Indiana, PA - Indiana County

BOB LANKARD: Going the extra mile

by on July 27, 2014 1:49 AM

“He does everything I tell him, but nothing more,” an employer once told me.

It was his way of wishing his employee was a self-starter.

The term self-starter appears in many job listings. As someone looking for a job, it is worth your while to provide evidence you do more than you are told.

Sometimes job applicants say, “I did everything I was told,” in complaining about being passed over for a promotion. Apparently these folks felt that “doing what you are told” made them the ultimate employee.

Other ways an employer may hint they are looking for a self-starter in job listings is to use terms such as “show initiative, be self-directed, self-motivated, or able to work with little or no supervision.” No 21st century employer is seeking the “only do what they are told” employee.

If you consider yourself to be a self-starter, how do you prove that quality to the employer?

• Begin with your current job. Think of things you do without being told. Were you commended for any of these things? Did you find a better or quicker way of doing your job? How much time did you save?

• Think of any club or sports team you belong to. What did you do on your own to benefit the organization? One man, a member of an organization I belong to, took it upon himself to keep our property looking nice for visitors by mowing grass, pulling weeds, and keeping signs clean. Did you ever volunteer without being asked to do something because it just needed done? The old adage “never volunteer” is contrary to being a self-starter.

• Were you ever asked to take a new project that did not involve a set list of instructions?

• Describe your approach to taking on a new task.

• Have you ever been self-employed? It may be as simple as a lawn mowing business. How did you run your business?

• The best way to show you are a self-starter is by giving examples of something you did on a job or for an organization. That sure beats writing, “I am a self-starter.”

• Have you ever been asked to help with a project? Help a neighbor build a deck, for example.

• Were you ever offered a job where the employer contacted you?

Both of these last two situations meant someone felt you knew how to work. Use these examples to demonstrate being a self-starter.

All of these are potential accomplishments you can mention in a cover letter, on a r←sum←, or during an interview. It might be a short story to tell in the interview. For example: “A neighbor asked me to help him build a deck. He had to be away for an afternoon. I noticed he was short on some supplies so, on my own, I bought what was needed so I could finish that day’s work.”

Finally, the phrase “I am a self-starter,” is meaningless. Anyone can write that.

What counts is providing concrete examples of ways you showed initiative.



Bob Lankard, a retired employment specialist at the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry's Indiana Job Center, is a job-search columnist for the Indiana Gazette. Read his columns on Sundays.
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