Is It Possible to Hire for Adaptability?

Adaptability could soon be as important for hiring as IQ and EQ. But how do hiring managers test for adaptability?
Adaptability hiring

Jeremy Auger works in the education software field, and one thing he hears from teachers is concerns about preparing students for the future. An estimated 65 percent of today’s schoolchildren will have jobs that don’t yet exist, said the chief strategy officer of D2L Corp., a learning and development software company headquartered in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. If teachers don’t yet know what these jobs will be, how can students prepare for them? “I think the answer is we really don’t know, so you’d better at least be adaptable,” he said.

“Workplaces have always wanted people with an ability to learn and comfort with change,” he said. However, skills today have a short shelf life, especially in technology roles. It all adds up that people will need to be lifelong learners and adapt to change, he said.

Thus enters the adaptability quotient, or AQ, the ability of individuals to adapt. Along with the intelligence quotient (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ), does AQ have a place in hiring?

RELATED: How to Spot Emotional Intelligence

If there can be an index that’s valid for measuring AQ, then that’s a new piece of data to delve into potential hires and improve the process, Auger said. “More data can be a great thing, as long as you know what to do with it.”

But measuring adaptability along with IQ and EQ might not be necessary, said Stuart Parkin, founder and managing partner at SPARKIN Search, an executive recruiting firm in New York. Instead, it can be a term simply to help people understand modern-day challenges and discuss them. “The use of a moniker is just a means to be able to rapidly access [a meaning],” Parkin said.

Assessing Adaptability

Discussing adaptability is one way to assess if potential hires hold that quality. Asking candidates about their past work history can help illustrate how they’ve been adaptable in the past, Parkin said.

However, a range of tools will get the best picture of a candidate’s potential success in the role for which they applied. By using practical scenarios and random exercises in interviews, hiring managers can see just how adaptable someone is, Parkin said. Randomness is key here, he said; adaptability is the opposite of predictability, so random exercises can prevent people from preparing for the test up front.

A combination of valid assessments and behavioral interviews is another solution, said Stuart Crandell, senior vice president of the board and CEO practice at Korn Ferry, an executive search and consulting firm headquartered in Los Angeles.

First, hiring managers should understand the role for which they are hiring and what it requires; not all roles will need the people performing them to be adaptable. Then they can use assessments that have proven research and validity in measuring certain attributes. Using trendy personality tests is not the answer for hiring decisions, Crandell said.

For leadership roles, he said Korn Ferry combines valid assessments with behavioral interviews, asking for specific situations in which the candidate faced a challenge, how they responded to it and the outcome. If they shifted and shows resourcefulness, then there’s a good chance that they will do the same in the future. “One of the best predictors of future behavior is their past behavior,” he said. Finding this among leaders is paramount, he added.

Company Culture

The ability for business leaders to adapt sets the tone for the the company to change as well. Crandell said he sees companies with agile leaders having more of an ability for their organization to adapt to market forces and ultimately perform better.

While individuals do need to adapt and learn new skills to remain marketable in the workforce, companies must also change, said Russ Riendeau, senior partner and chief behavioral scientist at New Frontier Search Company, an executive search firm, based in Lake Barrington, Illinois.

With a tight labor market, companies often have to reach new hires outside of their industry and thus change onboarding and hiring practices. Hiring managers need training on how to find these nontraditional candidates, and internal leaders must change their expectations of staff. Individuals from a variety of backgrounds might bring with them new ways of thinking that managers could find threatening or abrasive, especially in a company that resists change.

“That’s where I think it’s getting dangerous for companies not to adapt, Riendeau said.

Lauren Dixon is a senior editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email