If you’re interviewing for a job where you’ll be handling cash, it’s common for hiring managers to ask, “What would you do if you saw a coworker stealing from the company?”
And there are a couple of key things you should do when answering this interview question if you want to get the job.
As a former recruiter, I’m going to share everything you need to know to ace this question in your job interview, including:
I’ll also point out some critical mistakes to avoid.
You’re most likely to hear this question for jobs that involve handling cash such as jobs in retail and sales.
Employers often ask, “If you saw a coworker stealing, what would you do?” to see if you seem honest and upfront, and because they want to know if you’d be comfortable reporting a situation to your superiors (which is the right thing to do if you see a coworker stealing or breaking another important company policy).
Employers also want to make sure that you’d avoid confrontation unless absolutely necessary. While they want to hear that you would report employee theft, it’s highly unlikely they want you to confront the employee yourself.
When the interviewer asks what you’d do after seeing a coworker stealing, you should explain that you would avoid a confrontation in the moment, but then report the theft to your direct manager or boss as soon as possible (the same day that you saw the theft is best).
You need to show that you’d prioritize the company’s interests, even if you’re friends with the employee who was stealing. The employer is paying you, and so they expect you to act with their best interests in mind at all times.
As you give your answer, you want to be brief, clear, and direct.
This isn’t the type of question where you can sound unsure or take a long time to think about your decision. The best answers will be clear and quick, and answer the question head-on.
You’ll see this in the various example answers below…
Example Answer 1:
“If I saw a coworker stealing, I would report it to my direct superior as soon as I could. I’d avoid a public confrontation with my coworker but I’d inform my manager as quickly as possible so that they can decide the best course of action since this is a serious offense.”
Example Answer 2:
“If I saw a coworker steal from the company, I’d report what I saw to my manager the same day and let them decide the appropriate next steps.”
Example Answer 3:
“I would report what I saw to my boss as quickly as possible. I’d avoid a confrontation with the coworker, since making a scene in front of customers or disrupting the workplace isn’t helpful to the company, but I’d make it a priority that day to ensure that my manager knows what I saw.”
Example Answer 4:
“If I saw a coworker stealing, I would ask my manager if we can talk in private and then I’d report exactly what I saw and when I saw it so that they can respond accordingly.”
The above answers will satisfy a hiring manager and give them the information they want to know, which is evidence that you’ll follow company policies and report thefts but without disrupting the workplace.
This is especially important in retail, where it’s critical to not involve customers in an internal matter. Even in industries other than retail, it’s highly likely that your boss prefers you talk to them privately after witnessing a coworker stealing.
Because of this, it’s a mistake to say you’d confront a coworker. Always indicate that you’d report the incident to your superiors when answering interview questions about theft.
There’s one exception to the advice above; if you’re going to be managing employees directly for a company, then they want to know that you’re capable of handling the situation yourself.
In all likelihood, stealing money or other valuables from the company is an offense that should lead to immediate termination.
So in your answer, you should say:
“I’d ask the employee to step into my office and I’d inform them that they were seen stealing. I’d tell them that we’re terminating their employment as of today, and I’d walk them out after allowing them to gather their personal items. Of course, if I were unsure that they stole, for example, if I was told about the theft by another team member, I’d ask follow-up questions to understand the full story before taking action. While theft is serious, letting an employee go is also serious and has a big impact on company morale and of course that employee’s career and life, so I think it’s critical to be sure of what was seen and to know all the facts in this type of situation.”
If you’ve worked in retail in the past, you may have seen an employee steal in a recent job and have a real story you can share.
However, with this interview question, it’s not particularly beneficial to share a story in your answer unless you’re asked.
So I recommend you answer by simply sharing what you would do instead of telling stories about past employees and colleagues who stole. Telling a story when you’re not asked will only complicate your answer and lead to more questions, and not necessarily good ones.
However, if an interviewer asks you, “Have you encountered a scenario in a past job where you saw an employee steal? How did you react and what happened?” then that’s different and you should share a story to address their exact question.
This interview question is a good conversation starter and learning opportunity, too. You can take this as a chance to learn about the company’s exact policies and whether your plan needs any fine-tuning before starting the job.
So if it feels natural to you, consider ending your answer by saying, “Has employee theft been an issue in the past, and how has management responded if so?”
Or, “Is that in-line with what you ask current employees to do, or is there anything that needs fine-tuning?”
In my opinion as a recruiter, the above phrases show that a candidate is trustworthy and thoughtful in their career and would make a great hire.
You never want to sound like you’re unsure of how to answer when companies ask about seeing someone steal, but asking for minor feedback at the end of your response is okay.
The best way to answer, “What would you do if you witnessed a coworker stealing?” is to explain that you’d report what you saw to your direct superior without causing a confrontation in front of customers or the team.
You should aim to answer calmly and matter-of-factly because employers want to see that you’d tell them about the situation without hesitation. This is true whether you barely know the person stealing or whether they are a close colleague.
If you follow the approach above, you’ll have a convincing, professional answer that shows employers you’re trustworthy and reliable with money so that you can win the job.
Related article: Customer service interview questions.
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