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Interview Question: “Describe Your Work Ethic” How to Answer This Best!

Interview Question: “Describe Your Work Ethic” How to Answer This Best!

February 17, 2022

Some interview questions always seem to stump candidates. Not because they are abstract or difficult to answer, but simply because the candidate has never given any thought to the answer. “Describe your work ethic” is one of these questions.

Being aware of your motivation and your work ethic isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone. Some people don’t know what motivates them, which is why this question often stumps candidates.

The natural response is to try to answer this in a way that will make you sound like the perfect employee. But everyone knows that telling lies in an interview setting won’t get you anywhere. Instead, you should think about how to encapsulate what motivates you and what kind of energy you bring to work every day.

In this guide, we will explore some of the reasons interviews ask this question and what they want to hear from candidates. We will then break down how to answer this question with examples for different industries.

Why do interviewers ask this?

They are trying to get a sense of the type of worker you are so they know if you will be a good fit for the team. Everyone is motivated by different things, and this is reflected in their work ethic. Some people strive for perfection in everything they do, while others believe that a sprint to the finish line with an almost perfect result is better than delivering a project late.

Describing your work ethic also requires a certain amount of self-awareness. You need to know what motivates you and what conditions you need to be able to do your best work. When you are more aware of this, you can take steps to make sure you get what you need from your employer.

Employers also like to know that they are building effective teams. Personality clashes in teams can be problematic, and it’s not uncommon for there to be conflict over differing work ethics. Someone who puts in 110% every day will struggle to work alongside someone who takes a more relaxed approach to work.

So while it might sound like a trick question, there are ways to answer this honestly that will help to strengthen your position in an interview. 

What do they want to hear?

Interviewers always want to know the truth, so instead of trying to second guess what they want to hear, it’s always better to be completely honest. Shaping your answers to what you think they want to hear is risky, particularly if it involves lying. Instead, you should think about the best way to enhance the truth to make yourself the most viable candidate for the role.

The answer that interviewers are looking for in this instance will always depend on the role. For example, if you are interviewing for a sales role, you might mention that you always like to go the extra mile to secure a sale. And if you are interviewing for a copywriter role, you might want to mention that you like to get your head down and focus on the task in front of you.

Ultimately, they want to know if you are going to be watching the clock every day and waiting for the end of your shift, or if you’re going to be present and committed to doing your best work every day. You would be surprised how many people admit to being the former in an interview setting. 

Interview Question: “Describe Your Work Ethic” How to Answer This Best! CMD Recruitment

How should I answer this question?

As with any interview question, you should answer this using the STAR method. This stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Before you start bragging that you are a team player and always bring 110% effort, you need to think about what example you can give that will strengthen your case.

Answering an interview question with an example is a great way to bring context to your story and also provide evidence. With a question like “describe your work ethic”, it would be very easy to lie and say that you’re a workaholic and never leave your desk until the job is done. But anyone can say this in an interview setting. To set yourself apart, you should find an example of a time when you demonstrated your work ethic.

Start your answer by giving an overview of how you view your work ethic. Some perfect descriptors to use in this situation would be:

  • Dependable 
  • Enthusiastic 
  • Dedicated
  • Respectful
  • Dedicated
  • Committed
  • Positive
  • Be realistic

Always avoid hyperbole in this situation. Hyperbole is when you go over the top to illustrate a point. For example, you’re not literally working every minute of the day. While you might be dedicated to your job to the point where you take your work home with you occasionally, it would be excessive to claim that you never switch off.

Tell a story

Once you have described your overall work ethic and attitude at work, you should then think back through your career for an anecdote that perfectly encapsulates this quality. Telling a story helps to strengthen your point and will be easier for the interviewer to remember. It also helps to ground your answer in reality and provides evidence to back up your comments.

Keep it positive

Make sure it is a positive story with a good outcome. While you might be able to mention situations where you have failed and learned from the outcome with other interview questions, this is a question that requires a good dose of positivity. 

Think about the role

Where possible, try to tie this answer in with qualities that are required for the role. Think back to the job description and try to link your answer to the kind of worker they are looking for. You should be able to tell from the job description if they are looking for a team player, an independent thinker, or someone who can thrive in any situation, for example.

Describe how you work with others

You can also relate this question to how you work with other people, as your work ethic will directly influence how you interact on a team. You might be a natural-born collaborator, or you might produce your best work when you have time alone to think. Remember there are no wrong answers and it is far better to be truthful about your approach than to secure a job based on a lie.

Examples for different roles

Below we have outlined a few example answers that would be suitable for different types of roles.

Example answer for a sales role

“I’m very goal-oriented and naturally quite competitive, so I brought these two together in my previous role as a team leader. We had to undergo training in a new sales platform, so we made it fun by competing to see who could get the highest scores. It was a small thing, but it really helped to bring everyone together as a team and encouraged us all to strive for the best possible scores.”

Example for a customer service role

“I’m incredibly dependable and loyal. I appreciate that the whole team will suffer when one person isn’t pulling their weight, so I try as much as possible to make sure I’m doing all I can to help my team. In my last role, I was commended in every review for my positive attitude and for going above and beyond for the team.”

Example for a marketing role

“I’m incredibly driven to learn new things. I get the most enjoyment from my work when I’m able to bring new ideas to the role and explore how they can help improve my work. I love listening to marketing podcasts, reading books and keeping up with the latest developments. In my last role, I established a weekly skill exchange between different departments so that we could all learn about how different teams work.”

Example for a finance role

“I would describe my work ethic as consistent. I pride myself on a job well done and get a lot of job satisfaction from seeing a project through to the finish. In my last role, we had a deadline to deliver work to a client and my manager was concerned we wouldn’t meet it. Rather than disappoint the client, I ordered food for the team and we worked through lunch one day to get the project finished. It was really fun to band together to push the project over the finish line together.”

Example for a technical role

“I’m driven by a desire to learn something new every day. When I first started my career, I would feel self-conscious if I didn’t know something. I soon learned that it’s always best to ask questions. I also worked with my manager to identify areas where I was less confident and devised a training plan that would fill these gaps in my knowledge. I was then able to pass this knowledge on to junior members of the team.”

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