Give An Example Of A Time You Showed Initiative: Tricky Interview Questions

Interview Tips

July 19, 2021

One of the most common competency-based questions asked across the world focuses on “initiative”. In a hyper-competitive job market, recruiters are looking for people who display a proactive approach and go beyond the given job description to achieve company goals. A candidate that does not display the willingness to take initiative is seen as someone who can be an employee, but not a leader. 


Employers, therefore, prefer to hire employees who are self-motivated and do not need continuous instructions or supervision, who preempt the needs of the business, and who aren’t complacent.


Therefore, whether you are signing up for a job, internship, or any scholarship, it is important that you prepare to be asked some version of “Can you give an example of a time you showed initiative?”


What does the employer want to know?

The purpose behind these questions is to gauge a candidate's creativity, resourcefulness, confidence, and ability to improvise. They also assess if you can notice flaws, devise a plan to correct them, and then successfully execute the aforementioned plan. In a way, the willingness to take initiative is directly linked with a person’s problem-solving skills. 


Employers are simply keen to assess your ability to initiate things independently and to see if you take charge before others do.


How can you answer?


Your answer should be based on your lived experiences. Try to recall instances from your previous jobs, internships, or even during any college event. You can talk about a new project that you started or solved a problem even if it was not your responsibility. 


Make sure that your answer provides adequate context and details. It should clearly outline your skills and strengths. Use this answer to highlight the qualities that you think are not mentioned in your CV. Use this question as a space to explore the routine as well as creative activities where you demonstrated initiative.  


What to say, what not to say?


It is not necessary that the incident you choose to talk about should be momentous. Some small but significant moments also deserve a mention. In fact, as a fresh graduate you’ll likely have volunteer experience or internship experience in the professional space, so feel free to venture into reasonable examples from your personal or academic pursuits, too.


For example: “When I was interning at a publishing house, we were required to photocopy hundreds of pages worth of manuscripts. By the end of the day, the printers would run out of paper and ink. I would make sure to refill the paper and ink cartridges after the workday ends so that we do not have any delays the next morning. My supervisor noted this and involved me more in creative problem-solving.” 


You can talk about larger projects or initiatives that you were a part of, that served you or your community whether it is working part-time throughout college to fund your education or starting an urban composting plant in your locality. It is always better to link your initiatives with the job/internship/course that you are applying to. For example, mention the initiatives you have taken for environment conservation if you are applying to a company that runs CSR programs on the same, or if you’re trying to land a job at a non-profit that works for the environment. 


Make sure that as you properly explain the impact of your initiative as you conclude your answer. 


Taking initiative as a means of self-empowerment indicates the strength of character and the willingness to improve. Most importantly, it shows your willingness to take the first step & to go above & beyond. 


Written by Niharika Dabral

Niharika is a journalist and a recent graduate of the Asian College of Journalism. 
Photo by Edmond Dantès from Pexels


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