Whether you need a personal ethics statement for a college or job application or want to reflect on what values are important to you while considering career paths, creating this type of document can be a beneficial exercise.

This article will explore what personal ethics are, the relationship between personal and professional ethics, and the reasons for writing a personal ethics statement. It also breaks down how to write and format a personal ethics statement.

What Are Personal Ethics?

Personal ethics are the values and beliefs that each individual develops and carries with them to guide how they operate in their personal life, relationships, and career. An individual’s personal ethics are typically rooted in their upbringing and family of origin, but they can evolve throughout a person’s life based on their experiences and other relationships.

Some common personal ethics include:

  • Empathy — The ability to understand and share others’ feelings
  • Compassion — A sympathetic awareness of others’ suffering combined with a desire to end or alleviate that suffering
  • Honesty — An adherence to truthfulness and sincerity with oneself and others
  • Integrity — Staying true to one’s ethics and values, especially in the face of internal or external pressures to deny them
  • Loyalty — Maintaining allegiance and support to oneself and others
  • Fairness and equity — Being impartial and unbiased and seeking justice for all
  • Self-respect — Pride and confidence in oneself and their beliefs

Relationship Between Personal and Professional Ethics

While personal ethics can influence an individual’s professional path, they differ from professional ethics, which are guidelines and procedures employees must follow in their workplace. Professional ethics and guidelines may vary by industry and employer.

When considering the type of career you want to pursue, it can be valuable to reflect on your personal ethics and whether the demands of a particular profession will challenge or undermine those ethics. For example, someone who values empathy and compassion may perform poorly in an industry that results in suffering for humans or animals. On the flip side, your personal ethics can help guide you towards careers that align with your values, such as healthcare, social work, or counseling, which require a significant amount of empathy and compassion.

Why Write a Personal Ethics Statement?

Writing a personal ethics statement can be an ideal exercise for establishing and defining your personal ethics. Even if you don’t share this document with anyone, having it as a reference can be helpful for other situations in which you need to quickly and clearly illustrate your personal beliefs and values.

A personal ethics statement can help individuals begin to plan their careers and professional goals. Different vocations require different values, so a personal ethics statement can help individuals determine what type of job will suit them best. For example, honesty and integrity are essential for journalists, while empathy and equity are important values for educators.

Writing a personal ethics statement gives individuals an opportunity to reflect on what is important to them and how they want to embody those values in their daily lives. It can aid in making decisions and setting priorities for career and life.

Some colleges may require applicants to submit a personal ethics statement or incorporate their beliefs and values into an application essay. It can help colleges assess whether an applicant is a good fit for the school and how emotionally intelligent and self-aware an applicant is. Similarly, employers may ask job applicants for a personal ethics statement to evaluate a candidate’s suitability for a particular position and the company’s overall culture.

Another situation in which you may be asked for a personal ethics statement is during a performance evaluation at a job. Employers may want a written statement or discussion of personal ethics to assess how employees incorporate their values into their work and understand how they can better support their workers.

How to Write a Personal Ethics Statement

Consider your audience

One key rule of writing is understanding your audience. This informs all aspects of writing, including language, tone, voice, length, content, and more.

Audiences for personal ethics statements can vary. For example, college admissions committees may ask for personal ethics statements from applicants to assess their suitability for a school or program based on their core values and beliefs. Meanwhile, some potential employers request a personal ethics statement during the hiring process to determine if a candidate’s personal values align with the company’s.

Also, consider the audience when determining the tone of your personal ethics statement. While this is an opportunity to show a more personal side of yourself to potential colleges and employers, you want to maintain a level of professionalism and formality in your speech and language.

Identify your goals

What are you trying to achieve, and how will your personal ethics help you achieve it? Identifying goals, both in the short- and long-term, can help you build a compelling narrative about your personal ethics and how they play a role in your professional life.

There are a few ways to go through this process. You may already know what your goals are, such as a career in law or cybersecurity. What personal ethics are key to success in these fields? Can you show in a personal ethics statement why those values are important to you or how you embody them?

Another option is clarifying your ethics and letting that knowledge lead you toward your goals. For example, if you identify empathy, compassion, and equity as strong personal values, you may want to consider exploring fields like special education and social work, in which those qualities are essential.

Determine what influences you

Personal ethics don’t develop in a vacuum. Various sources inform how our belief systems develop, including family and friends, societal structures and systems, cultural customs, and our intuition. Think about how and why your personal ethics formed. Which of your beliefs do you “know” inherently? What are some that you learned by observing others?

There is no right or wrong way to develop personal ethics, but this exercise can help you determine what is truly authentic to you and what beliefs you may have adopted from outside sources.

Identify beliefs and practices

Once you’ve established some key personal ethics in your life, find ways to show in your statement that you actually live by these ethics —  essentially, how do you turn words and beliefs into tangible actions?

Think about your life, educational, and professional experiences and whether they were influenced at all by your personal ethics. Perhaps there was a time when you could have lied but chose honesty instead — this would demonstrate that you value honesty and integrity. Maybe you volunteer at an animal shelter because you value compassion and animal welfare.

You can start with a list of these practices to generate as many ideas as possible before narrowing it down to one or two examples for your personal ethics statement.

Clarify your ‘why’

Your personal ethics statement should also address why you have the ethics you do. It is an opportunity to dig deeper into the principles that make you “you.”

Authenticity is key when it comes to clarifying your why. Think about your influences and what feels most true to you. Showing that you understand how your belief systems were formed and what drives you can demonstrate to potential employers or colleges that you possess emotional intelligence and self-awareness, which are highly valued qualities in the professional world.

Formatting Your Personal Ethics Statement

Personal ethics statements are generally written like essays, with an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. They are typically one page, a maximum of two pages.

Use your introduction to establish who you are and why you’re writing a personal ethics statement. The statement’s body will focus on the specific ethics you want to address. You can use sub-headers in this section to highlight each specific value you’re exploring. Another option is to connect multiple related values and explore how these beliefs formed in relation to each other. Be sure to include specific examples showing how these personal ethics developed and how they play a role in your life and decisions.

Lastly, craft a conclusion paragraph that reviews your personal ethics and summarizes why they make you a good candidate for a college or employment opportunity. Be specific but truthful — this is a piece of writing meant to demonstrate, above all, who you are inside.