How to Develop Adaptability – One of the Top 10 21st Century Skills for Graduates

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Modern businesses have to not only adapt to change but instigate it as they strive to be the best at what they do, beat the competition, keep customers and innovate for new business and success. They, therefore, need employees who will thrive within such a culture.

Flexibility/ Adaptability is, therefore, one of the Top 10 Skills sought after by recruiters in the 21st century. Society today demands proficiency in this area. Your ability to manage multiple assignments and tasks, set priorities and adapt to changing conditions and work assignments are absolutely critical. This skill is difficult to articulate at times because it has become so much of a part of our everyday life. But articulate it you must if you are going to secure the position you want.

A graduate that can demonstrate adaptability and flexibility is valuable because of their inner confidence and self-belief which gives them the ability to cope with change and the unexpected and respond in a manner that continues to contribute to the goals and objectives of their role and the organisation.

Adaptability in our world today means a whole bunch of things:

Keeping calm in the face of difficulties. Persisting in the face of difficulties. Taking on new challenges at short notice. Saying “YES’ to challenges. Dealing with changing priorities and workloads. Improvising. Bouncing back from setbacks and showing a positive attitude.  Keeping an open mind. Seeing the bigger picture. Probably all of these, and more.

Sample bullet point from a JD describing this skill: “Flexible team player who thrives in environments requiring the ability to effectively prioritize and juggle multiple concurrent projects.”

New graduates will increasingly be recruited for their adaptability!

  1. 91% of HR directors think that by 2018, people will be recruited on their ability to deal with change and uncertainty says The Flux Report by Right Management.
  2. 60% of HR directors identified employee wellness and resilience as key to enabling organisations to achieve their strategic objectives. 53% said that employees’ ability to deal with unanticipated problems is THE key attribute for future business success.
  3. 49% of organisations had already introduced improved flexible working arrangements to help staff cope with flux. Other initiatives include increased internal communication from leadership to maintain morale (42%) and promotions but with minimal pay rises (36%).
  4. The report found that people in their 30s are perceived to be best equipped to deal with changes at work, whilst those in their 50s and 60s were considered least able to cope.

Individual approaches to change can be split into two main tendencies: Firstly, there are some people who just thrive on change and the unexpected and enjoy alteration to their routines: they are naturally adaptable. However, 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. These organisation oriented skills are valuable in themselves – but it does make you less likely to be naturally flexible, and less likely to respond easily to change that interrupts those plans and lists.

For those in the first, the naturally flexible group – be sure to promote and take advantage of your natural strength in this area – but ensure you are aware that the strongest employees will both be adaptable AND have some of the planning/ to-do-list skills of the other group.

For those in the more organised (but perhaps less naturally flexible) group – hold onto your valuable organisational skills, but it is good also to recognise its limitations and push yourself to combine them with flexibility and strive to be comfortable with the impact of change.  You could even build in some time to cope with the unexpected into that plan! You might even have the advantage over others as you will have used your planning and organising skills to change your behaviour!

Whichever group you might belong to, since It’s always a good idea to learn & become more adaptable and to develop your ability to cope effectively with change, here goes some quick lessons on how to improve your adaptability.

There are many opportunities both at University and in wider life to both assess and develop your own attitude and ability in this area.  Look out for appropriate situations and the degree to which you demonstrate:

  1. Intellectual Flexibility – keeping an open mind is important. You should be able to demonstrate that you can integrate new information and draw conclusions from it, and that you can switch between the detail to the big picture.
  2. Being Receptive – particularly to change. Having an open mind and being able to respond with a positive attitude and a willingness to learn new ways to achieve targets and objectives.
  3. Creativity – actively seeking out new ways of doing things. Not being scared to improvise and/or experiment with the way in which you tackle challenges, and encouraging that in others.
  4. Adapting Behaviour – and working style. The ability to adopt different methods and approaches to meet the needs of varying situations

To get a true idea of how you rate in these areas don’t simply accept your own reflection – try asking those who know you well, and others who may work with you in part-time jobs, volunteering and of course fellow students and academic staff at University.

Finally, remember what you are aiming for: You are going to be looking for a job soon, and whether you are at an interview or inside a workplace already, you will need to demonstrate your flexibility & adaptability with respect to job situations. And a flexible and adaptable employee will…

  1. Will be able to bend when their first suggestion or preferred solution does not go over well and will be ready to provide alternative solutions or recommendations.
  2. Accept Surprises, and be willing to take on tasks or projects when urgency is key and the work is important to the organization.
  3. Accept New Roles and Responsibilities, will be cooperative and helpful when transitioning into a new or expanded role to not only show a commitment to their organization but also expand his/ her portfolio of experiences and skills.
  4. Show Calm and Confidence in the face of a dilemma or a sudden troubling event by remaining poised, calm and ready to make a quick decision when faced the unexpected challenge.
  5. Make suggestions for changes that will improve how things are done.
  6. Look for ways to make changes work rather than finding problems with it.
  7. Finds ways to adapts to change and new ways of working quickly and easily.
  8. Has the skills to shifts their plans and priorities in response to a changing environment and goals.
  9. Is resilient and retains a positive attitude in the face of setbacks.


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One Thought to “How to Develop Adaptability – One of the Top 10 21st Century Skills for Graduates”

  1. Hi everyone It’s hard to come by experienced people in this particular subject, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! vielen dank

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