Do you consider yourself proactive? A self-starter? Good at taking initiative?
Most importantly, can you prove it?
In today’s marketplace, where many companies (by choice or economic necessity) seem hell-bent on getting more things done with fewer resources, they tend to prize people with “can-do” personalities and will often ask candidates to demonstrate these traits, clearly and convincingly, during a job interview. So if you’re a professional in transition, make sure you have a well-developed story ready to share, when the time comes, that shows you can move mountains and accomplish great things with little supervision.
Along the same lines, I’d observe that initiative is also an extremely important factor in successful job hunting. As quite a few people have recently figured out, you have to be a pretty darn talented professional today for “jobs to come to you” on a regular basis. Instead, given all the chaos and competition out there, you have to go out and aggressively hunt for new opportunities — engaging in a steady-enough stream of networking and prospecting efforts that you essentially end up creating your own luck, so to speak. Those candidates who step up to this challenge and face it, even if it means getting out of their comfort zone, will almost always beat out those folks who are merely going through the motions and engaging in the bare minimum of effort required to get their unemployment check.
Unfortunately, this kind of “no holds barred” job hunting behavior is a pretty rare occurrence. Most people tend to regress to the mean when it comes to looking for work — whether due to confidence issues, a low sense of urgency, or the lack of somebody holding them accountable. Few people go above and beyond in their search efforts, where the potential exists to gain a true competitive advantage. For example, virtually every job hunter will search for and apply to published “want ads” the moment they come out. How many candidates, however, are reaching out to companies proactively on a daily basis to try and uncover these leads in the weeks or months before they get published — at which point, they’re hanging out there for the whole world to see?
Not terribly many, in my experience. And this whole notion of “taking initiative” is what led to an extremely enjoyable discussion I recently had with Dr. Julie Miller, a local author and business consultant who has studied this issue in great detail, compiling her thoughts into a book called “Secrets of Self-Starters” available via Amazon or via her website here.
In this book, which I highly recommend, Dr. Miller promotes the idea that the most important trait behind consistent business and career success is the self-starter characteristic. As she states on her website, based on interviews conducted with dozens of highly successful people from all walks of life: “The main difference is that these people got up, got going and got on with it. They took action. They figured it out, and when they couldn’t do even that much, they still took one small step in what felt like the right direction at the time—and often was.”
She then goes a step farther and breaks down the concept of self-starting into nine specific traits: Visionary, Persevering, Passionate, Seizes Opportunities, Self-Motivated, Risk-Taker, Creative, Compassionate, and Positive Thinker.
Wondering where you stack up on these traits? Good news! Dr. Miller’s organization has created a free assessment tool which you’ll find available on her website here. If you take a few minutes to go through this assessment, it will tell you how you rank on each of these nine factors. I just took this test, myself, and found the results pretty interesting. I scored highest on the Self-Motivation trait, suggesting that I don’t tend to need much direction, supervision, or pushing to get things done. This is probably a good thing, given that I’m a sole proprietor. On the flip side, I scored a bit low on the Risk-Taker scale, suggesting I perhaps worry too much about things or don’t seize opportunities as readily as I should, due to concerns about how they’ll play out.
Are these results accurate? Yeah. Guilty on both counts, I’d say…
At any rate, for folks out there who may be seeking a boost of inspiration or to gain deeper insight into their own self-starting behaviors, I’d highly recommend Dr. Miller’s book — as well as a quick tour of her website and the accompanying assessment tool. Most importantly, once you get your results, don’t sit on them. Live them. Take action. See if you can leverage these traits in a positive way to outhustle your competition, open up new doors, and improve your success rate!