Torn poster with the words Change is Coming Whether you like it or not

Adaptability, or agility, is the ability to change, reinvent and improve the way in which you are doing things based on the environment you are in. In a day-to-day context, this might involve taking on aspects of a project you are less familiar with or working in a way that suits other team members rather than yourself. In the long term, adaptability is the ability to make career decisions that keep you employed with relevant skills and experience. This might often mean taking the initiative to learn on the job as well as learn new skills independently.

Equally, companies can also be agile - and those that are more agile will likely continue to stay in business - as it’s a way for them to gain the right skills for their business

The University of Bradford identify four ways in which you can demonstrate your adaptability:

  • Intellectual flexibility – Demonstrating that you can integrate new information and draw conclusions from it, and that you can switch from the detail to the big picture.
  • Receptiveness – Being able to respond with a positive attitude and a willingness to learn new ways to achieve targets and objectives.
  • Creativity – Actively seeking out new ways of doing things and having confidence to improvise or experiment.
  • Modification of behaviour –  You are able to adjust your style of working or method of approach to meet the needs of a situation or emergency.

Why you need Adaptability

The reason why adaptability is so important is that we can’t predict the future. In UKCES’s The Future of Work: Jobs and Skills in 2030, four alternative work scenarios are described along with their implications, and all these scenarios focus needed businesses and individuals to be able to adapt more easily, particularly in order to compete in a global marketplace. 

Technological developments are occurring so quickly that we don’t know what skills we’ll need a few years' down the line, whilst globalisation has meant that some talent can be found in other areas countries. If this is the case, where do we fit in?

Additionally, in the COVID19 and post-COVID19 environment we don't even know what's going to be happening in six months, let alone a couple of years, so it's all the more important that we can be flexible in what we do and know, and how we approach our work. 

These tensions also mean that the career plan you have now is going to adapt and evolve over time depending on the environment and you have to with it. Think of your career plan more loosely, focusing on your broad interests rather than what you are going to achieve each year. 

Adaptability is THE skill you need2 

How do you Gain Adaptability?

Adaptability can be developed in a variety of circumstances and as a starting point, think about whether you are naturally adaptable. For example:

  • What do you do in situations that are uncertain?
  • How do you work with people that have different working styles to you? 
  • How do you deal with projects that take an unexpected turn?
  • Have you been able to successfully apply learning or experience from one environment to a completely different situation?

Some people are naturally adaptable, and others find these sorts of situations stressful. If you are naturally adaptable, you should think about how you can develop this adaptability, measure it and come up with some examples to attend job interviews with. 

If you are not naturally adaptable, you can take a more considered approach to develop your adaptability. If you are unsure about what the future holds for you in your industry, do some research into what the upcoming trends are so you can develop some skills which will benefit you.

You may also have to come out of your comfort zone. For example, if you team is usually busy, volunteer to do something that is not usually your responsibility. 

You can also reflect more heavily on what happens when you are in uncomfortable situations and learn from them. You can then develop a programme for yourself of what you are going to do if the situation arises in the future. For example, if you’ve been on a project that’s take an unexpected turn, you can reflect on how you felt and what the end result was. It’s likely that you were stressed at the time, but the end result was positive, so if you can tell yourself to take on certain roles within the project and focus on its completion you will more likely get through it and the experience will be beneficial to you. 

How do you Demonstrate your Adaptability to Employers?

Employers will ask you to give appropriate examples that demonstrate your adaptability. 

For example, they may ask:

  • Have you ever had a project where the scope changed after much work on it? How did you handle this situation?
  • Have you ever worked with a colleague with a completely different work style to you? How did you manage this situation?
  • Have you ever used what you’ve learnt in one situation and applied it to another?
  • Have you ever had to undertake a task that was outside your job description? How did you manage this situation? 

When talking about your adaptability to employers, remember that employers want to see you:

  • Taking initiative and making suggestions to improve
  • Bouncing back from setbacks and remaining positive
  • Showing a willingness to learn
  • Finding new ways to do things
  • Shifting your priorities depending on the situation
  • Working quickly so you find what works and what doesn’t
  • Learning from previous experiences
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