By Renée Cohen
Proposal Manager & Contributing Writer at Quantum
In his book Linchpin, Are You Indispensable? author Seth Godin recommends the following: “When you answer the phone or greet me at your office or come to a meeting or write something, don’t bother if all you’re going to do is do it. Sing it or stay home.”
Figuratively speaking, as an employee, do you sing it? Or do you just do it? The common interview question, “Describe a time you went above and beyond at work,” begs to find out.
All interview questions, like the one above, are simply a means of generating insight about you as a potential candidate. The anecdote you provide may enable your interviewer to get a sense of:
- Your attitude toward others (including colleagues and those in positions of authority)
- Your desire to challenge yourself and/or learn new things
- Your sense of initiative, your desire to help others
- Your capacity for teamwork and collaboration
- Your work ethic
There is no singular, formulaic answer. Your answer will inevitably be as unique as you are.
For instance, Savannah Rossin* worked in customer service at a big box store. When word got around that no one could figure out how to set up the store’s recently purchased telephone system, she happily volunteered. Courtesy of the knowledge she’d acquired from a previous job, Savannah singlehandedly set up the system in over three dozen workstations across the store, thereby saving the day – and sparing her employer from having to hire a costly technician.
Savannah’s desire to help others, her initiative, and even specific technical know-how are qualities and skill sets that may not have otherwise come up during an interview, had the infamous question not been asked.
I was a self-employed freelance writer the last time an interviewer asked how I’d gone above and beyond at work. Rather than regale them with stories about how, on occasion, I’d actually work from my desk instead of my couch, I relayed an anecdote from when I was working as a temp for Quantum, decades earlier.
While on a nine-day stint as a receptionist, a stack of mail addressed to a different company landed on my desk. Instead of re-posting the mail marked “Return to Sender”, I called the company directly to inform them of the situation. When the person I’d spoken to showed up to collect the mail, they offered me a permanent position at their start-up company once my temp job was over. I accepted and ended up working there for years.
The saying is true that you get back what you put out. Ultimately, going above and beyond means something different to everybody, and, as evidenced, efforts of heroic proportions are not necessary (or expected). Just going one extra step to help others, and doing it consistently, can take you to new heights -─ so before you set out on your journey, you might want to remember Godin’s advice to, “sing it or stay home”.
Looking for a new job that makes you want to sing? Check out our current opportunities here.