Initiative at Work: to Take or not to Take


Meaning of initiative at work

One of the in-demand traits of employees is willingness to take initiative. By taking on more responsibility, coming up with the new ideas and exceeding the manager’s expectations, the most proactive individuals foster the success of the organization – and help their own career. In the environment where most people tend to do exactly what they’ve been told and shy away from extra responsibility, it’s the initiative fellows that drive companies to success.

We’ve all seen initiative in action. However, if you’re not an initiative individual by nature, you’ll be curious to know that there’s the right and the wrong time to take initiative. How to manage up to get noticed at the workplace? How to gain a reputation of a self-starter and ensure your personal growth? Our executive resume services will provide you with a plenty of hands-on advice on taking initiative to your own advantage.

What is initiative at the workplace?

Initiative is typically defined as proactive approach to handling responsibilities and persistence in overcoming difficulties on the way to organizational goals. In other words, initiative individuals don’t wait for the instructions and are willing to take (or invent) steps which are necessary to succeed. Although it’s not a must, most initiative personalities love their job as it’s hard to be proactive doing something that doesn’t appeal to you (if you struggle finding your labor of love, check our guidance here:

Better said than done, isn’t it? If we dig deeper, we’ll find out that this sort of behavior requires a specific mindset. To take initiative efficiently, you need research skills, communication abilities, self-confidence and business acumen. While the others tend to react to the boss’s instructions or other activities, you need to keep a specific goal in mind, know how to present it to management and eventually achieve it.

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When it’s better not to take initiative

Despite its evident benefits, initiative isn’t always good and welcomed. Before you take on more responsibility or come up with the new idea, make sure it’s the right time and place to do it. Otherwise, such a willingness to show off can bring to unpleasant consequences. Here are the factors you should consider before getting proactive and taking initiative.

  • Is your performance satisfactory? First and foremost, you’ve been hired to handle a specific set of responsibilities. Before walking an extra mile, make sure you are staying in track when doing your job. Needless to say that suggestion for improvements or requests to take on more work from someone who hardly gets the job done won’t sound trustworthy for management.
    If you feel that you underperform due to lack of motivation, here’s how to can get re-inspired:
  • Are you risk tolerant? You can be performing very well; but do you feel comfortable taking on risk and facing the unknown? For instance, if you’re a marketer willing to launch an extravagant campaign which will either make it or break it, you should realize that you put your career at stake. The company will lose money if it fails; and you can be fined or even lose your job. Are you prepared for an outcome of that kind? If you aren’t, start with smaller and less hazardous initiatives.
  • Is the initiative within your limits of authority? Even if you’re an expert in your area, taking major initiatives require permission of your boss or upper management. Avoid promoting changes in a grey area as it can be inappropriate and reflect in your work negatively. If you’re an accountant, you shouldn’t teach your CFO to create strategic plans.
  • Is the initiative well-researched and prepared? If we aren’t speaking of minor initiatives such as moving a water cooler to another corner of the office, keep in mind to come up with well-researched initiatives rather than the raw ideas. Your boss is very busy; and the good initiative is what makes his work easier. Let’s say you came across the helpful software for your content writing team. By simply mentioning it you leave your boss overwhelmed. On the contrary, when you do a research and present him/her ways of use and benefits, you offer your boss how to get their team more productive – and this approach helps you promote your career too.
  • Do you have good relationships with colleagues? As soon as you stand out and show your desire to get ahead, you’ll likely face hate or envy coming from your coworkers, even if you’ve been in good relationships previously. Try keeping it professional and don’t get upset, as it’s the part of human nature. If you didn’t have good relationships previously, make sure that coworkers might sabotage your initiatives. In this case, it’s better to wait until things calm down or change department and start fresh in a friendly environment.
    To maintain good relationships with coworkers, it’s better to avoid certain subjects of discussion – see more here:
  • Is the organization going through the change? Probably, it’s the toughest time for coming up with any initiative. If the company goes through merger/acquisition, business is being sold or restructured, there’s any stability – you may not even have your job in a week from now. It’s not the best time for initiatives of any kind or personal requests such as how to ask for a raise. The best tactic is to make a good online resume or order your resume done professionally by an expert writer in case you are sacked.

Excluding these cases, taking initiative is a great opportunity to get noticed and advance your career – just prepare your pitch thoroughly to make it potentially beneficial for the organization.

