Merriam-Webster Dictionary:


1) : an argument presenting two or more equally conclusive alternatives against an opponent

Over the years, we have found that one of the essays that gives candidates the most grief is the dreaded ethical dilemma essay. While most candidates have a clear understanding of what is and is not ethical, the problem usually lies in the word dilemma. As you can tell from the definition above, a dilemma occurs when two equally conclusive sides exist simultaneously-with the emphasis on EQUALLY. We offer two examples below, the first with only one reasonable side, the second with two.

Example 1: While I was working at ABC firm, my boss asked me to book second quarter revenue in advance so that we could create the false appearance of a great first quarter. I firmly told him that this was unethical and refused.

In the example above, the candidate is definitely being asked to do something unethical. However, because the argument really has only one reasonable side-the reader would not want to hear the story if the candidate had agreed to book revenue ahead of schedule!-no ethical dilemma exists at all.

Example 2: As the marketing manager for a small pharmaceutical company, I had to set the price for our breakthrough drug. I needed to consider that on the one hand, a rock-bottom price would mean that our life-saving drug would be available to all. But on the other hand, even though a high price would serve a smaller market, it would make the drug far more profitable and would ensure that we could continue to conduct valuable research into additional life-saving compounds.

In Example 2, the candidate is outlining a true dilemma. The candidate could be entirely comfortable telling the reader that he pursued either of the pricing strategies as long as he walks the reader through his/her rationale.

The test to determine whether you have encountered a true dilemma is fairly simple: Could I comfortably discuss the alternative to the path that I took? If the answer is yes, you are clearly on the right track. If the answer is no, try again.