Question forms part of
Other interview questions that are similar
- Can you share an example of a situation where you had to choose between your personal values and a professional obligation?
- Can you narrate an incident where you faced a moral dilemma at work?
- Could you tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult choice that involved ethical considerations?
- Have you ever encountered a situation in your work where your ethics were challenged? How did you handle it?
- Can you describe an instance where you had to make a decision that was legally correct but ethically questionable?
- Can you share an experience where you had to stand up for what you believed was right, even though it was not the popular opinion?
- Have you ever been asked to do something against your ethical beliefs? How did you react?
- Can you describe a time when you had to balance the needs of your job with your personal ethical standards?
- Could you share an instance where you faced a conflict between your professional responsibility and personal ethics?
- Have you ever had to make a difficult ethical decision under pressure? How did you manage it?
What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
There are probably an infinite number of questions that the interviewer could ask you on the day. Some questions are incredibly common appearing in almost every interview you will have, while other questions you might hear once and never again regardless of how many jobs you apply for.
Fundamentally though all interview questions are really trying to find out one of 3 things:
1 – Can you do the job? (Do you have the skills/experience needed?)
2 – Will you do the job? (Do you have the drive/motivation to get the job done?)
3 – Will you fit in? (Does your personality match the workplace culture? Are you likeable?)
That’s it. Those are the 3 things that the interviewer is trying to ascertain. Every question that is asked of you will fundamentally be trying to resolve one (or more) of these 3 things.
Now, relating this to the question about making tough ethical decisions, it is a multifaceted question that addresses all three of these key areas.
1 – Can you do the job? Making ethical decisions is a crucial aspect of many roles. In asking you to describe a time when you had to make a tough ethical decision, the interviewer is assessing your decision-making skills under challenging circumstances. This can demonstrate not just your theoretical knowledge, but also your practical application of principles in a real-world context.
2 – Will you do the job? The motivation and dedication required to navigate complex ethical issues is a strong indicator of your drive to perform your job well. Your response can show how you’re motivated not just by the bottom line, but by doing what’s right, even when it’s difficult.
3 – Will you fit in? Ethical decisions often reflect deeply held values. By sharing your approach to ethical dilemmas, you’re giving the interviewer a window into your personal values and how they align with the company’s culture and values. This can be a key factor in determining whether or not you’ll be a good cultural fit.
How Best To Answer ‘[Interview Question]’Can you describe a time when you had to make a tough ethical decision?’
Indeed, the B-STAR technique is an excellent method for structuring responses in a job interview. Now, let’s consider how this method might apply when addressing the question: “Can you describe a time when you had to make a tough ethical decision?”
Firstly, B – Belief. In this context, your belief would pertain to your personal code of ethics, your moral compass, or your understanding of the company’s values. This belief sets the stage for the ethical decision you had to make. While you don’t need to answer the question directly, it’s important to reflect your understanding of ethics in the workplace.
Moving on to S – Situation. Briefly describe the context in which you had to make this ethical decision. Did it involve a conflict of interest, a questionable business practice, or perhaps a challenging interpersonal issue? Remember to keep the focus on the ethical decision at hand, not just the general circumstances.
Next, T – Task. This is where you clarify your role in the situation. Were you in a position of authority or a team member? How did your responsibilities influence the ethical choices you had to make?
Then, A – Activity or Action. This is where you explain what you did when faced with this ethical dilemma. Why did you make the decision you made? What steps did you take to ensure that it was in line with your belief system and the company’s values? This is a significant portion of your response, as it illustrates your decision-making process and problem-solving skills.
Finally, R – Result. Discuss the outcome of your decision. Did it lead to a positive change, like improved team cohesion, preserved integrity, or better business practices? Or perhaps it led to a challenging outcome that taught you valuable lessons? If possible, quantify the impact.
Remember, the B-STAR method is not a strict rule, but more of a helpful guide. It’s important to use this method to share your experiences and actions clearly. This way, you can show that you’re able to do the job, you’re eager to do it, and you’ll fit in well with the team. Your main goal is to show how you make tough decisions, like ethical ones, in a way that matches what your future employer is looking for.
What You Should NOT Do When Answering Questions
Do not avoid the question.
Do not describe a failure (unless specifically asked).
Do not downplay the situation.
Do not overhype the situation.
Do not say you have no experience with the subject matter.
Do not reject the premise of the question.
Do not have a passive role in the situation.
Do not give a one-sentence answer.
Do not overly describe the scenario and miss the action
Can you describe a time when you had to make a tough ethical decision? – Example answer
Project Manager Example
“I believe strongly in honesty and transparency, especially in the workplace. There was a situation in my previous role where I was working as a Project Manager. Our team was under extreme pressure to deliver a major project within a tight deadline. The Task was to ensure the completion of the project on time while maintaining the quality standards.
During the project’s final stages, I noticed that one of our suppliers had provided sub-standard materials. Using them would have allowed us to complete the project on time, but it would’ve been against my belief to compromise on quality and safety.
So, I took the Action of informing our senior management about the issue and proposed to delay the project until we could source better materials. It was a tough decision because it meant missing our deadline and facing financial penalties.
As a Result, our project was delayed by two weeks, and we had to bear the cost overrun. However, we ensured the safety and quality of our work, and in the long run, this decision helped us maintain our reputation with our clients. They appreciated our honesty and commitment to quality, and we saw an increase in repeat business by 15% over the next quarter.”
Financial Analyst Example
Of course, here’s how a candidate in a different role, let’s say a Financial Analyst, might use the B-STAR method to answer the same question.
“I’ve always felt that integrity is one of the most important values to uphold, especially in finance. I remember a time in my previous job when we were closing the books for the end of the fiscal year. The Situation was that our team was under a lot of pressure to show positive financial results.
My Task was to review and validate the financial reports. While doing this, I noticed that some revenue figures had been overstated, which would artificially inflate our financial performance.
Even though disclosing this would mean we would miss our financial targets, I decided to take the Action of reporting this discrepancy to my manager. I explained the issue and expressed my concerns about the possible implications on our financial statements and the company’s reputation.
As a Result, we had to revise our financial statements, which showed a lower than expected performance. However, this action ensured our company’s compliance with financial regulations and ethical standards. It was a tough call, but in the end, it preserved our company’s integrity and trustworthiness among our stakeholders.”
Sales Representative Example
Other Interview Question and Answers
Interview Question: What is your experience with conducting performance evaluations? – Answer Tips
Interview Question: Why do you want this job – Answer Tips
Interview Question: Why have you had so many jobs? – Answer Examples
Interview Question: Suppose the project has gone off the rails. What steps would you take to get it back on track? – Answer Tips
Interview Question: What do you know about our company and industry? – Answer Tips