The expectations on employees are as high as ever. It’s not enough listening to orders anymore, and doing what is expected from you, day after day, meeting your targets and goals, following the job description. They want you to take initiative, to have proactive approach to everything, to go above and beyond with your service for the customer, to be action-oriented. That’s the new norm in many successful companies. As always, workers pay the price…

It makes no sense to discuss whether this is a right or wrong approach, however. It is expected from you, and unless you are ready to demonstrate proactive approach in an interview, they won’t hire you. Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this tricky interview question. Do not forget to read also my notes below the answers, to understand the peculiarities of this question.


7 sample answers to “Give an example of a situation when you showed initiative in work” interview question

  1. I recall a situation from my last job in a warehouse. One of my colleagues did not come for a night shift, and I saw that the workload was extremely heavy on that day. The remaining workers would struggle to handle the incoming stock and the expedition. I came to my superior and suggested that I would stay in work for four extra hours, helping the colleagues on the night shift, because of the heavy workload. Of course I was tired, I was on my feet for 8 hours before that, but I still felt it was the right thing to do... and so I did it. I believe that at least some of the colleagues would do the same thing for the guys on our shift.
  2. I always try to have a proactive approach and be action-oriented. For example in my last job in sales, I found it strange that we did not have an existing database of leads available. The fluctuation was very high in the sales department, but whoever left the company took their leads with them, and new sales reps lost a lot of time doing their research online, looking for leads. I suggested that each sales representative should enter their leads to the internal database, together with any information they have about the prospects. As long as they stay with the company, this is their private asset and nobody else can see the database. But when they leave, their superior should get an access, and can offer it to new sales reps, to help them kick start the sales.My superiors didn’t like the idea—and I am not sure why. But I still took the initiative and challenged how they did things in the company, though I was a new member of the team…

* Must read: List of all most common behavioral interview questions (give an example of a situation…)

  1. I had to take the initiative a lot in my last job, and more than anything else it meant working overtime. The workload was heavy, we were working on a new release, trying to meet the tight deadline with a simple goal: to release the product before the competitor will. I remember some weeks when I worked for 90 hours… But I did this, because I was passionate about the work, and my family situation allowed me to stay long hours in the office. And we weren’t specially compensated for working overtime, so it was really my initiative. It was nice to see that I motivated some other programmers to stay longer in work, and we eventually released our product before the competitor did so. Sometimes you just need a little spark to start the fire, and sometimes you can become that spark. That’s the philosophy I try to live and breath at work.
  2. I took the initiative often when I felt that something should be discussed with the managers. Other colleagues were a bit afraid to express their opinion, but I personally believe that feedback should flow freely in all directions in any successful organization. And so I often stood out and talked to the managers, for example when I thought the work could be done more efficiently, or when I felt that we needed more people in the team to handle the workload.
  3. This is my first job application, so I do not have experience with showing initiative at work. But I can refer to a good example from the college if you want. I always tried to participate in the life of the campus, do something for the community of students, and I did not mind to start some good initiative. I applied for a job of a resident assistant, and helped with solving issues at the dormitory. I also volunteered in the library and whenever I had a chance I tried to participate in an event or activity someone else from the school organized for students. Just to support them, because I know the feeling when you organize something and nobody comes to an event. It’s important to support good initiatives.
  4. Look, I have never looked for a security of a low monthly paycheck. I always preferred to be compensated for my efforts and results, for the amount of work I manage to do. This dates back to college years when I picked strawberries on farms or planted trees, and we were compensated for the number of trees we managed to plant on a shift–not for the number of hours we spent working. And the trend continues for me in sales and management. I prefer to be paid according to my results. And in order to earn well, I have to achieve great results. To achieve great results, I can’t wait for some magic to happen. I have to step out of my comfort zone, make phone calls, initiate meetings, and sometimes also make unpopular decisions. But this goes without saying for me. It’s just very natural.
  5. In my last job of a process manager, I always suggested some innovations. I mean, the plant was doing well, we were achieving good results, the mangers were satisfied, and we were beating our competitors. But in my book, we should continue striving for perfection, and we should always innovate ourselves and our business. Because they do not sleep in the other companies. And if we become satisfied with our position, we will quickly lose it… That’s my personal philosophy and I’d like to stick to it in my new job as well.


Your attitude matters more than the situation you narrate

Do not get too distracted with the word “work” in the question. Maybe you didn’t have a chance to show initiative in your former jobs–the type of work, or management, just did not allow for such an attitude. Or perhaps this is your very first job application.

In such cases, you can talk about a situation from school (see sample answer no. 5), or you can simply talk about your attitude to work, that you prefer proactive approach, and that you hope to get a chance to show it in your new job.

* Special Tip: What if I told you that you can practice your answers to ALL tricky behavioral interview questions, getting an immediate feedback from a life-like AI interview coach? And that you can start doing it for free, and it is a lot of fun too? 🙂 Check out this page on our partner website, Real Mock Interviews, pick a question, enter your email, and start practicing for free, either on your mobile phone or on your computer.

Sacrificing something for your colleagues or employer is always a good answer

If you did anything for your colleague–for example offered to take their shift when they felt sick, or stayed overtime in work to help them with a heavy workload, you can definitely talk about this as an example of a time when you showed initiative.

The same is true when you spoke out for your colleagues, trying to protect their interests in the meeting with the managers. With this answer you actually kill two flies with one stone. You demonstrate that you do not mind taking initiative, and you also demonstrate right attitude to your colleagues.

Ready to answer this one? Check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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