6 ethics interview questions with sample answers (plus tips)

Updated 4 June 2023

Ethics is a branch of philosophy that describes the values and principles guiding an individual's behaviour. Interviewers may ask you ethical interview questions to determine your morals, which helps them decide if you're a suitable job candidate. Understanding the types of ethical interview questions employers ask can help you prepare appropriate answers that impress them. In this article, we list six ethics interview questions with sample answers and provide tips to help you prepare for your job interview.

6 ethics interview questions with sample answers

Analyse the following six ethics interview questions with sample answers:

1. Can you describe a time when you faced an ethical dilemma in your work? How did you handle it?

Interviewers may ask this question to assess your ability to recognise and respond to ethical dilemmas. They may also want to evaluate your approach to ethical decision-making. Consider explaining the factors involved in the situation, mentioning that you seek input from others and outlining specific principles you follow to handle ethical issues. This question allows you to show the interviewer how you handled the situation. You can describe the problem, explain your creative solution and state your collaboration with others to show teamwork. Consider highlighting lessons you learnt from the experience that you can apply to future ethical dilemmas.

Example: 'In a previous sales position, my supervisor directed me to misrepresent information about a service the company provided. I received instructions to lie to customers about warranties, features and turnaround time. This made me uncomfortable because I value giving customers honest advice. I approached my colleagues and asked how they felt about the situation. I discovered they also had difficulty with this issue. We scheduled a meeting with management to discuss this ethical dilemma and provided several solutions, such as collaborating with other departments to improve features and shorten turnaround time. Our supervisors agreed and the situation resolved.'

Related: What to do when you have an ethical dilemma at work

2. What is your definition of ethical behaviour? How do you ensure you act ethically in your work?

This question allows you to show interviewers your understanding of ethics in general and provide context on how it applies in your industry. Begin by defining ethics and ethical behaviour and mentioning the characteristics of ethical behaviour, such as integrity, fairness, understanding and honesty. Consider highlighting ethical codes of conduct that individuals in your field usually follow. Follow this with an explanation of how you use ethics to guide your working style. This may include learning from your peers, emulating mentors and role models, seeking advice from leaders and adhering to guidelines and procedures.

Example: 'Ethics is a concept that involves following principles and morals that guide how an individual behaves and interacts with others. Ethical behaviour entails showing honesty, fairness, understanding and integrity in your work while interacting with peers, superiors and clients. Individuals who demonstrate ethical behaviour do the right thing regardless of whether they receive appreciation for their actions. In this business industry, I follow ethical values and principles by giving clients high-quality services and advice, being honest and following compliance standards. I also follow guidelines at work, communicate openly with my peers and superiors and take responsibility for my actions.'

Related: How to uphold business ethics in the workplace

3. Can you describe a time when you witnessed someone else acting unethically in the workplace? What did you do about it?

Interviewers can ask this question to understand how you'd handle a situation whereby you saw a colleague performing an unethical act. This can help them ascertain your ethical values and principles, encouraging them to consider you for the position. In your answer, provide context into the situation by describing the unethical act you witnessed and explaining the circumstances. Share your thoughts on the situation, outline the steps you took to handle the situation and state the outcome of your actions. Use this question to highlight your ethical values by explaining why you took action to handle the ethical issue.

Example: 'In my previous role, I noticed that one of my colleagues took several long breaks throughout the work day, which forced the remaining workforce to perform their tasks, such as taking their phone calls and submitting their reports. This began affecting the team's overall productivity and morale because we put in more effort without receiving acknowledgement. I decided to mobilise the other colleagues and speak to the individual about this issue. We helped them understand that if they put effort into their tasks, we'd all benefit from lighter workloads and produce higher quality work.'

Related: What are employee ethics? (Types, importance and tips)

4. How do you handle situations where you disagree with a colleague or supervisor's ethical decision?

Disagreeing with a colleague or superior on an ethical decision may be difficult, so interviewers want to assess your approach to this situation. You can describe a situation where you disagreed with a superior or colleague's decision and state your reasons. Explain how you approached the problem, such as mentioning if you communicated with the individual directly or sought advice from someone else. You can also state alternative options you suggested to show problem-solving and creativity skills. Try to show your objective approach to the issue by highlighting solutions that align with industry-relevant guidelines.

Example: 'I discovered that a colleague was using a pirated version of a software application to complete tasks for various projects, which I didn't understand. I struggled to decide whether to report them to our manager. I decided to discuss the issue with the person first to gain perspective. They explained that the original version was too expensive, so they used the pirated version instead. I then asked other colleagues, who also mentioned the high cost of using original versions. I approached management and asked if they could provide the software so we could all produce high-quality products.'

Related: What are ethics at work? (With some examples and FAQs)

5. What steps do you take to ensure you maintain confidentiality and respect the privacy of individuals in your work?

Interviewers may want to assess your understanding of the importance of confidentiality and the consequences of breaching it. In your response, ensure to emphasise its importance and benefits, such as building relationships with clients, fostering trust, showing respect and demonstrating professionalism. Follow this with an explanation of how you maintain confidentiality in different tasks, such as using passwords to protect information, locking physical files safely or discussing information only with authorised individuals. You can give examples of how you maintained confidentiality in previous roles.

Example: 'Working in the medical field requires maintaining a patient's confidentiality because they trust us with information so we can help them feel better. This building of trust also encourages them to follow treatment protocols and share progress, improving patient satisfaction and outcomes. I usually maintain confidentiality by only discussing a patient's case with the doctors and nurses in the team. If I want to conduct research using patient information, I always seek ethical approval from the institution's ethics committee and gain informed consent from the patient. I also use strong passwords to prevent unauthorised access to my data.'

Related: 6 medical ethics interview questions with example answers

6. How do you handle conflicts of interest in your work?

Conflicts of interest may occur in the workplace, so interviewers may ask how you approach them to determine your ethical principles. In your answer, consider explaining how conflicts of interest can affect someone's decision-making, actions and judgement at work. You can also highlight the legal repercussions of conflicts of interest. This shows interviewers you understand the importance of handling these conflicts appropriately. You can mention approaches such as following company or institutional policies, being transparent in your communication and disclosing potential conflicts early. If applicable, give a similar experience from a previous role.

Example: 'Conflicts of interest usually arise when an individual's interests collide with professional responsibilities. In a situation with a potential conflict, I'd speak to my supervisor immediately to disclose it and ask for advice on how to proceed. I understand that these conflicts can bring legal ramifications to myself and the company, so I'd follow the correct protocols to prevent problems. My superior asked me to represent a client in court in my previous role. When I found out the client was a family member, I approached my supervisor and told them it was unethical for me to represent them.'

Related: What is the purpose of a professional code of ethics?

Tips on answering interview questions about ethics

Review the following tips on answering interview questions about ethics:

  • Use the STAR interview technique. This technique involves describing the ethical situation, outlining your tasks, stating the actions you took and providing the result. It enables you to give interviewers context into ethical issues and principles and shows them how you apply your skills.

  • Research the institution or company. Analysing the company's website, social media profile and culture deck allow you to understand its ethos, values, goals and vision. You can use this information to adapt your answers to meet these characteristics, which helps you impress interviewers.

  • Practise ethics-related interview questions. Consider searching for ethical interview questions and practising appropriate responses. You can practise with a mentor or friend to help you improve your interviewing technique.

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