Strong candidates are adaptable. This is a simple generalization, but it applies to almost any role in any industry. Candidates who can stay on their feet and keep contributing even in the face of project swerves and schedule changes are more likely to thrive than those who fall apart, can’t recover or can’t refocus in the new direction. If an employee is assigned to an unexpected task and can’t rise to the challenge, that person may not find success in your open position.

So, how can you assess a candidate’s general adaptability during the job interview process? Here are a few moves that can shine some light on this trait.

Ask appropriate behavioral questions.

Ask your candidate to tell you story drawn from their professional past. For example, ask about a time she was required to abandon a project after a long period of hard work and investment. What happened? How did she react? You can also ask your candidate about a time in the past when he was asked to do something outside of his job description. What was he asked to do, and how did he respond? Did he exercise judgment? Did he keep a cool head? Find out how the story ended and read between the lines, so you can learn about the candidate’s personality.

Does your candidate cling rigidly to expectations and goals?

Does your candidate feel any readjusted plan represents a failure? Does he believe one should “never ever quit”? Does he resist changing his mind when he’s faced with new data and new information? Does he pursue answers to all relevant questions or just the ones that are likely to support his existing mindset? Does he have such a rigid sense of self that he won’t do or try anything new that might alter the person he thinks he is? Has he already learned everything he needs to know in this life? If so, expect drama and heartache when his daily schedule or project mission are subject to change. And if the job isn’t exactly what he expected, prepare for him to jump ship.

Is your candidate genuinely afraid of “failure”?

Ask your candidate to define what “failure” means to her, and ask her to describe a time in the past when she failed at something. Glean what you can from both her definition and the story she decides to tell. If she embraces failure as an inevitable and necessary part of growth, that’s a good sign. If she falls apart in the face of small-scale failures—or worse, can’t admit to ever having failed at anything—consider that a red flag.

For more on how to find candidates who adapt, shift, recover and stay agile in the face of the unexpected, turn to the hiring team at Extension.


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