Benefits of taking initiative

If displayed appropriately and at the right time, initiative is equally beneficial for you and for the organization you work for. It’s a well-known fact that one should take initiative to ‘get noticed’, but what exactly stands behind these words? Below are the list of evident and less-than-obvious perks you can get from using your initiative:

  • You get visibility and recognition. As you might have learnt from the experience, the most hard-working individual isn’t always the one who gets promoted faster than others. Hard work and dedication are not enough to build a career – it’s important to make your contribution noticed and show your real value for the company. By showing the initiative, you demonstrate genuine interest to fulfilling company needs which can lead to higher salary or promotion in the future (if you’re looking for hands-on tips how to get bigger paycheck, see here:
  • You learn new skills. When your responsibility is basically the same all the time, it’s hard to keep learning and growing professionally. Moreover, getting stuck in a role with no professional development leads to professional burnout and continuous workplace stress. Willingness to take on more responsibility or a new project that is completely new for you expands your comfort zone and allows you to learn new hard and soft skills every day. If you’re looking to improve your communication skills, problem solving, independence and boost self-esteem, initiative is the right way to do so.
  • You get extra responsibility. To continue the previous point, getting extra responsibility allows you to be considered for a promotion. If you are successful performing your usual range of duties and are looking to do more, it means that you are ready for a management role and you can prove it on the practice. Therefore, if you want a promotion, look for an initiative waiting to be implemented or come up with your ideas.
  • Increased company efficiency. Looking from the employer’s perspective, it’s the initiative individuals that make process improvement, cost reduction and client retention happen. Everyone needs people who can see the opportunities for improvement, resolve problems in a non-standard way and suggest ideas that can potentially lead the company to a breakthrough. That’s why creative approach and initiative are one of the top qualities companies look for when they hire graduates (here you can find the guide on landing your firs job after graduation:
  • You boost the worth of your resume. Any issues of displaying initiative, both effective and ineffective, deserve being mentioned on your resume. Acting on your own initiative assumes that you have leadership abilities, can work independently and identify opportunities. Moreover, it means that you are persistent enough to reach company goals. And if you support the description of projects you led with high-impact resume words, your contribution will sound even more significant on paper.
    If you don’t know how to include the projects you led on your resume, or feel that your resume is not working, consider getting expert help. Our in-house resume writers can create a modern resume for you – check our services and prices.

Whether it comes to introducing new idea for higher productivity, leading an innovative project or performing the duties of your boss during his absence, the thoughtful initiative always pays off. Your task is to do your homework, find the right time and place to display your initiative and be persistent during its realization.

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The best ways to take initiative at work

Have your career plan at hand.

The best initiative comes from understanding how it can benefit the organization – and your career, too. Moreover, the research shows that people who have long-term career plans are more willing to take initiative. If you know your professional goals, you are aware of which skills you need to learn and which projects to complete to work your way up. You learn to tie your career needs to the company goals, and come up with really helpful ideas rather than present something which has just crossed your mind. If you don’t have a career plan yet, learn the pros and cons of creating it.

Boost your confidence.

In fact, it’s impossible to imagine a good initiative coming from a shy, hesitant person. When you present some brand new solution to management, you need to be confident in your words and your ideas.
If you lack self-esteem, there’s a plenty of quick ways to increase it. First, create a list of your past professional accomplishments. Taking a look at how much you have achieved so far will motivate you for even bigger accomplishments. Second, set measurable goals and achieve them so you could see the progress and start perceiving yourself as a ‘go-getter’. And third, visualize yourself as a person that exudes confidence and positive vibes.

Have an eye on opportunities.

The ability to see opportunities literally everywhere is a skill, and you can master it. If you can see and use the potential for improvement and growth, you won’t get unnoticed with any organization. There’s a number of ways you can teach yourself to keep an eye on opportunity:

  • Be curious. People who can see opportunities which are in the air share one common trait – they’re curious. They’re always looking to know how the entire company works, and go above and beyond their direct responsibilities. When you learn how every department of your organization works, what makes your product or service a success and what other employees complain about most, you have a clear picture in your mind and can see what can be improved and how.
  • Ask questions. To learn to see potential for improvement, you need to ask yourself the right questions. Use them to access the current situation in the company or your department, identify problems at an early stage or understand the needs of your clients. When you adopt the habit of seeking opportunities everywhere, you’ll become an asset for any employer.
    Here are the samples of the questions you can ask yourself:
    • Which small problems can lead to bigger ones if we don’t resolve them now?
    • Are there any other ways our core competencies can be used on the market?
    • How we can improve our client service to ensure client retention?
    • What do people on our team dislike most about the job?

Moreover, the ability to ask the right questions will help you go a long way on the job interviews. If you’re job hunting, check the list of best questions to ask your interviewer.

