How to Recognize a Strong Work Ethic?

Anja Zojceska | Recruiting | Company Culture | January 25, 2019

Recognizing a strong work ethic is a key for differentiating top performers from average job candidates. Candidates with extensive relevant experience and the right skills won’t be an asset for your company unless they exhibit a strong work ethic. Learn the most effective ways to recognize a strong work ethic in your candidates!


Work ethic definition: What is the work ethic?

Work ethic is a set of moral principles and values that guide an employee’s performance at work.  

Work ethic determines what is good and what is the right moral choice in job-related situations.

Work ethic is used as a guide for employees’ attitudes towards work and behavior on the job. 

➡️ If you want to learn other popular HR terms and expand your professional vocabulary, download the Glossary of the most important Human Resources terms used by HR Professionals.

What is a “strong work ethic”?

The phrase “strong work ethic” is used for an employee who exhibits a set of values and belief in work as a moral good. 

This means that employees with a strong work ethic are intrinsically motivated to perform their best. 

A strong work ethic is reflected in employees' desire and determination to work hard to meet their job’s goals while adhering to the workplace policies and rules. 

Employees with a strong work ethic are hard-working, dedicated, and reliable to deliver their best work on time. 

In short, employees with a strong work ethic are those who are motivated and work hard and smart. 

The importance of a work ethic 

Having employees with a strong work ethic is critical to a company’s success. According to research, employers often cite a strong work ethic as the most desired characteristic in a new employee.

Today Express Employment Professionals, the largest franchised staffing firm in North America, released findings that reveal what traits are most important when hiring a candidate for a job. Respondents were asked to rate various traits on a scale of one to five based on how important they are when evaluating applicants. Work ethic topped the list with an average rating of 4.45.


Many expert studies have shown that a strong work ethic results in excellent work performance.  Companies whose employees show strong work ethic excel in their work performance have a significant advantage in the market. 

Thus, companies whose employees have a strong work ethic are more likely to achieve their goals and achieve higher revenue and profit. 

Hiring employees with a strong work ethic is a must for every company that wants to build a  successful and profitable business. 

Recognizing a strong work ethic is a key to differentiating top performers from average job candidates. 

Candidates with extensive relevant experience and the right skills won’t be an asset to your company unless they exhibit a strong work ethic.

Struggling to hire candidates with strong work ethic?
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How to recognize a strong work ethic?

When you’re trying to recognize a strong work ethic, it is important to look beyond your candidates’ qualifications and skills. 

You should dig deeper and try to assess if a candidate has the relevant traits and characteristics needed to be productive and successful at their job. 

Here are the most important characteristics commonly associated with a strong work ethic:


1. Hard work
Employees with a strong work ethic are hard-working; they often go the extra mile to excel at the task.

2. Dedication 
Employees with a strong work ethic are dedicated to their job and often go above and beyond what was required initially.

3. High productivity
Employees with a strong work ethic tend to be more productive and efficient with their time.

4. Reliability
Employees with a strong work ethic are reliable; you can rely on them to get the work done.

5. Punctuality
Employees with a strong work ethic always respect deadlines and finish all their tasks on time. 

6. Responsibility
Employees with a strong work ethic adhere to workplace policies and rules and take responsibility for their behavior. 

In short, you should be looking for a top performer who is intrinsically motivated to deliver high-quality work consistently, daily. 

How to assess work ethic in a resume?

You can’t assess a candidate's work ethic by resume alone, but you can identify information that indicates that a candidate is a top performer. 

Look for rewards and recognition in a candidate’s resume. Promotion is also a good sign of consistent and dedicated work. 

How to assess work ethic in an interview?

You can assess the candidate’s work ethic more accurately in a job interview. The best way to do it is by asking open-ended behavioral questions. 

Behavioral interview questions require candidates to draw upon their experience. 

Ask your candidates how they reacted in a certain past situation can reveal a lot about their work ethic. Studies have shown that the best way to predict future job performance is to ask about past performance. 

Pose questions to find out what they did in a certain situation. Make sure you ask candidates to provide detailed, real-life examples to support their answers. 

Interview questions to uncover strong work ethic

Here are a few examples of job interview questions designed specifically to assess the candidate's work ethic:

By asking these job interview questions, you can easily uncover candidates with a strong work ethic. The best candidates will be able to provide detailed, real-life examples of their previously demonstrated inclination to work hard and go the extra mile. 

➡️ If you’re looking for more great interviewing questions, you’ll find more examples in our blog post: Questions to ask candidates in a job interview.

➡️ If you would like to improve your overall interviewing skills, check out our Guide: How to be a good interviewer

Next step: Motivate your top performers

Keep in mind that finding and hiring candidates who exhibit a strong work ethic is just the first step you need to take to ensure your company’s high productivity and revenues. 

If you want to keep your best employees motivated, you should learn how to motivate your high-performing employees.  

Frequently asked questions

What Constitutes a Strong Work Ethic in Employees? 

A strong work ethic in employees is characterized by qualities such as hard work, dedication, high productivity, reliability, punctuality, and responsibility. Employees with a strong work ethic are highly motivated and consistently deliver quality work, often going beyond what is required of them.

How Can Employers Recognize a Strong Work Ethic in Job Candidates? 

Employers can recognize a strong work ethic in job candidates by looking for signs like a history of promotions or awards, examples of going the extra mile in previous roles, and consistent job performance. During interviews, asking open-ended behavioral questions can provide insight into a candidate's work ethic.

Why is a Strong Work Ethic Important for Business Success? 

A strong work ethic is crucial for business success as it leads to better work performance, efficiency, and productivity. Employees with a strong work ethic drive innovation, meet their goals effectively, and contribute significantly to the company's overall success and competitive advantage.

What Types of Interview Questions Can Uncover a Strong Work Ethic? 

Interview questions that uncover a strong work ethic include inquiries about past work experiences, how the candidate handles heavy workloads, their strategies for managing deadlines, and their reactions to challenging work situations. Asking for specific examples of when they demonstrated hard work or overcame challenges can reveal their work ethic.

How Can Work Ethic Be Assessed in a Resume? 

Work ethic can be indirectly assessed in a resume by looking for indicators such as a history of steady employment, progression or promotions within the same company, specific achievements or awards, and examples of additional responsibilities or roles taken on in previous positions. These indicators can suggest a candidate's dedication and commitment to their work.

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