Describe A Time When You Disobeyed a Rule

Interview Question: Describe A Time When You Disobeyed a Rule

How to Answer Interview Question: Describe A Time When You Disobeyed a Rule

Is it ever okay to disobey your boss?

Rest assured it is nothing unheard of to disagree with a rule. In fact, it is called “intelligent obedience”.

When certain questionable rules are a threat to abiding by your values, standing up to them is respectable. However, if you have ever done it, you should prepare to discuss it in a job interview.

Learn the best ways to answer this question and how it could land you the job in this guide.


Why do interviewers ask this question?

Finding a solution is nearly impossible if you don’t know the cause of the problem. In the same way, it is only logical that you knew why the interviewers ask the question in the first place. Here is why:

To find out if you respect authority.

Senior employees are usually responsible for the junior colleagues under them. Also, senior employees form part of the decision-making group working to make the organization a success. Thus, superior colleagues deserve the respect afforded to them.

No employer likes to hire an unruly candidate. This question will test the candidate to see whether they have any respect for authority or not. The decision of the interviewer becomes easy if the candidate presents him or herself as rebellious.

Perhaps there is a method to your madness.

Disobeying a rule at the workplace is a brave thing to do. For this reason, employers want to know why a candidate would do something that could cost them their job. They would like to believe that a candidate must have a method to their madness to act in such a manner.

If there is a good reason beyond reasonable doubt for disobeying the rule, the interviewer would empathize. Some interviewers go as far as showing respect to such candidates. When there is indeed a method to your madness, the narrative shifts from you being unruly to being brave.

To ensure that there will not be a repeat.

Employers are wary of candidates who behave unrulily or pose a threat to the hierarchy of the organization. Instead of resolving the problem later, they would rather avoid it. One way to know for sure that a candidate will not become unruly to them is by asking the question.

As the candidate tells their side of the story, the interviewer will be able to deduce whether there are strange patterns beware. If the act of disobedience was premeditated and nothing but rebellious, the candidate will maintain similar unruly patterns. By their explanation, an interviewer can piece together patterns that suggest whether or not a candidate will replicate such behavior.

To see if you learned anything from the situation.

Every experience – whether good or bad – has a lesson for all who pay attention. Thus, the interviewer would expect a candidate to have learned something if they truly paid attention.

The interviewer expects you to discuss briefly what you found out about yourself that you probably didn’t know of. Also talk about what you discovered about people, rules, and the meaning they have to you.

Have you figured out a better way to address similar situations? What is the likelihood of it happening again? These are the things an interviewer wants to know. The more your answer reveals how you have grown since then, the better your chances are of passing the interview.


How to answer

Show remorse for whatever inconveniences your action caused.

Regardless of how you see the situation, you ought to start your description of it with a bit of sympathy. This is not saying that you should apologize for standing up to a dubious rule. Instead, it means that you should try to show concern for what your action might have caused the organization entirely.

For example, the refusal to attend to a promiscuous client could have cost the company a huge contract. You could lead by saying how you wished things had happened differently and the company didn’t have to lose a huge contract. That’s not required of you, but doing so would make you come off as someone who truly cares about the growth of the company.

Explain how you are not one to disobey orders.

In cases like these, people whose reputations precede them rarely get any sympathy or credit they deserve for doing something unique. Thus, if you are known for breaking the rules or you don’t respect the authority, your reputation might take precedence.

Explain to the interviewer how you are not the type who disobeys rules. Give real examples of cases where you were obedient to a fault.

For example, if you had a perfect attendance record in school, tell the interviewer. Also, if you have never gotten a ticket for running a red light, say it. Most importantly, if that was the first or only time you disobeyed a rule at the office, let them know.

These examples are not insignificant; they prove that you must have had a good reason to disobey a rule.

Tell the interviewer when and why you would disobey an order.

Before finally narrating what happened, clear the air as to why and when you would ever consider disobeying a rule. You must portray yourself as someone who has values that they hold dear. The average employee who disobeys a rule would do so under these circumstances:

