“Describe your work ethic” is a common question that gets asked in interviews, and answering it can be surprisingly challenging. But interviewers will be paying close attention to what you say, so coming up with a good response is essential!
This guide will teach you how to describe your work ethic in a way that improves your chance of getting a job offer.
Table of contents
The Reason Interviewers Ask This Question
“Describe your work ethic” might seem a bit cliche, but it’s a question that interviewers often use, regardless of position and industry. Despite how it feels, it’s not a trick question! Interviewers genuinely want to hear you describe your worth ethic in your own words.
Of course, companies want to hire individuals who will give their all. They don’t want employees who spend their time watching the clock and counting down the seconds until the day is over. Their goal is to hire those who can actively work to achieve company goals and contribute to the bottom line.
When interviewers ask about your work ethic, they’re trying to gauge the type of employee you’ll be and what you’ll bring to the table. It’s not enough to simply meet all the qualifications. When companies hire new employees, it’s an investment. They invest time and resources into bringing them on, training them to handle everyday operations, and paying for their talents.
If you only perform your work at the bare minimum, you’re not providing the best return on that investment.
Interviewers study your answer to determine if you’re the one to maximize the company’s ROI and be the dependable employee who might also go the extra mile. They’re looking to see if you’re reliable, confident in your capability to fill the role, and ready to take on a new challenge.
How to Answer “Describe Your Work Ethic”
Don’t let the seemingly straightforward nature of this interview question fool you. There’s a lot of depth here, and the quality of your answer will heavily influence your chances of getting a job offer. Your goal is to blow the interviewer away with a thoughtful response that makes them eager to bring you on.
Here are some tips to help you do just that.
1. Do Some Honest Self-Reflection
The first step in developing a good answer is to reflect on the type of worker you are. Many people go through the motions of their careers without giving much thought to what they contribute. Or, they think they’re a certain type of worker without realizing they actually bring something completely different to the table.
Now is your chance to be honest with yourself and judge your work ethic. There’s no harsher judge than yourself, so use that to your advantage. Think about your past work experiences, what skills you have, and how you like to operate.
Question everything about your approach to your career. Are you someone who likes to do “just enough?” Or do you want to exceed expectations and impress at every possible moment?
If you’re honest, you shouldn’t have any problem realizing the truth of the situation. Compare yourself to former coworkers. You might have already done that subconsciously. Figure out your differences and understand what made you different.
Consider your aspirations and motivations, then connect them to the actions you took as a result. Of course, you should always describe your work ethic in a positive way, but you must take a good look in the mirror to understand who you were in past jobs and what type of employee you want to be at your next one.
2. Pick Some Descriptors That Apply to You
One of the best ways to develop a memorable answer is to use clear descriptors. It’s an easy way to get your point across and describe your work ethic in the fewest words possible. Plus, using descriptors can pack a punch and help interviewers better understand how you fit into the workplace.
There are many great words you can use to anchor your response. Here’s a tip that can make a world of difference: Study the job descriptions that initially caught your attention and encouraged you to apply. There are likely many work ethic-related words sprinkled throughout that you can use for inspiration.
Here are some to get you started:
Those are just a few examples. Use your past work experiences to settle on some powerful descriptors that best exemplify your work ethic and how you want the interviewer to see you.
3. Give Examples That Support This
Don’t stop there. Anyone can repeat a list of words, but they won’t mean anything to the interviewer unless you provide a little proof.
That means you need to choose some examples of your work ethic in action.
Perhaps you had workplace challenges that you had to overcome. Or maybe you have a memorable achievement that you manifested through being adaptable and learning new things. You can even think of compliments you received from old employers. How did they describe your work ethic?
Providing clear examples goes a long way. Not only does it make your statement more authentic, but it shows self-awareness. Illustrating how those traits make you a better employee makes it easier for interviewers to understand where you’re coming from. It also helps them envision you in this new environment.
Tell a short story. Choose situations that you’re proud of and go into a little detail about why they matter. Always link it back to the response, and use your communication skills to show the interviewer exactly who you are in the workplace.
If you want, consider using the STAR method.
Explain when you had to use your work ethic to accomplish a big task. Then, go into some detail about what the specific situation was. What was the task you were being asked to accomplish, and what did you actions did you take to reach the end goal? Always end your story by including the outcome.
4. Show How Your Work Ethic Will Help You in Your Desired Position
When describing your work ethic, always try to link your answer back to the job you’re applying for. That tip applies to all behavioral interview questions like this. However, it can be particularly impactful when speaking about your work ethic.
