We live in difficult times. Many people struggle with basic needs. They do not have money to buy food, they sleep in their cars, or in the streets. What can be better in such a tough situation than having a friend working in a supermarket, someone who can give you some food, who can help you satisfy your hunger, at least once a day?

And, at the end of the day, is it actually ethically wrong to feed someone who’d struggling, who doesn’t have any money? Or even to take an expired item home with you, when we consider the billions of dollars big retailers make in profits each year, and the quantities of food that end up in the rubbish, each and every day, all around the world?

Arguments aside, this is an interview question. And when you interview for a job in a supermarket, or in any other retail store for that matter, there’s not much room for philosophy… The last thing they want from you is to steal, or to tolerate stealing. Rules are pretty clear in this case. However, it doesn’t mean that you cannot try to come up with some innovative answer, saying something else than the rest of the job applicants, something that will help you stand out at the end of the interviews.

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this seemingly simple interview question. My list includes both obvious and more creative answers. Choose one that fits your situation in an interview, as well as your personal beliefs and preferences. The answers will work also for the alternative question, “What would you do if you found out that your closest friend at work was stealing?”


7 sample answers to “If you saw a co-worker stealing a small item or giving food to a friend without paying, what would you do?”

  1. I would report them immediately to the manager. And I would not feel like a snitch if I did that. Because this is not a prison, and if we want to have this job for a long time, and deliver good service to the customers, things like stealing cannot be tolerated–in any case.
  2. I say that it really depends on the circumstances. Look, maybe they experience a tricky period in their life, struggling with bills. Maybe it’s their last option, or their friend’s last alternative, the one they gave food to. They are hungry and have no money. So, if the colleague in question was someone who worked for a store for a long time, someone who always worked responsibly and had a great track record, I would likely go and talk to them personally first. I’d try to understand why they did it, and I would also ask them to return the item, and to never steal anything again… Of course if it happened the second time, or if the employee in question was a newbie in the workplace, I’d report the incident immediately.
  3. This a great company, and I am sure you have rules in place for everything. The only thing I know is that we cannot tolerate stealing, regardless of the price of the item. Because when they steal something which costs one dollar today, they may steal something worth $100 tomorrow, or the next week, and there won’t be a way back from there. So I am sure we have to report it, and once I know the right way and person to report to, that’s what I will do anytime I see someone stealing.
  4. First of all, I know that we cannot tolerate stealing. On the other hand, I am also aware of the world we live in, the inequality between people, and a tough ordeal many around us experience. One can become homeless pretty quickly in this country. You lose your job, fail to pay your mortgage for two months in a row, and you can end up on the street… What I want to say is that perhaps if the food was after the expiration date, or if I saw them giving someone bananas that are half-rotten and would end up in a rubbish bin anyway, I might tolerate it. I’d still go and talk to them and perhaps also to the manager, explaining what I saw and also my point of view, but I wouldn’t insist on a dismissal of that colleague. On the other hand, if they stole a good item, one that we could still sell to paying customer, I’d report them immediately, and they should bear the consequences of their action.
  5. I would intervene immediately. I would call the manager, right from the spot, and explain what I saw. In this way the thief would not have any chance of escaping, or claiming that the incident didn’t happen, that I made things up. I strongly believe that we should not consider the circumstances when we talk about a theft. It doesn’t matter if the item was small, or big. A theft is a theft, and it has to be reported immediately. If we ignored small thefts they would easily grow into something bigger. And if one employee got away with stealing something, others might also try their luck… We cannot afford such a risk in the workplace.
  6. I would approach them and ask them to pay for the item. Of course, everyone can make a mistake, and employee turnover is pretty high in retail. I mean, maybe it was just a rare occasion, something they did in a low moment, and would not repeat ever again. I’d try to solve the situation in this way, especially if it was something minor, if they took one bar of chocolate or a small bag of candies. If it happened again, however, if I saw them stealing one more time, I would report the incident to the store manager.
  7. I can tell you what happened in my last job. A colleague, a student actually, who was working as a cashier, had one regular customer. I noticed that this particular customer always came to the store only when this colleague was on shift, and they always went to their cash desk–never to any other one, never to mine for example–I was also working on the same shift. And I noticed something strange. They always shopped a lot, but paid a little. Then I finally realized that the student, my colleague, didn’t scan a few food items from their shopping cart. They purposely skipped the most expensive items, such as meat and alcohol, which lowered the bill of their friend significantly. As soon as I found out about this scam, I discretely reported it to the manager. We waited for the next shopping of their friend, which occurred a few days later. Manager stopped the shopper as they were leaving the store, and security guard was also present. The thieves were exposed, and then it was for the police to take care of the situation… As you can see, I keep my eyes open at work, and definitely won’t tolerate any stealing.


Example from the past is the best answer

Talking about right attitude is one thing, demonstrating it with a real situation that happened to you in work another. If you have ever exposed a thief, or reported a theft in a store, or in your former workplace, you should definitely narrate the situation in the interviews.

What’s more, everyone loves to hear stories, especially if they have a happy ending. Sample answer no. 7 is a great illustration of such an interview answer. Job applicant narrates a real story on which they demonstrate the right attitude. At the end they expose the thieves, and the supermarket won’t lose more money…

* Special Tip: This isn’t the only difficult question you will face while interviewing for any decent job. You will face questions about prioritization, dealing with pressure, dealing with ambiguity, and other tricky scenarios that happen in the workplace. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 31 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will make your life much easier in the interviews. Thank you for checking it out!

Collegiality and team spirit is important, but everything has some limits

Many retailers promote team spirit and teamwork in the workplace. It may suggest that you should perhaps forgive a small misstep of your colleague, maybe even repeatedly, as long as it isn’t something major. And a theft of a small item can hardly have an impact on a supermarket with a turnover in millions of dollars…

However, even teamwork and collegiality have some limits. And theft is way beyond the limit. Out of collegiality, perhaps, if you saw a small theft for the first time, you might talk to the colleague, especially if it was your closest friend at work, and asked them to return the item, or pay for it. In some cases you may not even report the incident to the manager–for example when we talk about a long-term employee with a great track record, or your best friend.

But you won’t just pretend that you didn’t see it, or that it never happened. You will always take some action to prevent similar incidents in the future, just in some special cases, the action can be just a talk with the employee in question. See sample answers no. 2 and no. 4 as a great example of this attitude.

Ready to answer this question? I hope so! Check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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