  • If the rule puts lives and property at risk. Safety comes first in virtually every discipline. Thus, it is understandable if the reason for your disobedience is due to safety reasons. For instance, if a superior demands that you travel to meet a client when there are safety concerns concerning traveling, refusing is understandable. Any reasonable interviewer would respect the decision to disobey such a rule.
  • When the rule is unethical. There are ways professionals bend the rule and break the law to get an unfair advantage over their peers. Although some of them are rarely caught, they could lose their reputation and jobs when they finally do. Thus, when it comes down to doing something unethical because “everyone else is doing it”, disobeying such a rule is relatable. An upright employer would appreciate that and respect you for it.
  • When it violates privacy or trust. The right to privacy is not restricted to being at home. Even at the office, every employee’s privacy must be respected. Thus, when superior orders you to do something that violates your or someone else’s privacy, refusing is ethical. For instance, if you are asked to go through a colleague’s computer behind their back for information, disobedience from you is laudable at that moment.
  • Being asked to participate in nepotism. Sometimes, a superior spearheads this shameful act and encourages other colleagues to join in the bullying. For example, disobeying a rule that singles out someone of different ethnicity, religion, or sex for biased reasons are relatable. Refusing to take part in prejudice is heroic.    
  • When asked to comply with what goes against your values or beliefs. People have their beliefs, religions, and unique ways they see life. However, some rules go against these beliefs and values. You ought not to settle; rather, make it clear that you would not be taking any part in it. Explain it respectfully and the employer will start taking notes.

Explain how the incident panned out.

Even when you explain what sort of person you are, the interviewer still wants to know exactly what happened and how. Tell your side of the story and don’t hold back the details.

If you were in a clear state of mind, overwhelmed with responsibilities, or feeling unwell, make it known. Then proceed to tell them what was required of you and why you disobeyed the rule. If you can remember the words you said and the way you said them, say it. From your explanation, the interviewer should be able to deduce whether your act of disobedience came from a good place.

Show that you learned from the experience.

An act of disobedience to authority does not repeat itself often. It is in moments like these that you learn more about yourself including what triggers you and how far you would go to say “no”.

In your description of the incident, show the interviewer that you learned some valuable lessons. State how the lessons you learned have put you in a better position to handle matters like that in the future. Also, express how the lessons you have learned have prepared you to read signs of incoming incidents before they become full-blown.

Would you do it again if you could?

Sometimes after describing the situation, the interviewer might follow up the question with something tricky. Questions like, “do you see yourself ever disobeying authority again?” could come up. Therefore, you ought to understand how it could influence the interviewer’s decision about you.

By no means should you lie to make yourself seem more likable. Times may come when a rule or order doesn’t sit right with you, so, completely ruling out disobeying orders wouldn’t be fair.

Therefore, if a rule is unethical and goes against the values you live by, you could see yourself disobeying again. Even at that, you have learned how to put yourself in a position to better deal with unpleasant rules. Saying it like that would command respect.


How not to answer

While learning what to say and how to respond to the question is vital, you must also avoid saying some things. See to it that you steer clear of the following actions or words when answering the interview question.

Justifying your shortcomings.

Justifying whatever damages you might have caused is not the best way to approach the question.

There are two sides to a story like this. On the one hand, the superior feel nothing less than shock through an act of insubordination. On the other hand, a candidate feels or is convinced that they did the right thing.

Even if you were indeed right in disobeying orders, try to talk about it with some humility. The fact is that most people would judge you first on hearing that you disobeyed an order before knowing what transpired.

Not taking responsibility.

Blaming others for your actions never goes down well with an interviewer. Pointing the finger is a sign that a candidate doesn’t like to take responsibility for their actions. No matter what happened, a fraction of the blame might go to you.

Especially when you were right to disobey the rule, taking responsibility shows that you understand the gravity of the situation. Since you disobeyed the rule, own up to it, and try not to drag anyone else into it.

Attacking the former superiors.

Attacking people verbally is nearly as detrimental as attacking them physically. Try to remember that this question is not an avenue to rain an onslaught on your former superiors. There are many ways to stand by what you said or did at that moment than verbally attacking former colleagues.

Resist the temptation to call the former employer out no matter what transpired between you both. The only thing you should do or say condemns the former superior’s actions if they were indicted as a result.

Negative language.

The feeling of being right could result in being defensive or getting emotional while answering the question. However, I suggest you keep the negative language out of your mouth throughout the process.

Don’t be triggered to describe the superior with a negative adjective. Also, try not to judge them for whatever they may have done.

Even if the superior was indicted for the order you rightly refused, the interview room is not a place for malevolence. Phrases like “he deserved it”, “she had it coming”, or “I hope they rot in jail” should never be uttered. They don’t make you look professional or refined.



Disobeying orders is a serious offense and the only way to defend the action is by having concrete reasons for it. Answer the question with conviction, showing that your action was not a “moment of madness”. Rather, prove that there is a method to your madness and ensure that you describe the situation with no attempt to gloat.

If you have ever disobeyed a rule at work, please let us know in the comments section below.


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