Take the initiative to stand out at work

Ask any boss which employee in their firm really stands out as a star, and they will most certainly bring up the person who shows initiative. Everyone wants a hardworking employee who does a good job, but the person who goes beyond that and shows initiative is rare indeed (and seems to be harder and harder to find, as I often hear from leaders).

Initiative is the power, ability or instinct to take action (to begin a task and follow through on it) without waiting for someone to tell you what to do. It means going beyond simply the “9 to 5” aspect of your job. It means taking the “next step” before being asked to take it. Getting in early, staying late, or looking for things to do when your own work is slow.

Whether you are a new employee at the firm or starting a new job in another part of your company, initiative is key. Most firms are explicitly looking for go-getters who can independently take action to get things done. And yet, few applicants talk about their strengths in this domain or realize how important it is in the workplace. Employers, on the other hand, are eager to hire individuals who want to keep learning and growing in their knowledge or skills. Think about the employee who takes additional courses or workshops in order to learn how to do their job better. This makes a positive impression on employers. Or those who volunteer to give back to the community. Those who do these things really stand out.

Here’s some idea on how to enhance your skills in showing initiative:

First, make sure you are doing your best work in your current job responsibilities.

Challenge yourself to try new things each week.

Thoughtfully assess how you can take on additional activities (or come earlier, stay later, train others, attend key department meetings, volunteer on committees, etc.).

Speak up in meetings.

Look for ways (and share ideas) on how to improve processes or ways of doing things.

Collaborate with colleagues to bring solutions to problems.

Volunteer for projects at work. It is amazing how much you can do to assist your firm and also give you new knowledge or skills.

Observe others in your department to see what they do to show initiative. Do they volunteer? Mentor others? Assist the boss when he/she needs extra help?

Don’t wait. If you see something at work that needs to be done that you can do, then do it.

Think ahead to be pre-emptive about important needs the company or your colleagues will have.

Understand the company’s top priorities. You want to focus your extra help on important jobs for the firm, not irrelevant ones.

Ask questions. Show curiosity about how things work at your firm.

If you are trying to get someone to do something, lead by example.

Find a project the company (or your boss) has really wanted to work on yet never had the time to, and see if you can do it. View the company as a team member or owner, not as “just an employee.”

Offer solutions. Don’t just bring up what the problems are. Look for answers.

Ask for feedback from your boss and co-workers on your level of initiative. They might also have ideas for how you could show more initiative on your job (that would bring value to them).

If you want to stand out and be seen as exceptional you have to show initiative. Do something extra each and every day. Because, as Will Rogers said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

Joyce Russell is the senior associate dean at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Mara Wiltshire, left, celebrates her first place finish in Mario Cart against her son Miles Jenkins, 7, as Calvin Jenkins, 5, looking on Friday evening at their home in Everett, Washington on January 7, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Child care’s heightened burden takes parents out of workforce

One Snohomish County mom said she couldn’t return to work “because I didn’t have child care and I wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

Jack Ng, owner of China City, at his restaurant in Mill Creek on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Businesses and nonprofits plan to push through COVID in 2022

“You can’t just wait until the fog clears,” says one business owner. Here’s what he and others are planning.

Garry Clark, CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)
Economic Alliance launches new diversity and equity program

The economic development group hopes for widespread participation among the region’s employers.

A sign bearing the corporate logo hangs in the window of a Starbucks open only to take-away customers in this photograph taken Monday, April 26, 2021, in southeast Denver.  Starbucks is no longer requiring its U.S. workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, reversing a policy it announced earlier this month. The Seattle coffee giant says, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022,  it's responding to last week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.  (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Starbucks nixes vaccine mandate after Supreme Court ruling

The move reverses a policy the coffee company announced earlier this month.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Stanwood in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Regulators OK doubling of composting operation in Stanwood

Lenz Enterprises can now handle 150,000 tons a year. Residents worry odors will be a problem.

Christian Sayre
Everett bar owner arrested again on new sexual assault charges

Christian Sayre, longtime owner of The Anchor Pub, was charged Friday with 10 counts of felony sex offenses.

FILE - Bill Gates speaks during the Global Investment Summit at the Science Museum, London, Tuesday, Oct, 19, 2021. A small city in the top U.S. coal-mining state of Wyoming will be home to a Bill Gates-backed experimental nuclear power project near a coal-fired power plant that will soon close, officials announced Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. (Leon Neal/Pool Photo via AP, File)
Microsoft to review workplace harassment, including Bill Gates allegations

One engineer wrote in a letter that she had a sexual relationship with Gates over several years.

Snohomish roofing company fined another $425K for safety violations

Allways Roofing has had at least seven serious injuries on its job sites, according to the state.

ZeroAvia will collaborate with Alaska Air Group, the parent company of Alaska Airlines, to produce a hydrogen-electric powertrain capable of flying 76-seat regional De Havilland Q400 aircraft in excess of 500 nautical miles. (Alaska Airlines)
Hydrogen-powered aircraft company ZeroAvia coming to Everett

It adds to Snohomish County’s growing repertoire of firms focused on flight without petroleum.

Federal lawsuit challenges ‘tribal monopoly’ on sports betting

Maverick Gaming wants to invalidate compacts allowing tribes, including the Tulalip and Stillaguamish, to offer sports wagering.

FILE - In this Monday, March 23, 2020, file photo, a worker walks near a mural of a Boeing 777 airplane at the company's manufacturing facility in Everett, Wash., north of Seattle. Federal regulators have indicated they likely won't certify Boeing's next airliner until 2023 because of questions about changes the aircraft manufacturer is making in software and hardware on a new version of the two-aisle 777 jet. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Boeing keeps giving big money to lawmakers who voted to overturn the election

Amazon and Microsoft stopped donating to members of Congress who voted against certifying the election.

Roei Ganzarski, CEO of magniX, poses with a production electric engine, the magni500, at the  company's new office on Seaway Boulevard on Monday, Jan. 18, 2020 in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
CEO of electric aircraft-engine company is stepping down

Roei Ganzarski, CEO of magniX and chairman of Eviation Aircraft, plans to leave both Snohomish County firms.