Responsibility means you are trustworthy, dependable, and able to take ownership of a task or project and see it through to completion.
There are many types of responsibility, such as:
- Personal – Personal responsibility refers to doing things in your personal life that set you up well for the future and doesn’t cause harm to you personally.
- Professional – Professional responsibility refers to being responsible in your workplace and trustworthy for your employer.
- Ethical – A catch-all for any example of responsibility that involves moral and ethical dimensions.
- Economic – Managing finances in ways that do not over-extend your budget or get you into unsustainable debt.
- Social – Living in a way that is respectful to your community and that treats others the way you would like to be treated (To go deeper, see our article on examples of corporate social responsibility).
- Environmental – Being responsible with the environment to leave it in good shape for future generations.
In this article, I’ll present 27 real-life examples of responsibility to help stimulate your thinking about how to demonstrate responsibility in a resume or interview.
27 Examples of Responsibility
1. Fiscal conservatism
Being conservative with your money is responsible because it will prevent debt, default, and future economic pain.
This can include always spending less than you earn, saving up an emergency fund, and choosing not to make an expensive purchase that you don’t need.
2. Strong Work Ethic
Work ethic refers to your ability to work hard and with integrity. It’s a highly desirable workforce skill.
By contrast, a person with poor work ethic will be seen as an irresponsible employee because they will slack off when not being micro-managed and not be trustworthy in the workplace.
3. Helping people in need
Helping others is an example of social responsibility. It shows that you have a sense of responsibility to your peers, colleagues, and fellow citizens; and that you care about your impact on those around you.
To demonstrate this type of responsibility, you can volunteer in the community or even just do small random acts of kindness.
Caring for the environment through practices like recycling is responsible because it means the environment will be put on a more sustainable footing for future generations.
This is a simple act of responsibility that you can integrate into your life – simply by getting a recycling bin and throwing your trash into the right bin.
5. Doing the right thing when nobody is looking
Ethically responsible people will behave fairly, ethically, and with integrity even when nobody is looking.
For example, when nobody is looking and you know you can get away with it, you might be tempted to cheat on an exam or take something from a store that you didn’t pay for.
In these situations, the ethically responsible thing to do is to behave in the way you would if someone was looking.
6. Being trusted to operate a store alone
An extension of the above example, this example is common in the workplace: an employer looks for a responsible employee who can be trusted to look after company assets without supervision.
I recall, for example, that in my first job as a service station attendant, I was given the job of doing the night shift when I turned 17 because I had proven to the boss that I could be responsible working in the store without my manager present.
A person who has self-control is able to delay gratification and remain focused on their goals. An irresponsible person, on the other hand, will not have self-control and likely fail to meet many of their goals.
For example, studying daily in the lead-up to your exams is the responsible thing to do but many students choose not to do it because they lack self-control.
8. Not showing favoritism
A boss or teacher who doesn’t show favoritism is considered responsible. They maintain their professional integrity and trustworthiness.
By contrast, nepotism and favoritism are seen as irresponsible behaviors that can lead to inefficiency in business and government, and injustice in society.
9. Meeting Productivity Targets
Meeting productivity targets shows that you take your responsibilities at work seriously and that you can be relied upon and trusted to do what you say.
If you meet your targets in your performance reviews, you’ll get a reputation for being responsible, trustworthy, and reliable. This will help when you ask for a raise or promotion!
10. Fixing your mistakes
Type: Ethical and Professional
A person who fixes their mistakes is considered to be doing the responsible thing. For example, if you drop the milk and it spills all over the kitchen floor, it’s your job to wipe it up.
By contrast, if a person makes a mistake and then pretends it wasn’t them, we’d consider it to be an irresponsible act.
11. Contributing to a Team
Type: Ethical and Professional
It’s frustrating to work with irresponsible team members. These are the team members who fail to complete their assigned tasks in time, which harms the rest of the group.
Similarly, sometimes a team member will not pull their weight in a team, leaving the more responsible team members to pull more than their fair share of the weight.
