Skip to Content
Employee Hiring, Development, and Retention

Assess Work Ethic When Interviewing and Hiring

Mike Poskey | March 23, 2018

On This Page
Now hiring sign on door

A résumé will not be able to accurately identify whether a candidate has a strong work ethic, so how do you capture whether a particular person does or does not have this important trait to positively impact your company? The key is understanding how to ask questions in a behavioral interview that measure a candidate's work ethic.

This will make the difference between hiring the wrong candidate, who is costly to the company, and hiring the best candidate, who will generate a strong return on investment.

Ask These Questions during a Behavioral Interview

Assessing work ethic in each candidate helps you find the best fit for a particular role or team. This is important because a candidate with a poor work ethic could negatively impact your company's productivity, disengage other employees, and create inefficiencies for the rest of the team.

The ramifications of an employee with a poor work ethic go beyond creating more work for a manager trying to motivate an employee to work harder. It also breaks down overall trust and the structure of the team.

The best way to avoid this when hiring a new employee is understanding how to conduct a behavioral interview and knowing which questions to ask that tie specifically to work ethic.

The following list includes examples of which questions to ask during a behavioral interview to accurately assess work ethic.

Give two examples of what you did in previous jobs that demonstrate your willingness to work hard.

The traditional interview approach with this question is to ask a candidate whether they think they are a hard worker. In an interview setting, the candidate would be able to draw up the best version of themselves to sound impressive.

However, the behavioral interview approach identifies specific situations that capture the candidate's actual behavior and the result of that behavior.

Describe a situation where you had to go above and beyond the call of duty to get a job done.

Asking this question focuses on a specific situation, achieving measurable information related to the candidate's work ethic. Conversely, the traditional approach to this question results in a hypothetical situation about whether the candidate would go above the call of duty. That line of questioning yields no measurable information to determine whether the candidate has a strong work ethic.

Tell us about a time when you worked without close supervision and how things turned out.

This behavioral interview question unlocks the candidate's actual ability to work without close supervision by examining their behavior in a previous and similar work setting. It removes the candidate's ability to present an ideal picture of working without close supervision.

The candidate's goal is to sound like a very reliable worker who can complete tasks on his or her own, respects authority to complete tasks assigned by a superior, and delivers results for the company without needing to be supervised. You need to know whether this will actually happen, though. You unlock that answer through this behavioral interview question focusing on actual events.

When you have a lot of work to do, how do you get it all done? Give an example.

If asked the wrong way, this question could give you the wrong impression of a candidate. The traditional approach based on subjective opinions or hypothetical situations gives the candidate room to present a favorable, ideal picture of his or her work habits. But, it does not reveal actual behavior.

By asking this behavioral interview question, you can unlock what the candidate did when asked to complete a big workload in a previous work setting and what the result was under those circumstances.

There is a significant difference between if the candidate would be able to handle a significant workload in your company and knowing whether the candidate will be able to complete their tasks based on their past behavior as an indicator of outcomes in your company.

Example of Assessing Work Ethic and Achieving Return on Investment

ZERORISK HR has researched companies that successfully use behavioral interview techniques to replace employees who exhibit poor work ethic. One particular company was looking to hire a new graphic artist after the previous employee did not complete projects on time, was not dependable, and had poor communication skills.

When hiring the replacement, the company used behavioral interview questions that focused heavily on work ethic. This process included asking questions related to specific work ethic situations in their employment history, what the task was in the situation, what action the candidate took, and the result of their action. The company also interviewed each candidate's references to further evaluate their work ethic and confirm what each candidate said during their interview.

The result of gathering this hard evidence was a clear picture that one particular candidate matched the profile of a graphic designer with a strong work ethic. They were able to confirm that the candidate met deadlines, was committed to completing tasks in various circumstances, and kept the team on track.

The company then hired this individual and achieved a return on investment in the role. This would not have been possible if the company relied on subjective opinions or hypothetical answers during the interview process. Asking behavioral interview questions allows you to examine actual situations and what action the candidate took to identify how they will perform in a similar role in your company. 1

The process of assessing work ethic in job candidates requires an objective measurement of each candidate. This is achieved by understanding how to ask behavioral interview questions during the interview. If you need to hire an individual with the specific trait of a strong work ethic, make sure your team is trained on how to ask these important questions that tap into a candidate's work ethic to determine the best fit for a job opening.

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.


1 To learn more about how to train your hiring managers to conduct a behavioral interview and what questions to ask candidates, consider the Behavioral Interview Training course offered by ZERORISK HR. This two-hour training course will ensure that your team has the proper tools to assess work ethic in candidates when making important hiring decisions.