Talk about how your work ethic and the various traits you possess will be an asset to the company. By clearly highlighting specific skills and backing it up with an example, you’ll sell yourself because the interviewer will know exactly why you deserve this opportunity. Don’t wait for them to make that connection. Lay it all out and show them why you’re the right fit.
For example, say that you are adaptable and have learned new things quickly. Those are characteristics that apply to any job. Use an example of how you used these qualities in your last role. Then you can tell them how you plan quickly adapt to your new situation at this company and achieve results quickly.
Paint the picture interviewers need to envision you with the job. Discuss how you will use your work ethic to be the valuable employee they want.
5. Keep Your Answer Fairly Concise
When formulating an answer, keep it short and sweet.
“Describe your work ethic” is an interview question that can get away from you if you’re not prepared. Before you know it, you’re incoherently rambling for several minutes without hitting the main points you want to make.
Keep it concise! There are many more questions to answer.
Rambling will only make the interviewer question your communication skills. Try to keep your response under two minutes.
What You Should Avoid Including in Your Answer
Describing your work ethic isn’t something you want to figure out during the interview, because the quality of your answer is incredibly important. While you can use the tips above to develop a quality response, there are still plenty of things you can get wrong.
Here are a couple of mistakes you need to avoid.
Don’t Say Anything That Implies You’re Only There for a Paycheck
One of the worst things you can do is make it sound like you’ll do the bare minimum. No hiring manager wants to take a chance on someone with a low work ethic.
Always sound enthusiastic. Focus on how you take pride in your job and do your best. You don’t have to make it sound like you’re a workaholic who will put the job above everything else if that’s not true. However, you should emphasize that you put in effort every day to further your career.
It’s a good idea to practice your response early. Not only does that show you’re on top of things, but it ensures you sound confident in your answer.
Sounding unsure or hesitant will make the interviewer think you have something to hide. Practice what points you want to hit, what stories you’ll tell, and how you want to phrase everything to get your points across. Practice with a friend until you feel confident delivering a solid reply that sticks.
We have a few examples to inspire you as you develop your own response to “Describe your work ethic.”
In this first answer, the candidate decides to speak about general work ethic. This approach can easily fall into cliche territory, but they explain why they believe they’re an asset and how it can help the company.
“I believe that I have a strong work ethic. I’ve always been a hard worker. I picked up that habit from my father, who always encouraged me to be consistent and never take shortcuts.
I’ve held onto that advice my entire career. During my last job, we had a last-minute assignment that gave us only half as much time to complete as similar projects of that magnitude. Despite the looming deadline, I didn’t cut corners to complete that project.
We ended up delivering excellent work, and the client praised us for being able to buckle down and get it done for them while maintaining the quality they were used to.
I’m eager to bring that same mindset here. I make an effort to show up and deliver consistent results, no matter what hurdles stand in front of me.”
Our second example answer focuses on enthusiasm and motivation when describing their work ethic. The candidate speaks about their ability to remain positive despite difficult challenges. They provide a great example to show the interviewer those traits in action.
“I’m an enthusiastic worker, and I pride myself on motivating people around me. I firmly believe that you can complete tasks efficiently without complaining about them, even if they’re not the most enjoyable things to do.
For example, the team I worked with at my previous job had the task of redoing our company’s entire product inventory. It was a monumental task that most people instantly groaned at when hearing.
It sounds silly, but I bought a bag of candy and decided to make a game with my team. We had a great time and finished a little earlier than anticipated. Our results were accurate, and we kept in good spirits the entire time.
I have that enthusiastic approach in everything I do, and I hope to get the opportunity to bring that here and motivate the team I work with.”
Our final example answer is about commitment and reliability. Those two traits are valuable to hiring managers, and the candidate does an excellent job portraying them.
“I like to describe my work ethic as trustworthy and committed. I believe those traits can make a difference at any company. Every team needs that one person to turn to when they need extra help. I like to be that person.
For example, I worked at a busy office a few years ago that always received a high number of accounts payable at the end of every month. While I worked in payroll, I made a conscious effort to support the payroll team every month to process invoices. I took on that responsibility while maintaining my own payroll duties.
After several months of helping, the team began to count on me for those month-end processes. They trusted me, and I was always happy to help. Our accounts were never late, and I believe the extra support made a difference and helped the accounting department avoid unnecessary delays.”
Describing your work ethic during a job interview doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, once you’re prepared you’ll see it as a great opportunity.
All you need to do is sit down and spend some time preparing using the steps above.
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.