You want to ask for a promotion but fear rejection. You want to apply for a more prestigious job, but worry your qualifications will be just shy of guaranteeing a second interview. As a result, you are stagnating at your present pay grade. How can you break out and open your career to new experiences and more thrilling day-to-day challenges? One word: Initiative. The truth is, initiative often trumps education level, experience and references.
An example: A sales manager candidate for our magazine came to a first interview with the requisite sales experience, but he lacked direct management experience. He tipped the scale in his favor when he laid out a spreadsheet in which he had dissected the sales content of the magazine over three months, listing the major advertisers and what spots were selling and what potential sales were missing. He told us in the interview how he might move our present sales skew from 80/20 to 60/40 without hiring more staff. It was this initiative which assured us of his leadership ability and landed him the job.
Likewise, an applicant for a head writer’s position submitted published clips, as required. When granted an interview, she also furnished an on-target, sample story specially geared toward our magazine, with a list of whom she would interview and the pertinent questions she would ask to develop the story. She also came with a suggestion for a new column. And yes, she was hired over more experienced journalists for exhibiting the vision and judgment we felt was needed to direct the department. In other words, she demonstrated initiative.
Why do we equate “initiative” with “leadership”?
Pioneer psychologist Eric Ericson provided the psycho-social model adopted to explain the development of what we call “initiative.” He postulated that between ages 3-5, children begin to plan activities, make up games, and initiate play with peers; that’s how we become confident in our decision-making skill and ability to lead others. Throughout our lives, then, we humans recognize and pair initiative with leadership. [Conversely, if the new behaviors are criticized or overly controlled, Ericson warns we will develop a sense of guilt for being a nuisance and become followers rather than leaders, lacking in self-initiative.]
How can you develop an initiative persona?
Here’s a preparatory suggestion if you are naturally a follower, and/or the new job doesn’t involve direct supervision responsibility, and/or you really don’t have a clue in which direction to go. First, prepare three questions to ask about the position and/or company goals during the interview (do not ask about salary or benefits!). Google the company and use LinkedIn to find out more about potential interviewers and their strengths. That’s minimum prep.
Next level prep: imagine you had the job – what would you need to know and do to be successful? Draft a plan for your first 90 days in the job which includes a timeline for (1) fact finding and understanding the history of the company, (2) suggested adjustments and changes to the position (or department) to make it more efficient, (3) goal output.
Then set anxieties aside and go to the interview with the intention to demonstrate that you could be a fully contributing member of the team. A less-qualified, more outgoing person can wow an interview team with their gift for answering questions glibly and spontaneously, but you can level the playing field by doing your homework and demonstrating what you know and how you would approach the job.
Now go get that promotion!