'Give an example of a time when you showed initiative.' Tricky graduate interview question
Preparation is the key to managing your graduate job interview nerves. If you’ve thought in advance about the questions you might be asked, you’ll be able to approach a face-to-face meeting or video interview with your prospective employer with confidence, secure in the knowledge that you’ve done all you can to avoid ending up lost for words.
The recruiter may ask you for an example of a time when you showed initiative in order to find out whether you’re capable of coming up with new ideas and thinking creatively in order to solve problems. You can take your example from your work experience, a group project or a skills-related extracurricular activity.
Are you the kind of person who can come up with a way through a difficult situation, communicate your idea to others and work with the rest of your team to act on it? That's what employers are looking for.
How not to reply to the interview question ‘Give an example of a time when you showed initiative’
‘On the whole I prefer to stick to doing what I’m told rather than setting myself up to fail by doing things off my own bat. But there was this one time when I suggested to my boss at the pizza parlour that she try offering an ‘all you can eat’ deal to students to boost trade on Mondays. She thought it was an interesting idea but nothing ever came of it.’
Why is this answer unlikely to get you the graduate job you want?
In your answer, you need to show not only that you’re capable of coming up with good ideas, but also that you can persuade other people to give you a chance to put them into action, and be persistent about turning inspiration into success.
What is the graduate recruiter really asking?
Do you have a bit of spark? Will you bring something new to the job, or are you a sheep who will happily follow where others lead? Are you going to help give my organisation an advantage in a competitive marketplace?
So how should you tackle the question ‘Give me an example of a time when you used your initiative’?
‘Takings at the pizza parlour where I worked part-time as a waitress during my studies were down, so I chatted informally to fellow students who were potential customers to get some ideas for things we could do to attract more business. I approached my boss with a couple of ideas and she agreed to invest in flyers and advertisements in the student paper. We also introduced a suggestions box for new toppings and created a new pizza every week. Within a month profits were up by 10%.’
This answer highlights the candidate’s effectiveness, interpersonal skills, powers of persuasion and commercial awareness, as well as the ability to take a creative approach to problem solving.