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How to Show You Are Action-Oriented

Apr 23, 2021 | Interview Tips, On Leadership

In an interview, your primary goal is to effectively show to any interviewer that you are an action-oriented individual.

What does it mean to be “action-oriented”? It’s a very abstract idea!

What it means is that you are someone who is going to take action to solve a problem before you. You look to find things that you can act on, and you focus on those things. It means you are highly self-motivated to make a difference!

Learn how to show you are action-oriented!

Organizations want people who are action-oriented because it means that those people will help them solve their problems. Many organizations are very upfront about seeking action-oriented people.

A great example is Amazon, which famously has a principle of a “Bias for Action”. It means that you don’t just talk, you do.

This blog will explore what it means to be internally self-motivated (or action-oriented), then present a strategy for how to show you are action-oriented in an interview!


Locus of Control

Each person has a ‘locus of control’. Locus of control is the degree to which you believe you have control over the events in your life.

There are two types of locus of control: internal and external.

Someone with an internal locus of control believes they have control over the events in their life. Someone with an external locus of control believes they have little or no control over the events in their life.

Someone who is action-oriented is someone with an internal locus of control. They believe they can control what happens to them, meaning they will take action when opportunities arise.

Organizations are looking for people who exhibit an internal locus of control. To show that you are action-oriented, you will need to show you have an internal locus of control.


Interview Questions that Dig into Locus of Control

Interviewers will ask you interview questions to determine if you have an internal or external locus of control.

Typically, these are questions that try to draw on your experience. They often start with the phrase ‘tell me about a specific time…’, or ‘give me an example of…’.

These questions are trying to conjure an example of where you showed you either took action or you did not when you faced adversity. Here are some examples of these types of questions:

“Tell me about a specific time you had an angry customer. What action did you take? What was the result?”

“Can you tell me about a time when you encountered a problem with a process and the steps you took to improve them.”

“Tell me about a specific time you received instructions you did not agree with. What action did you take? What was the result?”

“Describe a project or idea that was successfully implemented thanks to your efforts.”

These questions require you to provide examples that are specific to see if you have an internal locus of control. People who have an external locus of control will not be able to demonstrate how they took action in these situations.

Let’s dig in to a strategy for responding to these questions.


Obstacle Situation

When responding, begin by describing the obstacle that is the subject of the question. Be specific and not general!

This will provide the needed context to talk about what actions you took next.

Using the example of an angry customer, here’s a good example.

‘A customer had purchased something from us that didn’t work as they’d hoped. They were unhappy with the product and had expected more.’


Action

Next, you need to describe the action you took to fix the problem.

This is the most important part of your response. The goal of these questions is to see if you are action-oriented, so this part of the response is your opportunity to show that you are someone who takes action.

Again, be specific!

Using the angry customer example again, here’s a good response:

‘I listened to the customer and asked them specific questions about their frustrations with the product. After listening, I apologized to the customer for their frustration and provided a refund immediately.’


Result

Lastly, you should outline the results of your action.

Here’s the result of our angry customer story as an example:

“They gladly accepted the refund. Because they were happy with our service and understanding, they used the refund to keep shopping in our store!”

One word of caution. Not everything needs to succeed! Sometimes you can be internally motivated and action-oriented, yet still have an undesired result.

That is okay! Some people when they offer the result always say “everything turned out great” because they are afraid to admit they failed.

The truth is not everything turns out great. If you have a story that didn’t end up perfectly, it’s okay to be truthful about it. However, when you use those examples you should also add what you learned from the failure.


Be specific!

When you follow this framework, remember to always be specific. Employers are looking for you to show you have actually taken action.

If you speak in high-level generalities, you are demonstrating hypothetical actions instead of actual action!

Here’s an often-used example of a general response to the angry customer situation.

“Usually, when I have an angry customer, I just listen to them until they stop being angry and do whatever I need to make them happy. They always leave satisified.”

This example doesn’t demonstrate that you will take action. It only says what you might hypothetically do in this situation!

Compare that with the more specific example we’ve used above:

‘A customer had purchased something from us that didn’t work as they’d hoped. They were unhappy with the product and expected more. I listened to the customer and asked them specific questions about their frustrations with the product. After listening, I apologized to the customer for their frustration and provided a refund immediately. They gladly accepted the refund. Because they were happy with our service and understanding, they used the refund to keep shopping in our store!’

Which of these two responses better shows that the interviewee will take action?

Always remember, specifics win every time!


Hopefully, this helps provide you with a framework for showing you are action-oriented in an interview.

People who can’t provide specific examples of when they have been action-oriented are also those who exhibit an external locus of control.

Providing stories of specific actions will always help you stand out to your interviewer!

Just remember, use this simple framework when answering any questions that ask you for career examples:
Obstacle Situation
Action
Result

One fun way to remember this is the acronym OAR. Because as you paddle your way through an interview, you’ll be happy you brought an OAR with you!

As always, if you need any help practicing using your OAR, I am here for you!

Tim Dyck
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