How to Answer ‘Give an Example of When You Showed Initiative’

Have you ever had to answer this question during an interview? We will walk you through the reasons employers love to ask this question, how to approach it and provide you with some example answers.

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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 interview question and pass your interview with flying colours. 

Why hiring managers ask this question 

Companies want to employ fast thinkers who are not 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 organisation, 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. 

How to craft a response

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 your previous role. 

Make sure that the event you will be narrating relates to some extent to the job position 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 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 summarised 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 cancelled 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 are 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 are 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!

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Example answers

Here are three sample answers meant to inspire you when crafting your response. Don’t forget to keep it short and simple:

Example of 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.

Example of showing initiative to minimise company costs

In a previous role in a smaller firm, I realised 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 minimise costs, and my supervisor was happy that I’d taken the initiative on this.

Example of 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.

Final thoughts

Being asked about how you showed initiative in the past is a common behavioural interview question.

Of course, interviewers may also enquire about other things, so they 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 practise your answers in advance!

Join the conversation! Have you ever been asked this question at an interview? How did you respond? Let us know in the comments section below!

This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 3 September 2018.