Do you have integrity In a nutshell, that's the real question behind this interview inquiry. Unless you're applying to work for the local chapter of the mob, most employers won't be seeking out individuals who are in favor of participating in crimes—or covering them up.
This question probes whether or not you have the instinct and the will to do what's right, even if the choice is a difficult one. Loyalty to one's morals and ethics should stand higher than one's loyalty to a company which asks them to compromise such personal standards.
Points to Emphasize
Keep in mind the question doesn't necessarily suggest that the illegal activity would be occurring at the highest level; sometimes in-house response is the most effective.
- Talk about your moral foundation and how it would guide you in your decision.
- Be realistic in your theoretical actions—you might observe and investigate before filing complaints.
- Make it clear that your priority is to do what's right, not to hurt the company.
- Consider citing examples from previous jobs where you chose integrity over blind loyalty.
Without resorting to knee-jerk reactions, honest responses often work best when answering a question like this.
Mistakes You Should Avoid
While it's important to stay true to your morals, don't be a crusader—keep your response measured for best results.
- Don't rush to play whistle-blower—sometimes it's best to work with trustworthy people inside the company first to fully evaluate the situation.
- Your general response should be definitive and consistent; don't say you'd report labor violations but you'd look the other way on questionable tax practices.
- If citing examples of legal wrongdoing from previous jobs, don't get specific with names and places.
- Try not to appear overly-vigilant—employers don't necessarily need a watchdog.
Integrity is the name of game here. Your job probably isn't going to be to ferret out injustice—you'd just be expected to bring it to light if you observed it.
This can be a difficult response to word effectively. Consider this type of approach:
I would certainly make effort to confirm my suspicions first, but if illegal activities were taking place within the company I worked for, I'd feel obligated to report them. Hopefully it would be something that could be resolved through a conversation with management, but ultimately, my ethics would compel me to do what was necessary to bring the situation to an end.
In this example, you see a clear, definitive response which makes effort to take all factors into account. It presumes that the problem would be an isolated issue but doesn't let that assumption limit the potential reaction.