How to answer "Can you tell me about a time when you had to take initiative or be proactive in your work?" (with sample answers)

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This post is part of our series on behavioral interview questions.

Why Employers Ask This

Employers want to know if you have the ability to think critically, act independently, and take responsibility for your work. They also want to determine if you can solve problems on your own, without always relying on instructions from superiors. By asking about a specific instance you had to take initiative or be proactive, employers can see your problem-solving skills and your capacity to work independently.

Moreover, the question intends to recognize your leadership skills. Employers are searching for individuals who are going to play an active role in the company, take ownership of their work, and become leaders in the organization. If you show that you have taken the initiative previously, employers may assume you are good at recognizing areas requiring attention and then "taking the reins" to ensure that the task or project is completed most effectively.

How to Answer the Question

When answering that question, start by telling a specific and relevant story from your work experiences that shows how you took the initiative to solve a problem. Provide information about the challenge you encountered, the steps you took to address it, and the positive resulting outcome. Make sure to highlight any skills you used to resolve the issue, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, decision-making, or collaboration.

It's important to clarify the actual steps you took to take initiative and manage the issue. Emphasize what made your intervention and approach unique. Also, emphasize the value of teamwork and how colleagues supported you while you were taking initiative, since interpersonal and communication skills are often as important to employers as the technical or specialized skills the role demands.

Finally, after telling your story, make sure to mention any significant lessons that you learned from the experience and how you've been implementing that learnings in your present or future work. Employers are searching for candidates that will carry not only their experiences but also the lessons they have learned from those experiences to their next position.

Sample answers

Example 1 - Good answer:

When I was working as a customer service representative, I noticed that many customers were asking the same questions repeatedly. To make the process smoother for both customers and myself, I created a FAQ document for the most commonly asked questions and added it to our website. This initiative not only saved time and effort for both customers and myself but also improved customer satisfaction ratings.

This response provides a specific example of a proactive and problem-solving approach rather than just stating that they have been proactive. Additionally, this initiative improved a process and improved customer satisfaction, which shows they have a positive impact on the organization.

Example 2 - Good answer:

As an intern in a marketing agency, I noticed that there was a lack of communication between teams, which caused delays and misunderstandings. I proposed a weekly meeting where representatives from each team could discuss their current projects, deadlines, and strategies. This initiative helped to mitigate delays and ensured that all parties were on the same page.

This answer demonstrates excellent problem-solving skills that demonstrate they are proactive in their approach. They saw a gap in teamwork and communication and proposed a solution to rectify the issue.

Example 3 - Bad answer:

Yes, I am a proactive person. I always try to anticipate problems before they arise.

This answer simply states that the candidate is proactive, but does not provide any specific examples or evidence to support this claim. Additionally, the response is very general and does not indicate how this proactivity has added value to the organization or previous roles.

Example 4 - Bad answer:

Nothing comes to mind.

This answer suggests a lack of preparation or critical thinking. The candidate has not taken the necessary time to think about their experiences to provide a suitable answer. It also suggests that the candidate has not had much experience being proactive, which can be perceived as a negative quality for certain roles.

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