Interview Question: “Describe Your Work Ethic”

Two people speak during an in-depth interview. In-depth interviews are common and useful research methods within sociology.
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During a job interview, the people you speak with at a company will be trying to get a sense of what kind of worker you are. To gain insight, interviewers may ask you to describe your work ethic.

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know 

With this question, interviewers seek to get a sense of your fit and what you’d be like as an employee—are you a clock-watcher, doing only the bare minimum? Or will you go the extra mile, and always stay until important tasks are complete? Do you work well with others, or focus mainly on completing your own tasks?

Your answer to this common interview question can be very revealing.

How to Answer “Describe Your Work Ethic”

The trick to answering this question is to avoid simply reciting a string of adjectives. Being specific helps employers really get a sense of what kind of worker you are. Start by sharing a few key characteristics, and think about what traits sum you up. Maybe you’re: 

  • Dependable 
  • Respectful
  • Enthusiastic 
  • Dedicated
  • Committed
  • Positive

Then, think through your entire career. What are some examples of times when you’ve demonstrated those traits? These are the stories that you’ll want to share in your response.

Look for examples of instances when you've demonstrated your work ethic.

As always, when you relate an anecdote or tell a story during an interview, it's wise to use the STAR technique. That stands for Situation, Task, Action, Response, and it's a helpful way to organize your answer.

Examples of the Best Answers 

Sample Answer

I’m an enthusiastic, positive worker, who’s dedicated to completing the tasks but not complaining about the process. Here’s a good example: We had to completely re-do our inventory when I worked at ABC Company. This sounds like a silly thing, but I brought in a big bag of candy, and created a scavenger hunt to accompany the task. By the end, everyone was in good spirits.

Why It Works: This answer shows the candidate’s personality—any company seeking an upbeat, positive presence would be delighted by this response.

Sample Answer

I know this is a bit of a cliché, but I’m very dedicated to seeing tasks to completion. At my last review, this was something my manager took note of and praised me for. 

Why It Works: While it’s nice to give a specific example of your work ethic in action, sharing that a manager noticed and praised it is also quite effective.

Sample Answer

I’m dedicated to working with my team to discover and implement the most effective approach. At my last job, we needed to reduce spending in one cost center area. I shared the issue with my team and had everyone brainstorm ideas for a follow-up meeting a week later. As it turned out, one of my team members had a great idea that we used to reduce costs by 10%. After we implemented the strategy, I nominated her for a company-wide prize.

Why It Works: This answer not only shows the candidate's generous and collaborative nature, but is also a good example of how they helped to solve a problem and reduce spending (two things all companies seek to do).

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

  • Be specific: Provide examples that show how you have demonstrated your work ethic. 
  • Be concise: Share your example succinctly, without rambling on too long. 
  • Showcase qualities valued by the job at hand: Think back to the job description and any research you did about the company. If this company will appreciate collaboration, self-motivation, willingness to work late hours, or any other quality, try to highlight it in your response.

What Not to Say 

  • Don't mention adjectives without support: It’s not helpful to list a bunch of general characteristics that don’t apply to you. 
  • Avoid clichés: Are you a hard worker? Self-motivated? A team player? Hiring managers hear these phrases all the time, so it’s best to avoid them (or only use them if you can back them up with a great story as evidence).
  • Don't be dishonest: It's always a bad policy during interviews. And most likely, your work ethic will be revealed in how you answer other questions as well as when the hiring manager checks your references.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Bottom Line

Share examples They’re a valuable support for your claims.

Focus on the job Highlight what the company is seeking in your response.

Keep your answer succinct Share an example without giving too much background.