The job market is changing rapidly. Technology is transforming the nature of work, creating a shift in the skills and abilities that modern employees need to succeed. A recent report from IBM estimates that 120 million people around the world will need to be retrained due to new technology. In other words, the skills that many employees have today will be insufficient in the next five to ten years.
This presents a major dilemma for employers. How do you select the right employee for your team when your needs today are not the same as your needs tomorrow?
For a lot of organizations, the solution represents a change in the way we value different types of skills. We’re seeing a general shift away from hard skills and more towards prioritizing soft skills.
And the most important soft skill of all? Adaptability. According to the same IBM report, executives worldwide pinpointed adaptability as the most desired quality in a prospective employee. This means that organizations are aware of the need to weather big changes in the workplace, and they're changing up their priorities to select employees who meet those new needs.
What is adaptability?
Adaptability is the ability to adjust to new conditions. In the context of work, an adaptable employee can adapt to the many changes that might be thrown at them throughout their tenure.
Employees who are adaptable are not only trainable but eager to learn. They exhibit the ability to learn quickly and are not overly resistant to change. They are able to find ways to contribute to the organization in new and different ways, capitalizing on the changes around them.
What are some examples of changes? An organization might be transitioning to using new software, or operating a new piece of machinery; a company might be undergoing a restructuring; or job roles may need to shift as technology begins to displace some of the manual tasks that people used to do. Adaptable employees are able to adjust to these new conditions and make the most of them.
How do you identify adaptable candidates?
The big question is, how do you know if someone is adaptable before you hire them? This is essentially a question of prediction. You have to predict how someone will react to changes that have not yet happened.
It turns out that adaptability is related to several other qualities that are measurable and predictive of job performance. One example: cognitive aptitude.
Cognitive aptitude is the ability to think critically, solve problems, learn new skills, and digest and apply new information. At its core, it is a measure of someone’s ability to take in information and apply it in new and different ways. It goes beyond simply regurgitating memorized knowledge, or mastering a repetitive task.
Cognitive aptitude is especially good at predicting how well someone will pick up on training, or their “trainability,” which is key to employees adapting to changes in technology. With all this in mind, it’s no surprise that cognitive aptitude assessments are one of the best predictors of job performance in general, far more predictive than job experience or unstructured interviews.
However, interviews can be another way to indirectly gauge a person’s adaptability. If adaptability is a trait that your organization values highly, you can incorporate a couple of questions that aim to assess it in your candidates. Consider asking questions that evaluate a candidate’s ability to deal with unexpected circumstances, learning new tools, or coming up with new solutions in the face of change.
In the end, finding adaptable employees requires employers to be adaptable themselves. By shifting what you prioritize in your candidate pool, you can start to identify those people who show potential that you may have overlooked in the past.