In both situations, we can see how an irresponsible person in a team can cause harm to everyone else on the team.
Choosing to volunteer some of your time to a cause you care about shows a level of social responsibility. It demonstrates how you take your obligation to your community seriously.
Here, I’ve noted volunteering as a type of social responsibility. This would involve volunteering to the poor or needy. But if you volunteer your time for the environment, we might consider this to be a type of environmental responsibility.
Etiquette regarding punctuality varies from country to country, but in the business world, being on time is a must.
Showing up late shows a lack of respect for other people’s time, and effective time management is a crucial responsibility in most careers.
It may also have negative effects upon your workplace such as lost productivity or failed business deals, meaning this irresponsible behavior may lead to the loss of your job.
14. Professional development
Ultimately, each person is responsible for their success or failure. Engaging in personal development is a strong indicator of a belief in personal responsibility.
For example, you might do ongoing studies, keep up to date in your industry by listening to industry podcasts, or attend professional development sessions at work.
15. Managing business budgets
Budgeting or approving purchasing decisions effectively demonstrates financial responsibility. This is often a skill required of managers, accountants, and bursaries.
Often, an accountant, bursary, or bookkeeper will need to demonstrate exceptional skill and responsibility in managing budgets in order to get a job in a higher-up or higher-income firm.
16. Training or teaching team members
Teaching or training others shows that you can accept responsibility as a team leader for the education of your team.
This is necessary for a leader because it shows that you do what you can to ensure your team is as effective as possible.
You could use the example in an interview if you’re applying for a career where collaboration and teamwork play a role, or where you’re expected to be a leader.
17. Donating to charity
Similar to volunteering, charitable donations show that you feel a social responsibility to your community.
One way to do this is to donate to an effective algorithm fund. Effective altruism is a type of donation that ensures every dollar is efficiently used and as effective as possible.
Alternately, some religious people may choose to tithe, meaning giving a percentage of your salary to your church or its charities.
18. Meeting deadlines
In some careers, you will have strict deadlines, and it’s your responsibility to meet those deadlines. Finishing your work before agreed-upon deadlines show that an employer can trust you with business-critical responsibilities.
Thus, demonstrating responsibility may mean that you can show a track record of meeting deadline in the workplace (or at university) – and use this in an interview as proof of your professional responsibility.
Feeling some responsibility to improve the world around you is a sign of maturity and empathy. Like the earlier example of recycling, environmentalism means ensuring you are a responsible steward of the earth.
But this can be more than just recycling. You could convert your house to green energy, decrease your consumption, or even take up a more environmentally-friendly diet.
Depending on your career choice, listing your time spent supporting various causes on a resume could be a good call.
20. Apologizing when you’re wrong
A sincere apology is a sign that you accept responsibility for your actions, even when you get things wrong.
As a parent, I take this one seriously when around my children. I want my children to know that it’s okay to apologize and actually the right – and responsible – thing to do. So, if I make a mistake in front of my children, I want to treat it like a learning experience and show them how to apologize honorably.
Type: Economic & Personal
Investing is a form of delayed gratification for your finances. Investments are a responsible way to plan for your future.
However, investing on its own doesn’t show fiscal responsibility. You need to invest responsibly as well – which is a skill in and of itself. That’s why many prudent people actually hire someone to get advice on how to go about doing it.
22. Staying fit and healthy
Keeping in shape is hard work, but it demonstrates a level of discipline and responsibility to yourself.
For example, if you don’t stay fit and healthy – and you eat junk food every day for 25 years – you’re surely not doing the right or mature thing for your own health in the long-term.
If you live in a society with subsidized healthcare, you can also be accused of being irresponsible with your fellow taxpayer’s money, which will necessarily be used to cover your avoidable healthcare bills.
23. Storing objects safely
One of my weaknesses is my wife doesn’t trust me with cash. It always seems to fall out of my pocket – I’m not responsible with small items!
