Employers really appreciate employees who can work and solve problems without needing too much hand holding. So how can you develop this behaviour, and demonstrate you’re a self-starter?
What is self-starting?
Ask any entrepreneur how they found success, and they’ll tell you they’re a self-starter. The ability to solve questions through research, intuition – or sometimes by just chancing it – is essential to anyone building a business. But being a self-starter means more than wanting to strike out on your own – it’s a great behaviour to demonstrate in any job, which is why it’s so valued by employers.
In short, a self-starter is someone who has the initiative and desire to work independently. This needn’t mean working on your own; but rather being able to get stuck in without needing too much supervision. We all need support and advice at times in our roles, but self-starters willingly try and solve problems before seeking help. As a result, they might get more done or need less supervision.
Self-starting and self-managing behaviours are among the most highly rated by employers. In a government survey , more than half of employers wanted to improve the self-management abilities of their staff.
Not all employers will use the term ‘self-starter’ to describe this behaviour. Instead they might look for qualities such as ‘self management’, or ‘initiative’ or ‘proactive’ behaviour. Being a strong self-starter is often linked to other desirable behaviours, too, such as being highly committed, adaptable, responsible or resilient.
Examples of self-starting in action
Employees can show and benefit from self-starting behaviour in many ways. Here are some examples.
Leonie has a summer job as an admin assistant for an asbestos management company. After learning the ropes, she realises that there are modern, digital alternatives to recording safety checks on paper. She researches alternatives, and shows the business how they could be saving time and money. Her employer is impressed with her initiative and remembers this when she’s looking for work at the firm after finishing her studies.
Kat’s boss is overcommitted, and keeps postponing a staff review meeting. Kat shows initiative by identifying performance areas that need improving, and researching suitable training courses. Rather than wait for her boss to do the work, Kat presents her with a suggested training plan. Kat’s boss is impressed by the initiative, and Kat gets the training everyone on the team wants.
Albert is in his first week as a site labourer. He’s finished moving the materials he was asked to. Instead of waiting for further instructions for his next task, he identifies an area that needs clearing, and asks if he should get started on that. By the end of the day, Albert’s done more work, and his supervisor has spent less time managing him.
Why is self-starting important in the workplace?
Employers are busy! Your manager will be happy to invest time in your learning and development. But they’re unlikely to want to guide you through things you could work out for yourself – or constantly have to remind you how to do tasks they’ve already explained. Taking the initiative, learning quickly and avoiding unnecessary questions will make life easier for your colleagues too.
Learning to show initiative and manage yourself will pay dividends throughout your career. Self-starters are often more productive, as they learn quickly and work independently. Self-starters can also build up more knowledge, giving them a further advantage when it comes to applying for a new position.
On large infrastructure projects, like Hinkley Point C, where work is regulated to high specifications, self-starters are particularly valued. Contractors need to know that their team can meet these while working independently, but also that they will raise important issues at the appropriate time. There is good career progression for individuals who can demonstrate this behaviour.
How might you have demonstrated you’re a self-starter at school or college?
It’s likely that you have plenty of examples of self-starting behaviour. Perhaps you’ve built your own website, started a band, or taught yourself how to cook or write code? You may have helped create a club at school, or start a local community organisation.
Think about times when you’ve seen a problem, or spotted the need for something, and worked out a solution. This combination of initiative, motivation and perseverance is a perfect example of self-starting behaviour.
How can you develop as a self-starter?
Some people are naturally inclined towards being a self-starter; but it’s a behaviour that anyone can develop and strengthen. One of the key building blocks is having the motivation to improve: both for yourself, and the job or circumstances that you find yourself in.
When it comes to your career, it can help to have clearly defined goals. A career plan will let you focus on your personal development, and take the decisions you need to head in the right direction.
To some extent, self-starting also requires you to have confidence in yourself and your ability to make decisions. This doesn’t mean that you already know everything, but more that you recognise what you need to learn and can research it yourself. It also doesn’t mean that you’ll never make mistakes. The key is to recognise them early, seek help or advice when you need it, and learn from the outcome!
It’s great to be self-sufficient and driven, but be careful not to trample over colleagues in your enthusiasm to demonstrate initiative. Be respectful. Use your team working skills to listen to others and their ideas, and to accept advice when it’s offered. Also use your time management skills to balance the projects you want to start against the resources you and colleagues have available. Better to finish one project well, rather than start three and fail to deliver all of them.
How can you demonstrate self-starting behaviour?
It’s important to include any examples of self-starting behaviour in your work and academic achievements.
There are also other ways to be a self-starter. For example: even when an employer isn’t advertising a suitable vacancy, send them a CV and ask if they might bear you in mind. Connect with people in your industry through LinkedIn; but be respectful, and don’t push people to connect if you don’t know them.
Follow up any opportunities with employers and try to bounce back from any setbacks. For example, if you don’t get a particular job, ask politely for feedback and take it on board.
Being a self-starter during Covid-19
If you’ve managed to adjust and thrive during the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s likely that it took great adaptability and determination – and this may be an example of you demonstrating self-starting behaviour. Perhaps you set up a family Zoom meeting, or found new tools or methods to keep up existing hobbies, sports or studies? Consider these examples, and how you’d explain them to a potential employer.
Want to know more? Well done – that’s a classic self-starting trait! Take a look at the links below:
If you’re a self-starter, you’re likely exhibiting many other skills and behaviours valued by employers too.
For instance, self-starters are often life’s problem solvers. They don’t wait for a solution to present itself; they actively explore and get creative to find the answer themselves.
Self-starters can have good time management skills; since they’ll look to solve a problem rather than waiting for someone to tell them how to do it. They’ll often commit wholeheartedly to solving a challenge too – and not give up when the going gets tough.
Showing initiative doesn’t mean being reckless, however; it’s knowing when to act independently, and, when to wait for further instruction. It’s not about ignoring the advice of others either; self-starters are usually receptive to new ideas and willing to learn.
As a result of their initiative, self-starters aren’t afraid of responsibility or taking ownership. These qualities make them a valued team member.
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