What Employers Want: Initiative

Continuing my series on the skills and attributes that employers are looking for, today I’ll discuss initiative. Initiative is the trait that came in 9th (of 19) on the list of desirable skills cited in the Job Outlook 2015 survey conducted by the NACE. With 66.5% of employers saying that initiative is important to them, you need to think about how you can demonstrate that you have this attribute.

It’s quite likely that you’ll be asked direct questions about initiative in a job interview. With the current emphasis on “STAR” questions (see my book’s Appendix K: Typical interview questions for a discussion of STAR questions and how to answer them), you can expect to hear a request such as “Tell us about a time when you showed initiative” or a question such as “Do you work well on your own initiative?” The time to prepare your answers is before you go into the interview!

When thinking about how to discuss initiative, it’s good to keep in mind something that Victor Hugo said: “Initiative is doing the right thing without being told.” (In case you don’t know, Victor Hugo was the 19th century French poet, author, and dramatist who wrote Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, among other things.)

That being said, what you’ll need to do is think about any situations where you came up with an idea about how to solve a problem or took some action that helped achieve success for yourself or others. For example, you could talk about a unique time management system that you devised for yourself, a fund-raising project that you suggested for a student organization, or an efficiency measure that you suggested to an employer. It will be important for you to describe the situation that caused you to take some initiative, the steps you took to follow through with your idea or plan (including any problems or challenges along the way and/or how you encouraged others to work with you), and the end result.