ever been asked to do something unethical at work? Here’s how to talk about this situation if you are asked about it during a job interview.

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

How to answer "What would you do if your boss asked you to do something unethical?"

When determining a candidate’s suitability for a role, it is common for interviewers to also assess their ethics. Since companies look for candidates with high integrity, you should always be prepared for questions regarding ethics to arise during an interview.

One of the most common interview questions used to assess ethics is: “What would you do if your boss asked you to do something unethical?” In this article, we’ll dive into why hiring managers ask this question, how you can craft a strong response, as well as provide some example answers to help you in your next interview.

Why hiring managers ask this question

Hiring managers ask this question of candidates to better understand their character and approach to ethical dilemmas at work. They also want to ensure that the candidate aligns with the values and culture of the organization.

Even if just a handful of employees lack ethical standards or are misaligned with the company’s values, it could negatively impact employee morale, employee engagement and productivity. Therefore, showing the interviewers that you have integrity and share common values with their company will be key in you successfully responding to this question.

Steps to crafting a response

If you get asked this question during an interview, you don’t want to be caught off guard. Below are five steps to ensure you’re effectively prepared:

Step 1: Consider the company’s values

Companies consider whether a candidate is compatible with their values when determining if they will be a good fit. So, it’s a good idea to research the company’s values when preparing for the interview. When responding to this question, this will be a good opportunity to show that you understand and are aware of the organization’s core beliefs. This also indicates that you did your research of the company in advance and that you are truly interested in working for the particular employer.

Step 2: Emphasize your own values

Candidates that have a strong moral compass and conviction are attractive to employers. So, if you’re asked an ethical question during an interview, this is a great opportunity to show that you possess high ethical standards and integrity. You could start off answering this question by sharing the core values that you would never compromise. For example: “One of my core values is honesty, therefore, if my boss asked me to do something unethical, such as lie, I would not be willing to compromise this value.”

Step 3: Prioritize company interests

Companies want to hire candidates who will protect the company’s culture, reputation and profits. By providing an example that demonstrates that you prioritize the interests of your employers will be a green flag. For example, if your boss once asked you to lie to a client, you could mention how you refused because it was in the best interest of the company to uphold their reputation and be transparent with clients.

Step 4: Provide an example

Although you may be asked a hypothetical question during your interview, responding with a personal example can be a great way to solidify your answer. Demonstrating how you acted in a past situation, as opposed to how you would act can make your response more compelling and engaging. Make sure to use the STAR method when sharing your anecdote to ensure your response is concise and relevant.

Step 5: Respond tactfully

When it comes to ethical interview questions, tact and good judgement are key. If you share an example of a past experience, ensure that no identities are verifiable. Therefore, instead of saying “my current boss asked me to lie to a client once,” it is better to say, “I was once asked by a boss to lie to a client.” Therefore, the individual’s identity cannot be confirmed; and you show the interviewers that you have good judgement and can exercise discretion.

Example answers

1. Copywriter

In one of my previous roles as a copywriter, I was responsible for writing quarterly reports that were distributed to shareholders. This project involved collaborating closely with the Data Analytics Team, who provided the stats and figures for the report.

The team manager asked me to alter the data to appear as though the company’s performance was better than it actually was. I felt as though this jeopardized my personal integrity as well as the integrity of the company, so I suggested we use a different data set that was accurate and also put the company in the best light.

My supervisor agreed that this was a better solution; and we were able to ensure that the company maintained both its reputation and integrity.

2. Customer service representative

As I was working as customer service representative in my previous role, one of my responsibilities was to manage customer complaints. One day, I received a call from an upset customer who placed an order over a month ago and still had not received her package.

I saw the order had not been shipped due to an oversight in the warehouse team and approached my supervisor about it. They said that I should blame the delay on the logistics company instead of our company. However, I told my boss I would rather be honest, and they agreed that this was a better approach.

After disclosing with the customer our mistake, she thanked me for the honesty and ended up writing a positive review on the company website.

3. Software developer

While working as a software developer at my last company, I worked closely with a junior software developer, who was having issues meeting his task deadlines for a new software we were developing.

One day, during a meeting with my manager, he told me he was going on annual leave for two weeks. While he was away, my manager wanted me to monitor my colleague without his knowledge and report him to my manager’s boss if he had any performance issues. I told my boss that trust between teammates is important to me, and I would prefer to approach him directly and support him, rather than report on his performance secretly.

My boss respected this approach and gave me permission to not report him. With my support, my teammate had no issues during the time my manager was away and even began to greatly improve his overall performance.

Key takeaways

Although ethical interview questions can be challenging, they can also provide you with an opportunity to display your integrity to your prospective employer.

So, if you’re asked what you would do if your boss asked you to do something unethical, remember to:

  • Research the company values in advance and tie these into your response. This shows you are aware of what they stand for.
  • Share your own values. Mentioning that you found something unethical due to a particular personal value shows high self-awareness.
  • Put the interests of the company first. Refraining from unethical behavior due to concern over the interests of the company shows you’re a loyal and trustworthy employee.
  • Provide an example. Even if an example isn’t explicitly asked for, it can make your response more relatable and compelling.
  • Respond tactfully. Ethical dilemmas are usually delicate topics, so ensure you aren’t sharing information that could damage someone’s reputation.

With the above steps, you’re well on your way to crafting a winning response when asked this question in your next interview.

Have you ever been asked this interview question? How did you respond? Let us know in the comments section below.


Originally published on October 4, 2014.