Hiring managers tend to ask job candidates challenging questions during interviews. While some of these questions will target your skills and experience, others will aim to uncover who you are as an individual.
Being asked to give an example where you showed initiative aims to do just that, so you should be prepared to answer this commonly asked question in every interview.
Need some help? Here is how you can prepare to answer this question and pass your interview with flying colors.
Companies want to employ fast thinkers who aren’t afraid to show initiative and deal with situations that may arise in the workplace.
Hiring managers are on the lookout for creative, action-oriented people who are proactive and ready to go above and beyond when needed. These are the people whose efforts foster growth in the organization, ideas are nurtured, and customers get maximum satisfaction from dealing with the company.
Due to this, you should be ready to prove to your interviewer that you have got what it takes and bring value to the role.
By now, you should be wondering how to answer this tricky question in a way that shows you have what it takes to assume this job position.
Here are a few tips you can employ when crafting your response:
1. Choose an appropriate example
To start with, pick an event from your past experiences where you played a significant role in making a goal achievable. Depending on your work experience, you could give examples from when you were a student, an intern or within a previous role.
Make sure that the event you’ll be narrating relates to some extent to the job position that you’re applying for, as the hiring manager is mainly interested in how innovative you are to think about alternative solutions to problems that may arise in their workplace. Keeping your example relevant to the specific role or your field, then, is essential!
2. Use the STAR method
Ensure that the example you provide follows the STAR framework. This will enable you to showcase your skills and abilities through your answer.
Begin by describing the Situation, which is the context of the example. Then, explain your initial role (Task), as well as your goal before listing the problem you faced. Afterwards, discuss the Action you took to overcome the problem and the Result you achieved.
You can then elaborate on how you believe the initiative you took had a positive impact and how it could have negatively affected the company or anybody concerned in this scenario, had it not been taken.
3. Tell a story
Everybody, including the hiring manager, loves to listen to stories, especially when the premise is exciting and the flow is clear. Therefore, when answering this kind of question, you should use a storytelling approach, like the STAR method mentioned above, to ensure that your narrative is well-structured and planned but also memorable.
With a story-formatted example, you stand a chance of engaging your audience and having their full attention. Meanwhile, a response that is bereft of a basic story format and doesn’t detail the time, place, what was at stake and the final result will sound bland and fail to impress recruiters.
In essence, present your example in a short and summarized story form that will be memorable.
4. Talk about your motivations
You must mention why you took the initiative in the example your presented.
What pushed you to act? What was on the line? How eager were you to bring positive results?
The recruiter doesn’t just want to know what initiative you took but also understand what drives you forward and pushes you into action. Similarly, it would help if you mentioned how taking action prevented a negative event from unfurling; for example, a business deal salvaged from being canceled or a lawsuit from a disgruntled customer prevented.
This will illustrate how you can also be an asset to their company and demonstrate that you’re devoted to helping situations where you can.
5. Don’t exaggerate
Usually, when people are asked to give an example of something that happened in their past, they tend to look for some over-the-top answer to impress their interviewer. However, most of the time, they can easily tell apart the truth from an overembellished story.
So, if you’re asked to give an example of when you showed initiative, don’t be tempted to exaggerate things and blow them out of proportion. It doesn’t have to be a tremendous achievement that changed the world or the company’s internal structure. It can be something small but relevant that still shows who you are and what action you would take when facing obstacles.
Aim to be truthful when giving your answer — you don’t want to be caught in a lie and risk your chances of landing the job!
Here are some sample answers meant to inspire you when crafting your response. Don’t forget to keep it short and simple.
Showing initiative to deliver excellent customer service
In my part-time job as serving staff, I learned the ingredients of all the food and snacks on the menu to answer any question posed by a customer about our food ingredients due to their diet or allergies. I did this to avoid calling on the manager or chef whenever such an instance occurs. This little initiative resulted in faster service delivery and increased customer satisfaction.
Showing initiative to minimize company costs
In a previous role in a smaller firm, I realized that we were paying for a premium internet plan which pushed the company’s monthly costs to be considerably high. So, I worked out our monthly usage and then researched options that balanced cost and quality. I used my research to negotiate a more competitive price with our supplier. In the end, we were able to minimize costs, and my supervisor was happy that I’d taken the initiative on this.
