Part 5: Understanding integrity: Other jurisdictions and interview questions

Integrity issues have received considerable media attention in recent times, at both the federal and state/territory levels. While the focus has mainly been on politicians and senior public servants, applicants for public service roles need to stay current on integrity-related developments.

Understanding integrity explores this subject in five articles:

Several parts provide additional resources for further guidance.

Part 5: Other jurisdictions and interview questions
Other jurisdictions

All Australian jurisdictions, including the Commonwealth, have an anti-corruption body that in various ways enhances integrity.

States and Territories have codes of conduct, sets of values, and integrity frameworks.

Applicants for specific jurisdictions need to know the relevant legislation, principles, whole-of-government policies, agency-specific guidelines, and policies that are relevant to the role of interest.

Plus, it’s useful to understand how the Westminster system works in your jurisdiction, and understand relevant frameworks, policies, codes of conduct and value statements.

Two documents that are worth reading are:

The NSW behaving ethically guide includes a Complex Decisions tool to assist with making difficult decisions. Factors that can make a situation difficult, where there may be no single or best decision, include:

  • Multiple stakeholders
  • Ambiguous or conflicting objectives
  • Various interpretations of the facts
  • Multiple options
  • Pressure for urgent decisions, as well as a need to address longer-term consequences
  • Different ethical views. (p. 67)

When offering an ethical situation, applicants can use this tool to explain their decision-making process.

Another useful part of this guide is the section on having difficult discussions in ways that are constructive and productive for all involved, and result in ethically informed decisions. Four types of difficult discussion are covered:

  • Effective dialogue
  • Saying no constructively
  • Giving and receiving negative feedback
  • Giving frank and fearless advice. (p. 73)

The guide includes an ethics self-assessment questionnaire (pp. 82-90), a section on leadership (pp. 93-96), a list of relevant risks (p. 104), standards applying to service roles, acting in the public interest, and multiple ethical scenarios.

Interview questions about integrity

The APSC’s Fact-sheet on Pro-integrity culture suggests three building blocks, one of which is capability. APS employees need to identify and work through ethical challenges. To do so means having the knowledge and skills to do so.

The current focus on integrity means that all applicants would be wise to consider potential integrity-related questions. An internet search will deliver numerous examples of questions and possible answers. For example, the Indeed website provides advice on integrity job interview questions. These questions are mainly hypothetical rather than behavioural based. Response examples may be context-specific and of little relevance.

Public service applicants can consider the knowledge and skills expected for the role of interest, taking into account:

  • The level of seniority: the more senior the role the greater the expectations of providing leadership and fostering a pro-integrity culture.
  • The agency: as explored in Part 1 of this series, some agencies place greater overt emphasis on integrity than others.
  • The nature of the role: some roles are more likely to encounter integrity-related issues, such as roles in procurement or service provision.

In preparing for a job interview, applicants can anticipate knowledge, behavioural, and hypothetical questions. Knowledge questions might be: What does integrity mean to you? What values do you appreciate most when working in a team.

Examples of behavioural based questions are:

  • Give an example of how you have shown integrity in a work situation.
  • Give an example of a time when you found you had made a mistake.
  • Give an example of when you have had your integrity tested.
  • Give an example of a performance issue you have handled.
  • Give an example of when your professionalism has been challenged or you have dealt with an issue of questionable ethics/integrity. How did you handle this situation?
  • Give an example of how you have handled conflict in the workplace.
  • Give an example of how you ensure psychological safety for your staff.

If you think you haven’t encountered any integrity-related situations, consider Monash University’s Cost of Living & Consumer Deviance Spotlight 2023 Report. The researchers explore a range of questionable behaviour, including tasting fruit in a supermarket and not buying it, and evading fares on public transport. Research results include:

‘Over a quarter of consumers surveyed believed that blatant forms of retail theft were ‘a little’ to ‘completely’ justifiable including these specific behaviours:

  • ‘Taking an item without paying’ (28 per cent),
  • ‘Changing price tags on products’ (30 per cent),
  • ‘Not scanning some items when using a self-checkout terminal’ (32 per cent),
  • ‘Scanning items as cheaper items when using a self-checkout terminal’ (37 per cent).’

While this report focuses on cost-of-living issues, the results do prompt thinking about everyday ethical situations and our responses to them.

The Governance Institute of Australia’s Ethics Index 2023 shows that ethics in society is important to Australians. Top ethical issues are cost of living, cybersecurity and increasing use of AI. The index report shows what occupations and organisations are regarded as ethical and what future developments may raise ethical difficulties.

The section on ethical situations a person might face provides examples that may help job applicants think about their own experience. Ethical situations raised include taking a sick day when not actually sick, keeping a parcel that has been wrongly delivered to you, and a ‘win at all costs’ approach to sport.

Integrity resources

APSC integrity resources: see the Fact Sheets and guides on:

  • Handling misconduct
  • Guidance on social media
  • Declaration of interests

APSC-IPAA integrity series: a four-part podcast series exploring the meaning of integrity, pro-integrity culture and the integrity framework of the APS.

ABC Radio National programs: The Minefield and Religion and Ethics Report.

Merit Protection Commission Guidance: how to draft code of Conduct allegations; managing conflicts of interest.


Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.