Problem solved: ethics in the workplace

It is important that I work for an organisation that practises good corporate ethics – how closely can I question potential employers at interview?

It is commendable to place ethics high on your priority list – but at interview stage, caution is the order of the day. While ethics is top of the agenda in boardrooms, professional membership bodies (not just accountancy), and the media, for many people, ethics has yet to impact on their day to day activities. Degrees of awareness of corporate ethical policies vary wildly – depending on the extent to which those policies affect workloads, the scale and efficiency of internal communications, and the importance placed by individuals themselves on matters of personal, professional, and corporate ethics.

Don’t be too interrogative – many people won’t have ready answers to probing questions about their employer’s stand on ethics. They may feel under undue pressure, or even embarrassed and this is likely to adversely affect the impression you make. You also risk appearing over-zealous at a time when, for many people, there’s still a blurring between acting in an ethical manner and adhering to corporate governance ‘red tape’. Interviewers might take the view that getting the work done is the main issue, and that close questioning about ethics when you haven’t even been offered the job yet is premature – or even a sign of poor judgement. So tread carefully.

You can signal your interest in a positive way through good pre-interview research. Sustainability statements and corporate social responsibility projects – including partnerships with charities and local community groups – are often publicised in annual reports or on company websites. They may make lively talking points, but bear in mind that your interviewers may be unfamiliar with the fine details of such initiatives. Know when to drop your line of questioning and move on.