How to describe your work ethic in an interview: a guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 7 November 2022

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.

During a job interview, potential employers ask questions to get to know you, focusing on your experiences, skills and personal goals. Cultural questions are a common choice for hiring managers to understand your personality and behaviour in the workplace. Asking you to describe your work ethic provides insight into your motivations, interest and how you work, helping interviewers to understand if you're a good fit for the role specifically and the company in general. In this article, we discuss why an interviewer asks about work ethic and provide examples to describe your work ethic effectively.

Why do employers ask about your work ethic?

Interviews are vital for information gathering, allowing hiring managers to make informed decisions about the ideal person to hire. While many of the questions you receive at an interview are job-specific, such as queries about your experience or how you'd manage a job-specific scenario, other questions allow your interviewer to get to know you better as a person. Asking about your work ethic provides valuable insight into how you'd function as an employee and team member within a company.

It may seem like there's a single, simple answer to describing your work ethic, but it's important that your response is more than just a confirmation. Depending on the business, hiring managers may look for particular qualities in your answer to show that you have a strong work ethic. As a question that requires a more in-depth explanation, speaking about your work ethic provides the opportunity to talk about what you consider important in the workplace, your opinion on what a good work ethic is and the particular strengths you bring to the workplace.

Related: How to develop strong working ethics for career success

How to describe your work ethic

You may be asked to describe your work ethic to a hiring manager during an interview. This helps them to understand your thought processes and determine if you're a good cultural fit. For example, they may look for answers that suggest you're committed, positive or dependable. Here are some helpful steps to follow to effectively showcase your work ethic:

1. Think about what work ethic means to you

Providing an honest answer to an interviewer's question is vital to ensure you display the characteristics you show at the interview if you get the job. Think about what work ethic means to you, your past experiences and how you've behaved in different circumstances. This insight helps answer work ethic questions using your personality and individual beliefs. For example, if you're always focused on seeing tasks through to the end, use this as an example of what work ethic means to you.

Related: What are work ethic skills? (With examples and tips)

2. Consider which ethical elements are important to the job

Looking at the description of the job you're applying to and the business atmosphere, in general, can provide valuable information for your answer. Researching if a workplace focuses on a positive working environment, high-quality output or respectful, polite relationships gives you an idea of which elements are most important for this particular role. For example, a formal law office may consider high levels of commitment, including working long hours, a vital element of a strong work ethic.

3. Sum yourself up in key characteristics

Breaking your work ethic down into individual characteristics makes it easier to define what's important to you, allowing you to answer effectively in an interview. For example, if your self-motivation to achieve goals is one of your core values, the ability to summarise this characteristic helps clarify your response. Summing up your key characteristics before an interview also ensures you provide a clear answer, which is particularly important as interviewers may look for keywords or specific opinions in your response.

Related: What is work ethic and why is it important?

4. Provide a real-world example

During your interview, providing real-world examples to back up your answer is a helpful way to illustrate your points and offer proof of how your work ethic has benefited you in the past. For example, if enthusiasm is integral to your work ethic, you could provide an example of where you've encouraged others to complete a task. Your example offers a way to show your personality, which helps interviewers decide if you're a good cultural fit for their organisation.

5. Explain how your work ethic has developed

Briefly explaining how your work ethic has developed and changed over time is a valuable way to expand on your answer. For example, you could explain how you grew to have a strong work ethic in completing work to a high standard after seeing the importance of it in your previous workplace. While this addition isn't applicable in every situation, providing context for why you're enthusiastic about your work or positive in your interactions helps to build a picture of who you are as an employee.

Related: What is work ethic and why is it important?

6. Conclude with the outcome of a good work ethic

Concluding your example with a statement about the outcome of your commitment or characteristics provides helpful context to show how your traits could benefit an interviewer's business. For instance, if you give an example of how your work ethic allowed you to complete a large volume of work within a specific deadline, you could conclude by stating how this benefited your client. Including a clear result from a good work ethic lets a potential employer know how that could translate to their workplace.

Examples for describing your work ethic

Below are some example answers to interview questions about work ethic for a variety of careers and sectors:

Example 1: Graphic designer

Here is an example for a graphic designer:

'I'm a committed, dedicated person who always takes those extra steps to ensure my work is of the highest standards. For example, in my last role, I worked directly with clients to create graphics for social media campaigns. Over time, I learned how to get to know their brands and preferences to create work they loved, with minimal amendments. That extra level of involvement made the difference to clients used to indifferent or less-involved agencies. As a result, we brought in repeat work for the agency and had happy, long-lasting relationships with key clients for years'.

Related: Interview question: 'Tell me about a time you went above and beyond'

Example 2: Teacher

Here is an example for a teacher:

'I believe that positivity and enthusiasm are key to thriving in educational work environments. For me, work ethic is all about helping students to enjoy subjects and discover new things. For example, in my past role as a reception teacher, I took the time to ensure I incorporated different activities, practices and physical actions as a part of learning, encouraging children to learn while making learning enjoyable for them. Parents were happy with their progress and my students were always eager to learn something new'.

Example 3: Legal administrator

Here is an example for a legal administrator:

'Work ethic is an integral part of what makes me good at what I do. As a role that requires excellent attention to detail and strong relationships with my team, I know that my ethics help me achieve my goals. For example, in my current role, I often meet strict deadlines, and through self-motivation and dedication to my work, I quickly became the go-to person you could rely on to get tasks done. I even achieved an award last year for my commitment to my work'.

Example 4: IT manager

Here is an example for an IT manager:

'The two most important things to me as a manager are my dedication and my enthusiasm for the work we do. By setting a good example with my ethics, I encourage my team to do the same. For example, in my previous position, I committed to working long days and to developing skills in programming to better support my team in achieving our goals. My commitment isn't just to the business, but also to the team I manage. I'm their biggest supporter and leading by example is a big part of that. The result is a happier team, more work done and a positive working environment. Which is a good thing for everyone'.

Related: Interview question: 'What is your greatest strength?'

Example 5: Retail employee

Here is an example for a retail employee:

'I'm committed to showing up on time, getting my work done and providing a positive experience for customers. I think keeping it simple is the best when talking about work ethic. I always work hard to meet my goals, build good relationships with my team and have a smile on my face when supporting customers. In my current role, I've had consistently positive feedback from managers and customers alike for my positive attitude and willingness to help. When it comes to meeting every target and representing a business on the shop floor, I think I meet all the requirements'.

Disclaimer: The model shown is for illustration purposes only, and may require additional formatting to meet accepted standards.

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