What Employers Want: Flexibility/Adaptability

Two weeks ago in this blog I listed the top skills that employers are looking for, as reported by the NACE Job Outlook 2015 survey. We’ve almost completed our examination of those skills that were chosen by more than 50% of the respondents. Today we’ll talk about how to demonstrate Flexibility/Adaptability, which came in at #11, with 62.1% of employers saying it’s important.

When a job description says that the employer wants candidates to demonstrate flexibility or adaptability, what you’re being asked to show is that you are open to change and can adjust to new situations. What this suggests to me is that the organization is a dynamic, fast-paced, and possibly progressive workplace, where employees are expected to contribute new ideas or to work with others to find solutions to problems or ways to improve products or systems. It may also mean that the particular industry itself is changing quickly, such as any business that focuses on emerging technologies. And today, that means just about all of them!

So how do you let an employer know that you will thrive in this type of environment? What you need to do is think back on experiences in your life, and then focus on them on your resume and in the job interview. To help you think about this, I’m going to give some examples of situations that require flexibility:

  • Living in a foreign country. While study abroad wasn’t ranked very highly on a list of attributes employers want (see my post from 1/22), you can use such experiences to talk about how you adapted to a new environment: new language, new food, new rules, new people.
  • Changing your major. If you started out thinking you wanted to be teacher, and half way through your junior year you decided you’d rather be a botanist, you had to deal with a lot of changes: the required courses would have looked different (labs!), you would have wanted to seek out student organizations relevant to your new field, you would have needed to introduce yourself to the culture of a different department and learn about which professors other students recommended, you would have found that even the kind of assignments you were asked to produce were different from what your previous major required.
  • Working at a part-time job while in college. If you managed to do well in school and work at a part-time job, you have demonstrated that you can work in different environments effectively. You may also be able to talk about any demands of that job that required flexibility (such as last-minute schedule changes, different roles you played, or deadlines).
  • Participating in student organizations. Serious involvement in extracurricular activities can provide opportunities to show teamwork and leadership, but it can also show flexibility if you held multiple positions over your college years. Activities such as membership drives, fund-raising events, or program planning can all be used to show how you dealt with different situations and solved a variety of problems.
  • Working on a team for a class project. Everyone knows that teamwork isn’t easy, especially in college courses where you may have team members who aren’t motivated or just don’t care. Experiences you’ve had where you helped a team achieve it’s goals may provide evidence of adaptability. For example, if you took on a role that wasn’t your first choice or picked up the slack for someone who wasn’t producing, you were demonstrating that you could shift gears and adapt to changing situations.

Do be alert, however, to the possibility that the buzz words “flexibility and adaptability” can be used by organizations that are inflexible and intolerant of employee needs to indicate that they expect your family or other interests and obligations to never interfere with work. They want you to be flexible and adaptable because they will not be.

In Thursday’s post I will cover the final topic from the NACE list, which says that employers want to hire people who are detail oriented.