Job Interview Tips Professional Development

How to Answer Ethical Interview Questions

Written by Kate Lopaze

Ethical interview questions make for a very interesting interview. How would you react if you could only save your grandmother, a bus full of orphans, or a trunk full of a million dollars in untraceable cash? Which would you rather have, billions of dollars or immortality? They’re also risky in an interview—you don’t want to trip some secret “sociopath” wire, but you also want to seem confident. What do you do if you’re posed with ethical interview questions like “would you lie for the company?” or “what would you do if your boss asked you to help cover something up?”

DON’T go full outlaw.

If you answer, without thinking, that of course you’d lie for the company, you’d do anything for the company, that’s a red flag. It either shows that you’ll say anything to get hired (bad) or you’re seriously ethically challenged (worse). The interviewer isn’t really asking you to do this thing, so slow down a bit before you start helping him with an alibi.

If you get the sense that the interviewer isn’t kidding, then it’s time to shut it down. Do you really want to be rehashing this conversation later with an attorney?

DON’T get all judgmental about the question itself.

“How dare you?” is not the right answer here either. No one’s impugning your reputation by assuming you would lie or commit other ethical crimes on behalf of the company. You likely won’t score bonus points for righteous indignation—the interviewer is asking because he or she wants to know how you would approach this, not inviting you to tag along on some unethical spree.

DO treat this as another problem-solving exercise.

Like oh, 75% of interview questions, this may be a test of your thinking and problem-solving skills. Talk through your process—especially if it’s the kind of ethical question that requires you to make some kind of judgment call between two attractive elements.

DO see it as a choice of values as well.

Do you have integrity, or do you have loyalty? These aren’t usually mutually exclusive, but if you’re asked point-blank to pit one against the other, always go with integrity. Assuming your interviewer isn’t Alec Baldwin’s character from Glengarry Glen Ross, it’s not likely your potential future employer values ruthlessness over personal integrity.

DON’T give a binary answer if you can help it.

It’s okay to frame it as, “I would never do anything to hurt the company, but I do value honesty very highly.” For good measure, you can emphasize that you were drawn to the company because you value its culture of professionalism.

DO err on the side of caution.

This could also be a test of how impulsive you are. Make sure that the response you give (even if it’s a vague “I can see both sides here” answer) shows the level of care and attention you would bring to the role.

DO take it seriously.

No matter how outlandish the hypothetical situation is, treat it with full consideration. It may be funny, but it’s a very real test of your temperament and values. You want to make sure that you’re positioning yourself as a grounded professional, with strong values and a sense of personal ethics and boundaries.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.