How Does Adaptability Affect Your Career Potential?

How a willingness to adapt to a company’s environment may boost your career progress

By David Cox, SPHR, SHRM-SCP | September 05, 2017

Among surveys of the many skills employers are looking for in a potential employee, adaptability often ranks high along with verbal and written communications, interpersonal skills, and a strong work ethic.  Every employer looks for a candidate who is a good fit for their existing work environment and who can anticipate, respond to, and manage change on a day-to-day basis.

Each organization has a distinct workplace culture that becomes strategically important for the company’s overall success.  So, when hiring a new employee, employers consider not only a candidate’s experience and skills, but also how that potential employee will “mesh” with the company culture.

Cultural fit can mean many things.  For example, it could be a candidate’s willingness and readiness to adopt the company’s values.  It can also mean that a candidate’s work style matches the expectations of management and other employees.

Adaptability is often a deal-breaker in the hiring process.  Even if a candidate makes a good impression regarding their experience and skills, employers are reticent to hire someone who indicates or demonstrates a lack of willingness to adapt to a new environment.  Employers want a new hire who is adaptable and willing to get out of their comfort zone.

In fact, hiring managers are more likely to choose a candidate who lacks experience but would be a better fit with the company’s culture.  I’ve heard many employers say that a candidate can be trained in some essential skill areas, but adaptability is something an employee must bring to the job on their own.

This is an understandable concern for employers.  Employees who fit into the company culture tend to be more successful and productive than those who were hired because they fit the job description.

When applying for a management position, adaptability becomes an even more crucial consideration.  Managers influence subordinates, and that influence inevitably impacts their attitudes towards the company.  The higher the position for which a candidate is applying, the more the hiring committee will be looking for a nearly perfect fit with the company culture.  Making the mistake of hiring an executive or manager who doesn’t fit the company’s culture can lead to an expensive turnover and another lengthy hiring process.

So how does this affect you?

If you are interviewing for a promotion within your current company, you may already have all the information you need to prove that you’re a good fit for this position.  Still, you need to assess your present level of fitness objectively.  If you have been less than an ideal fit in your current position, you need to be prepared to explain why this has been the case and how you will be a better fit if promoted.

If you are interviewing for a position with a new company, you may need to consider a different approach.  No matter how much you study and learn about the work roles and the company’s culture, your efforts to prove yourself as a good fit for the position will probably have some “gaps” due to your lack of direct experience with the company.

I recommend that you learn all you can about the new company, but focus your efforts on how you have demonstrated adaptability in previous roles.  If you can demonstrate how you’ve adapted to change at work, in school, or even your personal life, it may strengthen your standing among these decision-makers.  Your proven ability to adapt will give prospective employers greater assurance that bringing you to their organization will yield positive results and further support a decision to give you this opportunity.


David Cox


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