You’ve probably received the advice to “go above and beyond” or to “think outside the box” before. What does this practically mean for a student or new graduate in a first job? How can you use this advice instead of dismissing it as a cliche?
It is difficult to teach the skill of proactivity. Its not a skill you can learn from a book or in a classroom, but it is one of the most important skills you can use to advance your career and get ahead. Here are some ways to think about proactivity that might help you “go above and beyond.”
1. Start where you are now. You don’t need to make radical changes in order to be more proactive now. When was the last time you asked your supervisor about how you could improve or how you could be helpful with other projects? When was the last time you did something you weren’t asked because you saw a need? Take small steps toward proactivity if you haven’t before.
2. What do you do with down time during work? Do you think about ways to help others in your organization, or do you waste time with non-work related social media, YouTube, or other activities? Do you come up with ways to improve your organization or do you complain and gossip about others? Going above and beyond in this case is when employees add value to the company instead of wasting time. You don’t need to work extra hours, and you certainly don’t want to get in other people’s way, but you can ask if others need help, or propose new ways to be more efficient.
3. What do you with free time outside of work? Do you improve yourself by learning about best practices in your field? Do you attend networking events where you can meet others and learn about their work and explore possible collaboration? Do you have hobbies you enjoy that improve your skills in other areas like sports, reading, spiritual activities, or charity? Those who go above and beyond use their free time outside of work constructively to improve themselves while also finding a healthy balance and getting enough rest.
4. Does your resume contain a list of jobs or a story about how you were proactive? I sometimes receive resumes from students or recent graduates that literally are a list of jobs without any context or reason why I should further consider the applicant. This might be a result of the applicant’s poor resume preparation or because the applicant has not been proactive. For example, candidate A attended a top-tier university, earned decent grades, and held some side jobs in retail and landscaping. Nothing else is listed on the resume. Candidate B attended a reputable university and earned decent grades, but lists a leadership position in a campus liberty organization, published an academic paper as an undergraduate, and worked jobs in the campus center during which the candidate improved efficiency by 13% and saved $150,000 last year. Although candidate A might be as impressive and worthy of consideration, it seems like candidate B is clearly more attractive to the hiring manager.
5. Never do the bare minimum. In today’s economy and competitive workforce, you will not achieve your full potential by completing minimum requirements and waiting for something to happen. You need to demonstrate how you will be valuable to employers by taking initiative and creating value. You can start as a student through campus organizations and activism, or through academic work that supplements basic degree requirements. If you are already in the workforce, what are you doing at your current job that distinguishes you from employees who complete the bare minimum? Do you have a good attitude that is encouraging and makes others want to be around you?
If you were candidate A from the example above because you had to overcome adversity, you can use that to show a potential employer that you will be valuable. For example, if you were caring for your elderly relative with cancer during college, but still able to earn decent grades and pay for tuition, you should explain that in the cover letter. Situations differ and you will be evaluated on how you handled each one.
Next time someone asks if you “went above and beyond” or “thought outside the box,” will you be able to give examples and prove that you are the best candidate for the job?
Roger Custer is executive director at America’s Future Foundation.
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