How to Identify Work Ethic in Job Candidates

As an employer, what is the most important quality in a job candidate can bring to the table? Is it education, job experience or work history? According to Josh Davies, CEO of The Center for Work Ethic Development, the answer most employers choose as most valued is ‘work ethic’.

“Work ethic is the highest in demand by employers and the lowest in supply.” – Josh Davies, CEO, The Center for Work Ethic Development

What is Work Ethic?

But, what is work ethic? The obvious response is, “work ethic is just working hard”. But this simple answer isn’t particularly helpful or measurable for employers.

In a recent presentation for the York Region Employer Leadership Councils and the Workforce Planning Board of York Region, Davies asked the following question:

“If you had an employee who gave a slightly substandard overall performance, but they were always on time, ready to work, had a great attitude and got along well with their co-workers, how long would that person be employed at your company?”

The room, full of about 60 employers, workforce planning experts and human resources professionals answered, almost in unison:


A dramatic and somewhat humourous point, but according to Davies, work ethic can be identified by the following behaviours:

  • Showing up (regularly)
  • Arriving on time, ready to work
  • Listening and following instructions
  • Willingness to learn (learning attitude)
  • Performing quality work (vs. ‘going through the motions’)
  • Displaying a positive, ‘can do’ attitude
  • Completing work in a timely fashion
“Work ethic is driven by having a sense of purpose about what you do, and the engagement to deliver on that passion.” – Josh Davies, CEO, The Center for Work Ethic Development

How Can You Identify Work Ethic?

According to Davies, 93% of employers feel it’s important to demonstrate soft skills like work ethic in the interview process, but on 16% of job seekers feel this way. Based on this metric, it’s going to be up to the employer to determine and measure work ethic in a job candidate.

So, when you’re interviewing, what questions should you ask to evaluate work ethic – no matter the industry or seniority level of the position? Future Force Personnel Services has a list of 8 questions to use:

What’s your definition of work ethic?

  1. How would you describe your work ethic?
  2. Tell me about a time you went above and beyond in a job.
  3. Tell me about a time when you had to work as a member of a team to complete a task.
  4. What would your past boss or supervisor say about your work ethic?
  5. What would your past co-workers say about your work ethic?
  6. What excites you about this position or this company?
  7. Why do you think you will be successful in this position?

Based on the answer to these questions, you can start to evaluate whether a job candidate is good, or just good on paper.

Work ethic may be the most valuable attribute a job seeker can offer, and employers who can identify work ethic during the interview process will certainly see an improvement in retention rates.

Special thanks to Josh Davies, CEO, The Center for Work Ethic Development for his January 26, 2017 presentation ‘Take Your Workforce to the Next Level’ for the York Region Employer Leadership Councils and the Workforce Planning Board of York Region and Bradford West Gwillimbury.

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