Showing initiative to assist your team
A situation occurred in my last job at a warehouse. After completing my shift for the day, I discovered that one of my colleagues did not come for his night shift. The remaining workers would struggle to handle the incoming stock and the expedition.
I suggested to my superior that I stay at work for three extra hours to help the workers on the night shift because of the heavy workload. Even though I was worn out from having completed an eight-hour shift, I still felt it was the right thing to do, and so I did it. Taking such initiatives fostered a cordial relationship with everyone in the warehouse and created a stronger sense of team spirit.
Showing initiative to help your team save time
When I worked at a computer repair shop as a recent graduate, I didn’t hold a customer-facing position. I would simply sit in the back, check whatever devices were brought in and relay information to our shop assistant, who was responsible for handling calls.
Though the assistant was quite tech savvy, there were some abbreviations and terms they weren’t familiar with. So, I prepared a sheet with all this information, organized in alphabetical order, framed it and placed it on their desk. This saved us both a lot of time we would have otherwise spent in back-and-forth!
Showing initiative to improve organization
At my previous job, which was at a small marketing agency, I noticed that interdepartmental coordination wasn’t the strongest. Although my duties centered around design, I didn’t hesitate to chat to my manager about my observations, as I could tell many of my colleagues were becoming frustrated.
Although each team had its own internal deadlines, we couldn’t see one another’s schedules, and that kept slowing down our joint efforts. Suggesting we create a common calendar that was visible to all was welcomed by my manager, and she put me in charge of setting it up. My team was grateful!
Showing initiative to enhance online presence
At the previous organization I worked, I happened to notice that posting to our social media accounts was not uniform. There was no consistency as to the time of day nor days of the week that our content went online; it was done whenever someone had the time to take care of it.
As I knew that consistency boosts user reach, I came up with a simple schedule in my spare time and asked my colleagues who would like to get involved. We ended up taking turns, a person every week, to schedule ahead. Sure enough, our engagement went up!
“Showing initiative at work” is listed as a desirable attribute on almost every job description out there, so it’s important to get your answer right. To do that, avoid saying the following, as they might come across as red flags!
“I had no choice, really”
Taking initiative involves problem solving and offering up a solution because your job matters to you. Or, at least, that’s what you want to show the recruiter.
Although most of us will have to deal with things that aren’t directly our responsibility at some point or other, that’s not the sort of foundation you want to build your answer on.
So, avoid speaking ill of your old colleagues and their tendency to turn a blind eye to things. Instead, consider the interview question and answer in a way that reflects on your own qualities, rather than those of your previous team.
“I desperately needed a promotion”
We all have reasons for doing what we do. Sometimes, we help others because we genuinely feel the desire to do so, while at other times, we may be anticipating something in return. Though there’s nothing inherently wrong with looking out for yourself in today’s highly competitive workplace, that’s probably not the best way to go about answering this question.
If you want to talk about reward, mention what the experience helped you learn and why it was beneficial to your career aspirations and goals for the future.
“I’m willing to do anything for my job”
Taking your career seriously and demonstrating an eagerness to help your team are excellent things to convey. However, not to the point where you’re completely throwing boundaries or self-respect out the window.
Contrary to what some might think, saying “no” can be just as powerful as saying “yes” in terms of progressing your career — and your interviewer knows this. So, don’t make it sound like you’ll take on anything. Your prospective employer needs to see your ability to prioritize your tasks effectively and gauge your time realistically!
“My previous manager was awful”
Working for someone who, in your eyes, is a bad leader is no fun situation to be in. When it comes to your old boss, you may have wondered, at times, how on Earth they got their position in the first place — that’s how bad they were at managing.
Or perhaps you thought your old boss was too intimidating, so staying on their good side was the only way to survive.
Though taking matters in your own hands is the reasonable thing to do in either of those scenarios, now isn’t the time to get into details. Stay calm, take a deep breath, and structure your answer in a way that highlights your own great qualities.
Being asked about how you showed initiative in the past is one of the most common job interview questions you can get, next to “How did you hear about this position?” and “Why should we hire you?”
Of course, the hiring process is likely to involve more behavioral interview questions so your interviewer can gauge how you respond to pressure and overcome obstacles at work. To stand out with your answers and outperform other applicants, ensure to implement these tips and practice your answers in advance!
Have you ever been asked this question at an interview? How did you respond? Let us know in the comments section below!
Originally published on September 3, 2018. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.