  • Monitor the competitors. One of the proven ways to understand the pitfalls of your business is to compare it versus the top players on the market. So, if you lack the ideas of what should be improved in your company, then do a research to understand how other companies work. Use all available information to access in which areas competitors are stronger than you and learn their methods of achieving success.

Think like the business owner.

If you want to set yourself up for the initiative, watching things from the business owner perspective will help you work your way up. Most of employees tend to do exactly what is required from them and what they get money for (unless they’re ambitious and want to reach the top of the corporate ladder). However, to be truly beneficial for the business, you need to develop the mindset of the business owner. It assumes seeing your ordinary tasks and the tasks set for your department as the part of complicated business process which eventually brings money to the business.

As you focus on the overall company success, you get more responsible and thoughtful when displaying the initiative, and your suggestions get more helpful.

Come up with well-prepared ideas.

Speaking up the good yet raw ideas is the surefire way to have them stolen by a prompt colleague who might develop them and get all the credit. It isn’t the reward you wanted when you learnt to take initiative, is it? Moreover, as we’ve mentioned above, raw ideas aren’t much helpful for your boss as they need further work to bring in ROI.

Whenever you feel you’ve got a great initiative to come up with, do a proper homework. Develop your ideas further, think of the amount of work and costs it might involve and the risks it may encounter. For instance, if you’d like to suggest that sales team could get a training to learn the modern selling practices, calculate whether the expected turnover will cover training expenses. When you enter your boss’s office with a draft of business case, you’ll be taken more seriously.

If you feel uninterested in your job right now and don’t have fresh ideas, check the ways to find inspiration at work.

Promote yourself.

Not only you need to suggest and develop your idea, but also to do your best for its approval and realization. This is impossible without a bunch of self-promotional efforts and making yourself more visible at work. Start with participation in meetings and discussions to show off as a proactive personality and a loyal employee. When it comes to discussing your own initiatives, don’t give up easily and don’t accept every criticism you receive. To have your initiative implemented and get long-term benefits for it (i.e. pay raise or a promotion), you need to be persistent at what you do – provided that you’ve followed the advice above and your initiative lies on thorough research and analysis.

Don’t shy away from discussions and possible confrontations as you’ll probably have to defend your ideas. Being firm in your beliefs and visible when resolving company problems will help you reach your career goals faster.

Hard work is necessary when you take initiative at work as you technically get on extra work. However, don’t overcommit and remember that the successful initiative at the workplace should be rewarded. If you feel that your significant contributions are taken for granted or your boss takes advantage of you, it’s time to escalate the issue to management or start looking for a new job. Learn how our company can assist you with facilitating your job search.

A few extra tips to help you succeed

There isn’t a recipe of perfect initiative as possible solutions are unique for every situation. However, there are a plenty of ways to gain better reputation of an initiative person. 

  • Always go the extra mile. One of the simplest ways to stand out is to go beyond performing your standard job responsibilities. Willingness to go the extra way displays your initiative and readiness for extra responsibility.
    Anticipate your boss’s needs (and meet them), set the higher standard for yourself, stay late if there’s work to do. However, keep in mind that your goal is working smarter, not harder. Only put the extra effort when you’re sure it can generate fast and visible result for your department or the entire company.
  • Remain positive. The initiative you offer might bring outstanding results or it might fail. Multiple setbacks can happen along the way. However, no matter how the situation will be developing, you need to maintain a positive attitude if you’d like to succeed. Why? Firstly, keeping yourself (and the team) on the positive note will help you not to give up when the things get tough and remain persistent in meeting your goal. And secondly, if you turn out to be the only person who can take the lead in the crisis situation, the sole fact that you’ve taken the initiative will be noticed and appreciated even faster.
    Moreover, when you work as a part of team, your uplifted mood inspires your coworkers as well.
  • Help others. On many teams, there’s a person who lags behind in one area or a newly hired employee who lacks proper onboarding training. In this case, you can take the initiative and explain them the issues they lack knowledge or experience with, thus increasing the results of work for the entire team and gaining a reputation of a subject matter expert. For instance, if your company implements brand new software or new corporate rules, you can serve as an agent of this change by training others and explaining most complex concepts.
  • Participate in corporate activities. If you work for a mid- or large-sized organization, there are always plenty of events around such as team building activities, conferences, training sessions, etc. Therefore, you can offer your candidacy to speak at these events or assist with preparations. Not only it will help you understand the work of other departments and gain new knowledge, but also you’ll recommend yourself as a go-getter who is concerned with the life of the company (and your career as well). For instance, you can assist with preparation for the office corporate party
  • Recommend good employees. Although good job postings receive dozens and hundreds of applications, there’s always the lack of qualified specialists. If you know someone who could be good for the company, be sure to recommend this person for the job to save the company time and effort.
  • Dress professionally. It’s a well-known fact that the first impression heavily depends on your appearance. Moreover, the dress code of employees is the part of modern office etiquette rules. However, even if those rules allow dressing casually, you need to keep your outfit clean, neat and professional as your look represents yourself and your organization. It’s possible to look professional even in the pair of jeans and a nude sweater. When you look appropriately, it adds value to your words and will draw more attention to the initiatives you offer accordingly.
  • Show up on time. Arriving in the office early (maybe even before the working hours) sends the message of your loyalty and your initiative to solve the company’s problems. Although it’s not initiative itself, coming early will not do you any harm if you want to advance your career. Moreover, it’s a well-known fact that we are more productive during morning hours.
  • Participate in brainstorming sessions. Getting involved in workplace activities is necessary to get noticed. If brainstorming sessions are held, don’t be afraid to speak up and share your ideas. Maybe, some of your ideas will be supported and realized. Brainstorming sessions are typically used to find a creative solution for existing problems, but even if you don’t invent that solution, being an active participant of likewise activities will help you build a reputation of a person your boss can solely count on.

