“Can you describe your work ethic?”
This one of those age-old interview questions that inspire a generic, overused response (do I even need to say it?).
This article will be breaking down the underlying question, and how to compose an answer that hits all the right notes.
Variations Of This Question
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different variations of this question so you don’t get caught off guard.
The most common ones are:
- What kind of work ethic do you have?
- Can you describe your work ethic in three words?
- Are you a hard worker?
- When have you worked the hardest?
- What was the hardest job you’ve had?
- What’s an achievement of yours that required significant effort?
What The Interviewer Really Wants to Know
The interviewer is trying to get to the heart of who you are as an individual and the type of work output that can be expected from you.
Their ideal worker is a hard worker, one who does the best job they can, 100% of the time. Of course, not all people are created equal and part of their job is to weed out the undesirables.
It’s not uncommon for companies with a subpar hiring process to end up with a revolving door of workers. By directly asking about your work ethic, they’re cutting to the chase in an effort to better understand if you’re the type of person they should invest their time and resources on.
Interviewers may use a variation of this question to know more about your work history and behavioral patterns.
Anyone can say they have a strong work ethic, but if they ask you for examples in your past jobs, this will give them all they need to know in regards to taking a chance on you.
How to Answer: “How Would You Describe Your Work Ethic?”
A great, thorough answer to this question has 2 main parts.
Let’s explore them.
1. Pick An Accurate Adjective
When asked this question, you’ll have to respond with a descriptive word that conveys to the interviewer how you view your work ethic.
Keeping this adjective positive is key. You want to come across as someone that knows what traits make a strong work ethic.
If you think back to a time when you performed a task that took a lot of effort, these adjectives should pop into your head pretty easily.
If you’re having trouble, here are a few to get you started:
- Dependable / Reliable
2. Justify It With An Example
Describing your work ethic in a word or two is all well and good.
At some point, though, you’ll need to follow it up with a real-life example so it doesn’t sound like you’re just pulling descriptions out of thin air.
By providing the interviewer with an example of how you executed a task through the use of your work ethic, it solidifies your word.
This helps them form a mental picture in their head of how you can help the company.
Putting It All Together (Example Answers)
The theory behind all this is sound, but knowing how to put it all together into a coherent answer isn’t always as straightforward.
Below are some real examples of how you might approach this interview question.
Example #1: Positive and Determined
“I’d describe my work ethic as positive and determined.
In my experience, all jobs have their pros and cons, but having a positive attitude plays a big role in how you see things and go about your day.
Allowing yourself to get bogged down in negativity is easy. But by shifting my perspective, it helps me to do my job more effectively.
When I’ve been given a task in previous customer service roles, I’ve tried to do it to the best of my ability. If I don’t have this ability from the outset, I’m determined to learn how I can improve and finish the task the proper way.”
Example #2: High Energy
“I would say that my work ethic relies on the abundant energy that I bring to the office every day.
Over the years I’ve cultivated this trait as it’s helped me to not only fire up my sales team but also myself.
While most people will guzzle down coffee like it’s going out of style, making this mental shift has allowed me to be a high-level salesman without the caffeine crash, closing deals and hitting my targets every month for the past 3 years.
Being a high-energy and enthusiastic individual is infectious and rubs off on those around me. When clients see how I’m more than happy to serve their needs, it puts them in a high-energy state as well.
This brings us to the same level where trust can be established, leading to a beneficial working relationship for both parties.”
Example #3: Diligent
“I believe my ex-employers would sum up my work ethic in a single word: diligent.
Growing up, I was taught that a job should be done properly rather than cutting corners to just get it done. This instilled a trait of diligence in me that I take to work every day.
As an accountant, I log a lot of hours dealing with numbers. That’s a lot of figures to keep track of, so it’s important for me to be diligent when it comes to tax season so no mistakes are made and my clients (as well as the government) are happy.”
How NOT to Answer
We’ve gone over the right things to do, but it’s worth mentioning some of the mistakes people often make so you can avoid them.
Don’t Just Blurt A List Of Adjectives
If you’re asked to describe your work ethic, having a fully scripted, canned response will make you come across as robotic.
On the flipside, even if you did prepare for this question, don’t make the mistake of firing off a master list of descriptive words.
Your work ethic is a multifaceted array of traits, but you should identify the strongest one (or two) and go with it.
Describing your work ethic as productive can easily be broken down to include the traits that being productive requires. But listen to how it sounds when compared to using only a single descriptive trait.
- A single trait: “I would describe my work ethic as productive, as I enjoy the personal satisfaction that comes from putting in the work and finishing tasks I’m assigned.”
- Too many traits: “I would describe my work ethic as productive, but also diligent, determined, dependable, and have a positive attitude that helps me be a high achiever in any job.”
The first is direct and to the point. The second comes off as a bit braggadocious, and the interviewer doesn’t need you to rattle off 5 traits to build a picture in their head of your work ethic.
Don’t Make It About Money
Obviously, a large percentage of the population works to pay the bills, and the company you’re interviewing for knows this.
But your quest for money isn’t something you want to convey when answering this question.
The best answer is to focus on a quality that the company can harness by hiring you, resulting in them reaching their goals.
An answer that shows you to be a highly capable individual will make a lasting impression. They’re on the lookout for someone that can help them provide their service, rather than a worker who is only looking to pad their bank account.
- Learn the different variations of this question
- Familiarize yourself with the most likely lead-up questions
- Pick an adjective that best describes your approach to work
- Use a real-life example that highlights your chosen adjective
- Don’t make money your main motivator (avoid even mentioning it)