Questions That Reveal a Job Candidate’s Work Ethic

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Credentials, skills, experience — all of these would mean nothing if the candidate doesn’t have a strong work ethic. Dedication to one’s job will entail all other desirable traits in an employee, like being teachable, diligent, and hard-working. As such, many HR managers are keen to get candidates that reveal a great work ethic, even if their peers offer more in terms of credentials and experience.

The problem, however, is that work ethic is harder to uncover compared to skill sets. A resume fully outlines all the job roles that a candidate has gone through, but it doesn’t reflect the work ethic that they have pulled off while fulfilling those responsibilities.

HR teams conduct personality exams for employment, which are supplemented by interviews, to check their determination for the job. After the candidate has answered the personality test, here are some questions that you can ask to gauge their work ethic.

Exploring the Career Progression

One question that HR teams can ask is, “Please walk me through your career progression, starting from your first job to your current role in your current company.”

This may seem like a redundant question, since previous jobs are outlined in the resume, but it’s better to have the candidate explain it from their point of view. Building a career goes beyond jumping from one job to another; it involves decisions about what a person can and is willing to do. It reveals a person’s risk appetite because the candidate would be thrust into roles that call for bigger responsibilities. By having the career progression narrated by the candidate, you can glean how they think and move in terms of their professional life.

Going Above the Call of Duty

All companies want employees that go beyond their call of duty, but it’s also important to reveal the underlying motivations of an employee. Some workers do more than what’s asked of them because they have to. They do it because the project requires, because they are paid extra, or because there are incentives that await them.

Others do it because they want something done. They are willing to put in the hours, not because it’s written in their job descriptions, but because they believe in the project, and they believe that what they do makes a difference. When you ask a candidate to “Describe a situation where you went above and beyond your call of duty,” you get a glimpse into the driving force behind their extra hours. ;

Performing Under Pressure

A good work ethic compels employees to perform well, even under pressure. Because they have an inherent desire to do well and to deliver excellent work, they often have a clear goal, even if the external environment is in disarray. This mental clarity enables them to determine the tasks they have to do and prioritize each one accordingly. They are able to determine which ones are more important than the others, allowing them to finish one task after the other.

Ask the candidate to describe a time when they were under a lot of pressure, but still pulled off the job. Their answer will reveal how goal-oriented and level-headed they were during difficult situations.

Balancing Life Outside Work


Everything must be done in moderation. If the candidate has, so far, demonstrated stellar work ethic through their answers, you have to check if the candidate knows how to rein in their enthusiasm. The company would benefit from workers giving their 101%, but the best employees are those that have a life outside work. These employees tend to be more balanced and have a wider perspective on things because they are not boxed into their job roles.

Ask the candidate how they balance their work and personal lives. Do they have passion projects and bucket lists? Are they interested in programming, high-profile vehicles, or sports? Do they like cooking, gardening, sewing?

Adapting to the Company Culture

Lastly, work ethic is admirable because it usually helps the worker be more open to collaboration. Emotional intelligence doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with work ethic, but there’s a close correlation. Employees with good work ethic understand their co-workers’ roles better and consequently, are more adept at attuning to their needs. They are more likely to extend a helping hand.

Moreover, because they see the big picture and have very clear goals, they are more likely to resolve a conflict in the most level-headed way. Ask the candidate standard culture-fit questions to uncover their ability to adapt to your culture.

By asking these questions, you will discover who among your pool of prospects are more likely to have a great work ethic. They will be an asset to your company and help you achieve organizational goals.

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