Developing Personal Ethics: Examples and Tips

Updated July 21, 2022

Personal ethics are moral guidelines that can help you through tough situations and make the best decisions. You are likely to use your personal ethics to develop your career and handle many different workplace scenarios. You can develop a clear and effective personal ethics statement that outlines the values you practice in professional settings. In this article, we discuss what personal ethics is, describe how to write a statement and provide a sample to help you craft your own.

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What are personal ethics?

Personal ethics is the code of ethical guidelines that guide you in your personal life. They often develop from your core values and work ethic. Your personal ethics can, and likely will, contain common ethical guidelines that other people share, but they will vary in their level of importance and how to maintain them.

Some common personal ethics include:

  • Integrity

  • Selflessness

  • Honesty

  • Loyalty

  • Equality and fairness

  • Empathy and respect

  • Self-respect

Related: Core Values: Overview and Examples

The difference between personal and professional ethics

Professional ethics refer to the guidelines you follow in respect to the interactions and workflows in your professional life. While personal ethics may influence your professional ethics, there may be instances where the two clash causing a moral conflict.

Here’s an example of when personal and professional ethics may clash:

A teacher may suspect one of her students is being neglected at home. Instead of addressing concerns directly with the student or the parent, the teacher may have to follow the process for raising concerns outlined by the school district.

What is a personal ethics statement?

A personal ethics statement is a written declaration of your closely held ethical principles.

Personal ethics statements can be developed for several reasons, including:

College applications

Many colleges are asking for written personal ethics statements from applicants to better understand the qualities and characteristics of prospective students. These statements can help students stand out from the other applicants when their personal ethics align with that of the university or college. Plus, many colleges are making it a requirement in the application process so they can take a closer look at behavior and motivations.

Job applications

Some companies are also asking for personal ethics statements because jobs are becoming more competitive. Personal ethics statements can be a part of the process for any job, but it is most common for leadership positions. Companies frequently look to improve and shape the quality of their leadership, which results in asking candidates to detail their personal ethics and apply them to their work and leadership potential.

Performance evaluations

Companies also ask for personal ethics statements at performance reviews to deeply analyze employees’ actions and how they implement the company’s—and their own—ethics while on the job. These statements can be very telling since they show whether an employee understands the ethical implications of their actions and are working toward better alignment with the company’s values.

Benefits of having a personal ethics statement

There are many benefits to having a personal ethics statement for your career. Defining your personal ethics makes it easier to talk about in a well-thought-out manner, which may improve your performance in an interview. Personal ethics statements also:

Help you understand your priorities

Having a clear understanding of what matters most to you can assist you in advancing your career. Defining your personal ethics statement can help you understand your priorities. If you prioritize putting other people’s needs first, then you are more likely to be happy in a job where you help people.

If you prioritize doing a good job and being highly productive, then you may make a good business leader. These differences in your priorities can help you determine what type of job is best for you and what jobs you should avoid because of conflicts with your personal ethics.

Make decisions easier

In addition to clarifying your priorities, having a personal ethics statement can also make decisions easier. There are many situations where you will need to decide on the right course of action. This is especially true if you lead a team or are a high-level executive in your company. Having a list of criteria can make weighing your options easier.

Improve goal-setting

Once you know what you will and won’t focus on, you can use your personal ethics statement to set goals for your development. You can identify which values matter most to you and identify opportunities and future steps you should pursue.

Refine your leadership style

Creating a personal ethics statement is an effective way to help advance your career, especially when applying to a leadership position or a position that requires a strong set of personal ethics. Knowing what you value and what you stand for can help you decide on a leadership style that enables you to lead teams to progress and success.

How to write a personal ethics statement

Follow these tips to write a clear and effective personal ethics statement:

  1. Consider your audience.

  2. Identify your goals.

  3. List what influences you.

  4. Write about your beliefs and practices.

  5. Clarify your “why."

1. Consider your audience

How you write your statement changes based on your audience. Writing a statement that other people read requires you to be more structured and thorough with your explanations so that readers can understand your goals, values and mission. Be sure to use terms and phrases that your reader is likely to be familiar with. Try to be as specific as possible when outlining goals to ensure all relevant context is included. Also, simple, direct language can improve your statement’s readability for your reader and you.

After understanding who will be reading your personal ethics statement, it is important to determine your personal ethics statement’s purpose. You may use it as a personal reminder as you take steps in developing your career. You may also include it in your portfolio or use it to write your resume objective and cover letter as you apply for jobs. Understanding the purpose of your statement can also help you determine your entire audience.

2. Identify your goals

Defining the steps you want to take and the successes you want to have can help you refine your personal ethics. If you have a specific job or industry you want to serve in, you may need to identify what ethics are commonly held to succeed in that position. You can assume those ethics to better align yourself with that role, or you can research roles that better match the current ethical values you hold.

In your statement, you can phrase your personal ethics in terms of how they relate to specific steps you want to take in your career, including references to leadership, collaboration and social causes.

3. List what influences you

Another effective way to develop your personal ethics statement is to list what influences you. These are the influences that help you develop your understanding of ethics and the principles you chose. For some people, personal traits can also be a significant influence. You can identify the characteristics you have, such as elements of your personality that inform the choices you make.

You can also determine people in your life who have helped—or continue to help—you develop those characteristics. Perhaps there are significant events in your personal or professional life that also influence your goals, values and mission. Consider listing these elements and how they impact you.

4. Write about your beliefs and practices

A significant part of creating your personal ethics statement is to come up with easy-to-understand examples. You can do this by writing about your beliefs and practices. Your beliefs help shape your ethics and can be a defining part of your identity. So, they can be included in your statement as a way of solidifying your thoughts on ethics.

5. Clarify your “why"

It is important to clarify why you chose the ethical principles that you have. Everyone develops an ethical code through experiences. If you want people to understand your ethics, you can provide a clear example of why your ethical principles are important or how you use them in your career development. Focus on the core values that influence your daily actions and shape your personal ethics. This will make it easy for other people to not only understand your personal ethics statement but also to understand why your ethics are important.

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Sample personal ethics statement

Here is a personal ethics statement example you can use to write your own:


As a leader with 10 years of experience in the IT industry, my personal ethics developed from a need to keep teams focused and moving in the right direction. Every aspect of my leadership is defined by the core values of Respect for Others, Leading by Example, and Putting the Needs of Others First. Through these values, I can lead effectively and ethically.

Respect for others

As a leader, I strive to show and promote respect for others wherever possible. It is not acceptable for team members to insult each other and show a general lack of respect. If I expect them to work together, then there must be mutual respect between them even if they don’t like each other. This is a requirement of myself and all of my teammates to keep the team together.

Leading by example

Every leader should lead by example in as many ways as possible. This does not mean that I have to be the most tech-savvy or specially-skilled person on my team. Rather, it means that I must embody the qualities I expect to see in others. That way, they will be more likely to embody those traits regularly.

Prioritizing the needs of others

When possible, put the needs of others first. That means providing help, understanding, and encouragement that they need when possible. This helps teams work together more effectively and builds tighter relationships between team members.

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