Screening for initiative


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Maitre d'This is the fourth post in a series that will explore a set of questions I received from participants during a webinar on the topic of customer service. (I say “explore” rather than “answer” because I’ve discovered over the years that there is rarely a single right answer to these types of questions. More often, there are a variety of solutions or guidelines that, when applied, produce successful outcomes.)

Question: What tips can you offer for screening applicants for entry-level customer service job roles?

It’s common for managers who are hiring to fill entry-level positions within the hospitality/service industries to seek job candidates who may lack industry experience, but display a positive attitude. One popular industry saying is, “Hire for attitude and teach the rest.” In addition to screening for positivity, it’s important to screen for initiative—one’s readiness and ability to initiate action. If you believe, as I do, that service is a verb, then initiative may be the single most important attribute for a customer-facing employee to possess.

One way to screen for this quality in job applicants during a job interview is to craft behavioral interview questions. Being that the best indicator of future performance is past performance, applicants’ responses to behavioral questions contain greater integrity than responses to hypothetical questions such as, “What would you do if…?” All these types of questions really do is showcase applicants’ storytelling abilities.

Behavioral interview questions are designed to reveal an applicant’s actual experience demonstrating a particular quality in their previous job role, rather than posing hypothetical questions that prompt imagined responses.

Here are examples that will elicit a job applicant’s actual experience demonstrating initiative in the past:

  • “Tell me about a time when you displayed initiative at your last job. What did you do?”
  • “Give an example of a time at your previous job when your extra effort was recognized by a customer or coworker.”
  • “Describe a time when took the initiate to rectify a problem, even though it wasn’t your responsibility.”
  • “How have you gone above and beyond in the service of another coworker or department at your previous employer?”

Pepper your next interview with questions like these and you will gain better insight into whether or not the applicant imagines that she will demonstrate initiative in her new job role, or will actually do it.

In the first paragraph, I suggested that there’s rarely a single “right” answer to these types of questions. You’ve read my response. Now it’s your turn. How would you respond to the above question?

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.


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