Adaptability skills

The world of work is changing at an ever increasing pace so employers actively seek out graduates who can adapt to changing circumstances and environments, and embrace new ideas, who are enterprising, resourceful and adaptable.

Some people thrive on change and the unexpected and enjoy alteration to their their routines: they are naturally adaptable. If you are the kind of person who always has a ‘to do’ list and doesn’t like it when something arises which isn’t on your list, then you probably aren’t naturally adaptable.

You can learn to cope with change

But you can also learn to become more adaptable and to develop your ability to cope effectively with change. You can learn how to become adaptable through experience.  You might even have the advantage over others as you will have used your planning and organising skills to change your behaviour.

What does flexibility involve?

  • Adapting successfully to changing situations & environments
  • Keeping calm in the face of difficulties
  • Planning ahead, but having alternative options in case things go wrong
  • Thinking quickly to respond to sudden changes in circumstances
  • Persisting in the face of unexpected difficulties
  • Anticipating & responding positively to changing environments
  • Ability to adapt to change positively in response to changing circumstances
  • Taking on new challenges at short notice
  • Dealing with changing priorities/workloads

Some careers which particularly require flexibility

How can you show a recruiter that you are adaptable?

It's not sufficient just to say “I am adaptable”, you need to give evidence of your adaptability by giving examples. You can draw on situations like these to help you demonstrate your adaptability:

  • Working in a part-time job whilst doing a degree
  • Changing holiday plans at the last minute
  • Living in another country.

You have to be able to prove to an employer that you can:

  • Show willingness to learn new methods, procedures, or techniques and take on new tasks 
  • Show initiative & self-reliance
  • Look for new ways of doing things and to achieve objectives
  • Make suggestions for increasing the effectiveness of changes
  • Draw conclusions from new and changing information
  • Be resourceful with a positive, 'can do’ attitude to change
  • Respond with energy to new challenges, the unfamiliar and the unexpected
  • Look for ways to make changes work rather than identifying why change won't work
  • Adjust your methods to deal with a changing situation or emergency
  • Shift your priorities in response to the demands of a situation
  • Not be frightened to improvise. You are comfortable about moving into action without a plan: planning on-the-go
  • Be tolerant of time pressure, working well close to deadlines 
  • Bounce back from setbacks and maintain a positive attitude
  • Keep an open mind
  • See the bigger picture 
  • Like variety 
  • Be good at multi-tasking (doing a number of tasks at once): juggling a number of balls at the same time

Here are answers to the sort of question you might get on application forms or at interview to test your adaptability

Use the CAR method when drafting your answer.

Describe where you have had to show flexibility to rearrange your plans to cope with a change in circumstances

CONTEXT (Demonstrates determination)
I had to show great flexibility when undertaking my degree. The Access course was a gentle introduction to study but, once I started full-time study at university, I had to adapt not only to the demands of academic work, such as meeting essay deadlines, but to fitting this in around my family responsibilities.

ACTION (Shows adaptability)
Although I had worked out a study plan before commencing my course I found that rigid study PLANS could rarely be adhered to due to the ever-changing demands of my children. I therefore adopted a flexible, rather than a highly structured, approach to study, fitting it in whenever and wherever I could - this included taping lectures so that I could listen to them in the car on my way to the University. This worked well during most of the term, although when revising for exams I had to return to a more organised approach, and emphasise to my children how important it was that I should be allowed to complete my study periods in peace.

I have obtained good results in my exams so far and hope to achieve a 2:1 in my final exams.

Describe a situation when you demonstrated adaptability

I knew that I wanted a year out in Africa and that I did not just want to travel but also to share in the life of the country and its people. Teaching gave me such an opportunity to put down roots in a community but, as this was a voluntary programme, I needed to raise £2000 in order to take part in this project. I did this by working very long hours in a factory over the summer to raise the funds that I needed. (Demonstrates determination)

I planned my year by reading a great deal about Tanzania, using websites to research the country & speaking to Tanzanian students at the university. I also asked the organisation that arranged the placement to put me in touch with previous volunteers so that I could pick up tips from them on life in Tanzania, the schools & what I should take with me. (Evidence of careful planning and forward thinking)

Despite all this planning I still found that I needed to be very flexible & to adapt to teaching a class of 60 lively ten-year old boys with few text books & even less in the way of scientific equipment. I had to adapt to this lack of resources & to bear in mind that the pupils were learning English at the same time as they were learning science. (Shows adaptability)

This experience was the most satisfying of my life and the headmaster was so pleased with the children's progress that he asked if I would be able to return at sometime in the future.

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