In fact, I’ve had this issue my whole life. I remember my father chastising me for losing school things from a very early age. I also remember losing my friend’s camera in a taxi. There’s no excuse for this and it’s an ongoing example of my own irresponsibility in one part of my life.
Adolescents often have their responsibility tested by their parents when the parents give them a little independence and see how they handle it.
The more you can prove that you’re responsible, the more independence you will be granted.
And in fact, even in adulthood, if a person cannot demonstrate their ability to be independent, they might get put into a conservatorship, as with the famous case of Britney Spears.
25. Caring for family
Caring for family members, and especially your children or elderly parents, is an obligation and your personal responsibility as a family member.
For example, when your parents get old and need to be cared for, most of us believe we have an ethical obligation to ensure they are looked after (either by you or a care worker) and they are constantly checked upon.
26. Not cheating
If you cheat in an exam, you’re acting incredibly irresponsibly. If you get caught, you’ll be in a lot of personal trouble. So, not cheating is the responsible course of action.
You may get away with cheating for some period of time, and maybe forever, but it’s still a decision that is highly risky and, therefore, not worthwhile.
27. Seeking professional help
Type: Personal and Professional
Here’s something I learned as a business owner. I could probably try to do my accounting and taxes for myself. But that’s not responsible.
The mature thing to do is to hire a professional accountant and a professional lawyer to help me make sure I’m doing things right. As a businessperson, and even in my personal life, sometimes hiring a professional is the right thing to do rather than trying to do things myself that I don’t know much about
How Can I Show Responsibility without Management Experience?
Everyone has been responsible for something or someone at some point in their lives, even if they haven’t managed a large team directly.
Even without management experience, you can show off your responsibility to an employer by talking about times when you’ve been responsible for a specific task, when someone else has relied on you for something, or when you’ve made a tough but fair decision.
Responsibility Interview Question Examples
Most interviewers won’t ask you yes or no questions. Instead, they want detailed answers so they can understand who you are.
If they want to find out if you’re responsible, they will ask you questions about things you have worked on and situations you have been in in the past.
Example Questions about Responsibility:
- Tell me about a time when you had to solve a problem independently.
- When was the last time you got something wrong, and what did you do about it?
- Tell me about a time you made a decision that impacted others.
- Tell me about a time when someone had to rely on you.
- What is your proudest accomplishment?
These types of questions can be challenging to plan for, but they are an excellent opportunity to show off your conscientiousness and that you take your responsibilities seriously.
Tailor your answers to match the role to which you’re applying.
Which Careers Have High Levels of Responsibility?
Every career requires you to take some responsibility for a task or action – that’s the very definition of doing a job.
Different careers have differing levels of responsibility. Here are a few example careers that require workers to be responsible:
1. Management / Leadership
Leaders in any organization must balance their responsibility to the company with their commitments to their direct reports.
2. Healthcare Professionals
Healthcare professionals such as nurses, doctors, paramedics, and midwives must be highly responsible and level-headed. One slip-up or ill-judged action could be life-changing for patients.
3. Military / Firefighter / Dangerous Jobs
Dangerous careers like soldiers and firefighters involve life-or-death situations every day.
Each person has a specific job, and their colleagues rely on them to understand their responsibilities and carry out their job effectively.
4. Working With Vulnerable People
Finally, one of the most important jobs anyone can do is working in care, with children, or with vulnerable people.
Carers, social workers, teachers, and parents have an immense responsibility to care for the people they look after because they can’t look after themselves.
The best way to show an interviewer or potential employer that you’re responsible is to describe situations or examples of when you’ve acted responsibly in the past.
It’s better to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell,’ and situational examples are a good way for you to show off your best qualities.
Even if you don’t feel like you have lots of experience with responsibility, you can pick an example from your personal life that suits your career choice.
Some everyday examples of responsibility you could use include:
- Being a good parent.
- Working with other people.
- Difficult decisions you’ve had to make.
- Looking after yourself and others.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.