Rely on Initiative, Not Experience

Companies are obsessed with resumes, constituents rely on credibility,
and one’s past experiences are regarded as the best indication of
future success. After all, what beats a great track record?

However, the creative world and especially the history of breakthrough ideas suggest that initiative, not experience, is the best indicator of future achievement. Ideas require bold initiative to gain traction. We should think differently about the criteria we look for as we hire new employees and select new leaders.

What is initiative? Thomas Edison’s famous quote, ‘success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration’ delineates the central role of energy, leadership, and endurance in making ideas happen. Initiative is a bias-to-action. Those who take initiative possess tenacity and a healthy degree of impatience with idleness. Every team needs people that are able to jump in and get started, sometimes prematurely.

Hire based on initiative, not experience.

In the corporate world, it is all too easy to scan a resume and make assumptions based on past jobs and scholarly degrees. When our founder, Scott Belsky, worked at Goldman Sachs, he saw “more resumes with 4.0 GPA’s than there were job openings.” Instead, when hiring people, his team looked for examples of candidates taking initiative in their interests. As he explains, “We would look for people who got involved and became leaders in things that they loved. It didn’t matter whether it was the sailing team or a campus newspaper, the fact that someone took extraordinary initiative was the best indicator that they would do the same in their future job.”

People who dig deeply into their interests and naturally become leaders are likely to do so time and time again. Interestingly enough, the subject matter of past interests may be irrelevant. The same argument could also be made when selecting (or electing) a leader. While the human tendency is to avoid risk and seek the most “experienced” candidate, perhaps one’s history of taking initiative should be the primary criteria?

Tips for Judging One’s Ability to Take Initiative:

  • Look past the resume.
    Experience can certainly be the result of past initiative taken, but it can also be the result of mere circumstance.
  • Initiative is the best indication of future initiative.
    Look for examples of leadership positions and “taking action” in a person’s history.
  • Probe a candidate for their true interests, regardless of what they are, and then measure the extent to which the candidate pursued those interests.

When you stumble across a true “do-er,” someone that has passion, generates ideas, and actually takes action, you must recognize your good fortune. Nothing will assist your ideas more than a team of people that are able to take initiative to make ideas happen.

This tip was written by Scott Belsky, Behance Team. Check out Behance’s guest postings for small businesses trying to make ideas happen, hosted at American Express’ OpenForum.
More insights on: Hiring, Leadership
load comments (5)
  • BeMurthy

    Initiative usually is taken in a healthy nurturing environment…. the group within which one works provides the tempo for this and makes or brakes (pun intended) a creative persons momentum. The environment can mean the team that gets assembled…so we can put an idea person with an initiative person and get a higher energy team together.

  • jtmaguir

    Initiative in a good environment is rewarding. Initiative in a political environment with sensitive egos can be downright belicose.

  • GCSchmidt

    Being a fast starter is great, but my success was delayed because I wasn’t a good finisher. I’m still a better starter, but because I now also focus more on closing out projects, I have a greater overall success rate. Look for starters, yes, but have them show you how they have or can close projects well.

  • Kim Jensen

    I have always believed in this concept of finding great team players! It is the spirit of an individual that catches my eye, not the resume. Thanks for being here, Kim Jensen

  • Arkadiusz Dymalski

    Actually when hiring authentic leaders we should look for people able to take initiative even without supporting environment.

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