Tough Interview Question - Tell me about a situation in which you faced an ethical conflict

Tell me about a situation in which you faced an ethical conflict.

Similar interview questions:
What is the toughest ethical decision you have had to make?
Can you give me an example of a time when you objected to something on ethical grounds?
How would you describe your ethical stance on business issues?
What do you see as the most challenging ethical issues in our industry?

Why the interviewer is asking this question:
The interviewer is probing both your ability to discern ethical issues as well as how you react to them. This is a very difficult question for most candidates to answer, since few are prepared in advance with an example and therefore often blurt out a response without fully thinking through the answer.

The best approach to answering this question:
Use a situation with a clearly unambiguous ethical conflict, ideally one that occurred in your work and where you had a professional responsibility to respond. Do not choose a situation where the ethics violation is questionable nor subjective. The ethics violated should be a clear case in which anyone would agree it was an ethics violation. And if you haven’t encountered this type of situation, simply say so, although a good interviewer may probe further with: “You really have never faced any ethical conflicts in your life?” Clearly we all have, so it is best to have your clearest example selected in advance.

An example of how to best answer this question for experienced candidates:
"We had a difficult situation in my last job where some information came to light about improper hiring evaluation practices on the part of one of my coworkers. That person asked me not to say anything about it, yet it was a clear violation of our hiring practices, so I reported it to my manager, who then reported it to HR. It was handled per our company policy from that point forward…"

An example of how to best answer this question for entry level candidates:
"During my internship when I was doing my initial research for my project, I discovered an unusual practice by one department in destroying accounting information. I knew this was not an acceptable business practice, so I met with my manager to discuss how to handle it. My manager asked me to fully document my findings and forward the information to her, which I did. She then took it forward to her manager and it was handled at that level. It was difficult for me to be involved, since I was just an intern, but I knew I had responsibility and accountability for my work and my findings…"

An example of how you should not answer this question:
"It was probably the time that I was accused of over inflating expenses on my expense reporting by someone who wanted my job. She was just trying to make trouble, so I hacked into the expense reporting system and found out that she had some questionable expenses as well. It all kinda blew up and it was a pretty messy situation, but I defended myself. When all was said and done, I did lose my job over it, but I would do it the same all over again…"

Remember to answer each interview question behaviorally, whether it is a behavioral question or not. The easiest way to do this is to use an example from your background and experience. Then use the S-T-A-R approach to make the answer a STAR: talk about a Situation or Task (S-T), the Action you took (A) and the Results achieved (R). This is what makes your interview answer uniquely yours and will make your answer a star!

Further review: know the answers to these Fifty Standard Interview Questions to be fully prepared for your interview!

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