How to show your initiative during job interview?

Being initiative is one of the key traits employers seek in candidates. Therefore, you can expect to hear the question ‘Give me example of a time when you showed initiative’ during the interview. How to respond to it better?

Using the STAR (situation – task – action – result) method is quite effective in this case. You briefly outline the challenge, the action you had to take, the resources you have involved and how you managed to meet the goal set. In addition to showing the initiative, this approach allows you to highlight your self-motivation, organization abilities and communication skills. If you didn’t take the major initiative in the past, use any situation in which you were in charge for resolving problem or improving something.

The most efficient ways of taking initiative in a work environment – Key takeaways

Know when it’s the right time to take initiative at work

As a rule, bosses foster positive change and therefore welcome reasonable workplace initiative. Yet, if the company has tough times, it’s probably not the right time to implement a team member training program, streamline decision-making process or develop a proactive clients retention strategy. When the company faces profit loss, merger or acquisition or another coronavirus outburst, wait for more suitable time.

Offer practical suggestions for improvement rather than generic ideas

When you have an idea or two about how to make things work better, don’t hurry up to your supervisor just yet. First, analyze if your ideas will be helping coworkers or solve problems in real life. Research ahead and plan resources. Consider brainstorming ideas to understand how exactly your idea will help if implemented. Your supervisor or a co-worker will only pay attention if your initiative is well-developed and passes a reality check.

Work on your self-confidence for showing initiative effectively

Taking initiative means presenting your ideas to colleagues and other teams, defending them and proving their worth. This is hardly possible to do if you lack confidence or persuasion skills.

How do you build on your confidence? Develop new skills essential for your career, set personal goals, and reward yourself for small successes. Take on challenging tasks, for example, lead a project that seems interesting to you. After getting positive feedback, you’ll feel more confident in your ability to contribute and take more initiative.

Maintain a healthy balance between career goals and personal life

When the boss approves your initiative, it takes a lot of extra work to make things happen. So, evaluate your abilities realistically. Will you be able to perform your direct responsibilities in the office if you take on that new hires orientation project? Will you have enough time to rest and spend with your family and friends? Answer questions like these before offering to implement a new initiative.

Showing initiative is essential for moving forward in your career and getting promoted to leadership roles. But any initiative should be taken smart, with all pros and cons carefully evaluated.

Take your own initiative over your professional life and get a resume consultation

Showing initiative doesn’t mean doing everything on your own. Quite often, it means to be able to delegate tasks if the other professional can do it better. Many job-seekers admit that getting their resume done by a professional resume consultant secured them more interview calls and helped find a job faster.

Our website specializes in writing resumes for all industries and career levels. We offer custom resume services – the resume is created uniquely for you based on the career information you provide. We work not only on resume content, but also on design and adapt the resume for a specific job posting if necessary. The writer is always in touch, and you’ll also get unlimited access to revisions for 2 weeks.


Taking initiative in the right time is an inevitable ingredient of your career success. Willingness to go the extra mile, assist your boss with tackling the upcoming problems and develop creating ideas which can make the company more effective is always valued. Using the above advice, you can build your initiative muscles and allow your initiative work for your career advantage.

Looking to start a new career? Then, start this journey with a brand new professional resume. Resume experts of our company can prepare a resume in full accordance with all your requirements and wishes. Learn more about our prices – they’ll pleasantly surprise you!

Do you typically take initiative at work? Are you rewarded if your initiative is a success?

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