Values. Do we really know what our values are? And do we care? How far does our conviction, or our faith go? Will we refuse to follow an order when it is in conflict with our personal values, or with the religion we believe into? And is it right to do so?
These are no easy questions with no easy answers. Because while we certainly want to do good, and follow certain values and principles in our life and work, we also have bills to pay and kids to feed (or at least some of us), and refusing to obey an order of our superior can easily cost us our job, or at least the bonus at the end of the year.
In my opinion, this is one of the most difficult scenario-based questions you can face in an interview. Now I will try to show you 7 sample answers–including some unconventional choices, and answers for people who lack previous working experience. Let’s hope you will find at least one that resonates with your values, and makes at least some sense to you. Do not forget to read also the text below the answers, for additional hints and explanations.
7 sample answers to “Describe a time when you were asked to do something which was in conflict with your values” interview question
- I recall such a situation from my college job, with one of the fast food restaurants. We got a direct order from the managers to refuse to disclose the ingredients of the dishes, and the nutritional information, such as the amount of saturated fats. Obviously most customers did not ask, but some did. And I also wanted to know, because I am aware of the epidemic of obesity we face in the United States, and the terrible consequences it has on the entire healthcare system. Even in a fast food restaurant you have some choices that are more healthy, at least when compared with the other dishes on offer. And I wanted to be able to tell the customers, to explain the choices they had. But I was asked not to do so, and it was one of the reasons why I quit the job as soon as I found something else.
- I remember an extremely unpleasant situation of this kind from my last managerial job. The board made a decision to do some downsizing, seeking higher profits, and we were asked to send 5% of all employees packing. But this was in conflict with my values, because I knew that my department was already understaffed. I saw no point in terminating someone’s contract just for the stockholders to enjoy higher dividends. But what could I do? I pleaded with my superior, I explained my point of view to them. But they said we had to follow the orders of the board. And so I eventually sent one guy from the team packing, though I knew others would have to work even harder. Why did I do it? If I didn’t do it, I would be the one sent packing. With two kids and third on the way, I couldn’t afford to lose such a well paid job. Or could I?
- I had a very unpleasant experience of this kind from my last job of a hostess in a night club. The manager wanted me to be nice to the customers–which I had no problems with–I enjoy having friendly interactions with people. But they also wanted me to allow a little touch here and there, to make sure guests had an amazing time. But this was in a strong conflict with my values, and I didn’t want anyone to touch me. I was a hostess, and not something else. But the manager insisted, and for me it was a clear sign to leave the place. Now I hope to get a job with a more serious club–for example with you, a place where they know how to treat the hostesses.
- This is my first job application but I can recall a fitting situation from school. My classmates came up with a bullet-proof cheating method for our Math exam, and I should play my role. It was about making the teacher leave the classroom for a couple of minutes–I do not want to go into details here–and during that time we’d all be able to share the correct answers. You can imagine the social pressure I faced. Because all my friends wanted to cheat. But I wasn’t raised as a cheater, and I decided to refuse to play my role. Some friends understood and some almost stopped talking to me. But I did not see it as an issue, because at least I understood who was a real friend. I believe it is important to have some values, and to not give in easily, regardless of the pressure.
- I honestly think that we are bombarded with such messages all day long. The consumer society we live in is a huge trap… You know, I prefer minimalism, and focusing on relationships instead of material things. But you cannot escape the voices that attack you from every corner–social media, TV, billboards, radio, online ads, and so on, trying to convince you that you won’t happy unless you’ll get this and that things, unless you’ll have more than your neighbor. So far I’ve managed to resist, and follow my line in life. As a result I am an outsider in many circles, which isn’t always easy. But so far I’ve managed to stick to my values. And I will try my best to continue to live my life the way I’ve been living it.
- I recall such a situation from my last job of a production supervisor. The company struggled with safety equipment. And I was asked to close my eye when it came to protective gear of employees, letting them work without protective earplugs, helmets, and stuff. But it was extremely hard for me, because I couldn’t imagine someone getting injured under my supervision. At the same time, I understood that the company wanted to get the protective gear. They just struggled to do it for some reasons. So I obliged, though it was in conflict with my values. But I pressed the managers in every meeting, asking about the shipment of the protective gear, making sure that each and single employee would get it soon. Eventually we got the equipment, and I could finally relax at work.
- I cannot really talk about such a situation, because I am still trying to understand my own values. You know, I’ve been through a lot of things in life, and I still feel confused when it comes to difficult questions. Why some people earns millions each month when others have to live from a single dollar a day? How it is possible that some people have two or three jobs and still struggle to even pay their bills, in the supposedly richest country of the world? Is it fair that we exploit already poor countries in Africa, just se we can have a new mobile phone each year? And can I do anything with it from my position? I do not know yet, and though I try to follow my inner voice at work, it doesn’t always speak clearly. But I can assure I won’t do anything which could possibly cause some harm to my colleagues, or to the customers. That one is clear to me, even though I still struggle to understand my values…
Right values do not always bring in the highest profit
Corporate world revolves around money. And that’s exactly why it is difficult to find the right balance in the workplace. Because while the managers want you to stick to right values and principles, when it comes to your customers, colleagues, and duties, they also want you to help them generate the highest possible profits each year. And these two things often cannot go hand in hand, as countless examples of unethical behavior of corporations and their managers prove…
Try to find the delicate balance here. You can refer to a win-win situation. That means one when you followed your values, and at the same time the company benefited from your actions. Or you can follow the example from sample answers no. 2 and no. 6 on my list, when the job candidate did something in conflict with their values–because it was the best thing to do for the company, and at the same time tried to minimize the damage.
Talking about the world at large, or about values in general, is also an option
Most hiring managers are intelligent men and women. They like some food for thought, and enjoy expressing their opinion on tricky issues. You can give them an opportunity to do so, opting for a philosophical answer (see sample answer no. 5 on my list), or even saying that you aren’t sure about your values yet (answer no . 7).
Both these answers posses some risks, but at the same time you will stand out with them. And more often than not, some response of the hiring managers will follow, which can result in an interesting discussion, which can eventually result in a great job contract in your hands. Obviously you’ll have to play it right until the end, which isn’t easy. But if you use this question to demonstrate your out of the box thinking, it can definitely help you in a big way…
Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:
- Describe a time when you set your sights too high (or too low).
- Tell us about a time when you faced an ethical dilemma.
- What makes you uncomfortable?
- Describe a situation when you had to comply with a policy or procedure you did not agree with.