How to Answer Interview Questions Regarding Confidentiality

In some jobs, protecting others' confidentiality is a must.

In some jobs, protecting others' confidentiality is a must.

You're prepped and ready for the boilerplate questions about your strengths and weaknesses -- but not so much for that zinger about confidentiality. No matter what the business, its managers may have certain things they want to keep secret from the public. In some cases it may be something seemingly benign -- think famous "secret" recipe advertised on popular buckets of chicken -- in others, confidentiality may be required by law. In any case, it's a question not to take lightly at your job interview.

Ask the interviewer to clarify the terms of confidentiality, if need be. For example, you may be asked to refrain from sharing proprietary information made available to you during the application or interview process, but this could mean a variety of things so be sure you understand the parameters. It might simply mean you can't share information about the project you'll be working on if hired, or it might mean that you'll be made aware of potential personnel changes at the company that could be sensitive and require discretion until decisions are made. Whatever the case may be, make sure you understand the terms before you answer any questions or sign any documents. No need to get pushy -- just politely let the employer know that it's important for you to understand exactly what you're doing.

Think about your answer before you blurt something out. A confidential issue is a sensitive issue -- no matter what the industry or the job -- and if it's important to them, they'll want to know it's important to you. Take a second to formulate your answer, and try to recall times when you've dealt with similar issues in the past.

Give an example of how you handled a similar situation in the past, or come up with a hypothetical scenario that tells how you would deal with it. Often it's easier to relate your stance on an issue by telling a story; which is exactly what you'll be doing here. You may not have had to deal with confidentiality in the past, but you may have handled less formal situations in which you kept certain information to yourself because it was in the best interest of the parties involved.

Let stories you share during your interview show your moral code. Always be yourself in an interview. You don't have to divulge anything you're uncomfortable sharing, but you'll want to be sure your prospective employer gets to know you and the type of person you are. Answer their questions truthfully (not how you imagine they may want you to answer them) and keep in mind that an employer you want to work for is not going to make you go outside your comfort zone or moral boundaries.

Tip

  • If you've been trained in a certain field, you may have studied certain protocols pertaining to confidentiality, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines that protect patients' privacy in health care settings. If you have received any relevant training, refer to the methods you have learned to answer the confidentiality questions at your interview. If you know that confidentiality is a relevant issue within your field, but sure to review any materials on the subject before your interview; chances are there will be a question about it.
 

About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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