How to talk about using initiative in job interviews

When interviewers ask you to give an example of when you have used your initiative, what do they really mean and what do they want to know? These interview tips and example answers will help you answer the “using your initiative” question in style.

What is initiative?

Even reading this article to find out more is an example of using your initiative, so well done and keep going!

Initiative is part of your self-management skills (which you can boost with our free Young Professional training). Managing yourself is all about taking responsibility for what you do. Initiative is all about making good things happen, not just waiting for good things to happen to you.

Examples of using initiative:

  • Preparing in advance for job interviews
  • Offering to take on an extra task at work, college, school or in the home
  • Taking on a new hobby or interest
  • Doing something you know is good for you, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone

Why do job interviewers ask you to describe a time when you used your initiative?

Every employer wants to know:

  • You are a self-starter and willing to come up with new and better ideas
  • You can work well on your own even if the manager is not watching you
  • You put your best into something because you WANT to, not just because someone told you to.

If you can prove to job interviewers that you’ve got initiative, you’re showing them that hiring you would be a great decision! You can push yourself and think for yourself. You take pride in doing your best work, not just cutting corners or doing it because you’re forced to. Who wouldn’t want to hire a candidate like you?

Tips on how to answer “Give me an example of a time when you used your initiative”

Your answer can relate to work experience, a part-time or full-time job, coursework, gap year travelling, volunteering, starting a new project or business… there are so many ways to prove you have showed initiative to make the world a better place.

Think of a time when you…

  • Went the extra mile to help someone or make sure a problem was sorted
  • Worked well on your own even without supervision
  • Suggested a new idea or way of doing things that was put into action
  • Started a new project that took off

Example of using your initiative at a part-time catering job as service staff

“In my part-time job as serving staff at the weekends, I learned the ingredients of all the food on the menu so that if a customer asked about food ingredients because of their diet or allergies I was able to answer their questions without asking the manager or chef for help. When seasonal or daily specials were served, I always checked ingredients at the start of the day as not all ingredients would be listed on the menu.

Example of using your initiative in volunteering

“I wanted to volunteer in my local area in order to use my free time productively, learn new skills and give back. So I carried out online research to see what volunteering opportunities were available locally. Because someone in my family suffers from Alzheimer’s, I chose to part-time volunteer in a care home in order to further my people skills and also understand more of what my family member might be experiencing so that I could be better-placed to help them meet any daily challenges they might be dealing with.”

Example of using your initiative with job hunting

“I wanted to find out more about rewarding opportunities for young people in my area so I went to a local careers fair with my CV. I spoke to a range of professionals in a range of different sectors, and was able to find out more and put questions to them face-to-face. This approach led me to take a positive view of apprenticeships, which is why I applied to the apprenticeship opportunity offered by your company. I am interested in this sector and my research at the careers fair helped me confirm that an apprenticeship would suit my preference for learning and training in a real-life work environment.”

Example of using your initiative with an extra-curricular interest

“I wanted to perform a 5k run for charity. I announced my decision then made a commitment to train every day in order to be fit and ready for the day. To raise as much interest as possible, I asked family and friends for support. I also researched how to set up a crowdfunding campaign online, and this approach with reaching out to friends via social media proved very successful in helping to raise as much money for a good cause as possible.”

Click here to read more on using your initiative and see how to boost your self-management skills with our free Young Professional training.

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