Adaptability Skills: What Recruiters and Hiring Managers Are Looking For Most

Adaptability skills are the quality you will need to possess if you want to find your way to a more successful and sustainable career.

Laura Machan, Partner, Recruitment, LHH Knightsbridge
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Adaptability skills: What recruiters and hiring managers are looking for most
When faced with constant and seismic change – as is certainly the case right now – what quality do we need to possess to master that change and find our way to a more successful and sustainable career? Opinions in the human capital world certainly vary.

For some HR professionals, the key skill is resilience – the ability to survive the change. For others, it is confidence – the ability to retain faith in ourselves even as the ground beneath our feet shifts and tilts.

Although both good qualities to possess right now, increasingly there is a consensus around the idea that adaptability – the capacity to make adjustments in how we approach life as conditions change and remake ourselves for new challenges – may be the single greatest job skill that anyone can possess right now.

So great, that it’s becoming sought after by recruiters and hiring managers.

That’s right, as the methods and approaches to recruitment and hiring have evolved, things like previous experience or academic credentials have lost a bit of lustre while increasing emphasis has been placed on the so-called “soft skills,” things like resilience, proactivity, compassion, self-awareness, self-control, and – wait for it – adaptability. 

The trend that has seen these types of soft skills work their way into recruiting and hiring strategies began before the pandemic struck but given the seismic change that has accompanied the novel coronavirus, adaptability has worked its way up the hierarchy of soft skills. You may ask, has the ability to adapt taken on so much importance and how can you demonstrate your adaptability quotient?

Adaptability has become shorthand for the willingness to learn


In academic research, adaptability is seen as a key for people who are forced to confront unfamiliar situations such as frequent career changes or macro changes in market fortunes and technology. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Vocational Behaviour found that “personal adaptability is central to career success” and that learning through “informal educational opportunities on an ongoing basis” can be the key to amplifying someone’s capacity to adapt.

In our current business climate, it all starts to make sense. 

The pandemic has forced a change in magnitude and pace that is nearly unprecedented. Transformations that used to take years are being completed in a matter of a few months. Add in the relentless impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the growth of AI and machine learning, and you can see that the ability to adapt quickly translates into the willingness to learn new things and seek new opportunities both inside and outside the organization.

Adaptability can also manifest in the way we’ve been able to change how we do our jobs. Think about the last year – have you been able to find new ways to get the same things done? How many new tools or technologies have you adopted into your working life? Answers to these questions can help you illustrate your capacity to adapt.

An adaptability skills checklist

There are a range of other questions you should probably ask yourself if you need to establish your adaptability bona fides in pursuit of a new job.

  1. Pull up Outlook from the last few months and then compare to a few years ago; what does your week look like? Does it show that you’ve changed how you approach your job? Are you doing more or less than you were back then?  A detailed analysis of the quantity and type of work you did in the past, and what you’re doing now, will reveal the volume and type of changes you’ve made.
  2. Have you been able to deliver results (KPIs) at a similar level through the pandemic? With so much change in such a short period, both your current employer and a potential future employer are going to want to know if you continued to drive results in an environment of constant and profound change.
  3. Have you been able to stay in touch with co-workers and clients, and have conversations that are as productive – or more productive – than before the pandemic? Both current and future employers are going to want to see evidence that your network has not suffered because of social distancing.
  4. What formal or informal learning opportunities did you cease in the last year, or even the last few years? With re/upskilling and redeployment about to play a much bigger role in talent development – both internally and externally – it is wise to take any opportunity to learn and expand your skillset. Adding a list of career learning activities to your resume will make you stand out from the pack.

Way back in the 19th century, naturalist Charles Darwin uttered one of his most famous quotes about how it was not the strongest, or the most intelligent or a species that survives, but rather “the one most adaptable to change. ”

In an era that will go down in history as one of the most dynamic and disrupted of all time, demonstrating adaptability may be the difference between finding your next great job of the future, or getting left behind. 

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