Man is a creature of habits. Once we learn a skill, or get used to a certain way of addressing any situation in our life, we have a tendency to stick to it. Because familiar things are not stressful, and we do not see logical reasons to question something that has been working for us.
On the other hand, the only inevitable thing is change (and death and taxes, perhaps :)). Modern and dynamic corporations that try to stay on the top of the game have to constantly evolve. Processes change, as well as the organization of the company. People come and go, and the technology you work with today may become obsolete tomorrow.
What’s more, no progress can be achieved without innovation and change. And unless we progress we won’t survive in the competitive landscape of today’s economy. Because other corporations will innovate, and will take our place in the spotlight.
Are you flexible enough to adapt to such changes? Will you enjoy the growth of the company (and your personal development that comes along), or will you stress out, struggle, and eventually leave the business? Hiring managers try to find the answers while interviewing you for the job.
In this article I will analyze several flexibility interview questions, and try to suggest a good answer for job applicants. Whether you are an interviewer or a job applicant, you can benefit from the analyzes in your next interview. Enjoy!
Table of Contents
What is your attitude to change?
Flexible job candidates embrace changes. They may call them opportunities to grow, to learn something new, to discover new ways of effective work.
They may admit (with all honesty) that it takes them some time to adjust to the new conditions in the workplace. After all, man is a creature of habits. But they will eventually adapt, because they know they have to, because only a company that evolves will survive in today’s economy.
Describe a difficult situation you experienced in your personal life, and how it impacted you in work.
The way in which we react to dramatic changes in our personal life tells a lot about our adaptability. When someone we love leaves us, or dies, or when we deal with an unexpected illness or other difficult situation, our ability to accept it and adapt determines the impact the situation will have on our mental health.
Flexible job candidates have emotions too. They will spend a day crying when their partner leaves, they will endure few sleepless nights when diagnosed with cancer. But they won’t mourn for the rest of their lives. They won’t create an identity of a victim. They will eventually accept the inevitable, and continue trying to lead a good fight in their daily lives.
When interviewing for a job, ensure the interviewers that you can separate your personal and professional life. You will get over a difficult situation quickly, and it won’t have a huge impact on your performance in work. Perhaps you will even find refugee in your work…
Tell us about a last time you had to learn a new skill in work.
Job candidates with an ability to adapt will easily recall the situation. They will talk mostly about the positive side of the experience–new people they met while learning the skill (coaches, specialists), challenges they had to overcome and the good feelings they had when they overcome them, how the new skill helped them to be more efficient in work.
Candidates who struggle with changes will talk about the same story in a completely different way. They will narrate how the need to learn a new skill interfered with their daily duties in work, how they struggled to manage the workload. They will call the situation stressful for everyone, and will fail to see the positive impact the new skill had on their performance in work.
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Can you describe the most challenging situation you faced in your last job?
The first good indicator of candidate’s adaptability is the type of situation they pick for their interview answer. If it has something to do with major changes in the company (changing department, new management, restructuring, internal promotion), it indicates that they find it hard to adapt.
Second thing you should observe is the way in which they describe the situation. Do they talk about it in a calm, logical way, or do they still experience emotions when recollecting the situation? Did they eventually manage to handle the challenge, or did it lead to their resignation (dismissal), and that’s the reason why they interview for a job with you?
As a job candidate, you should try to pick a situation with a positive outcome, a challenge you managed to overcome. Do not get carried away, and clearly explain what you learned in challenging times, how they helped you progress as a professional, and as a human being.
May also interest you: Confidentiality interview questions.
Here is a problem (you give the job applicant a description of a problem, ideally one that has many potential solutions). You have five minutes to prepare. Then you will tell us how you’d solve the problem.
The key is to present a puzzle that either doesn’t have any apparent solution, or offers many possible solutions. It is also important to give them a few minutes to think about the problem. They should have sheet of paper and pen to make notes, to prepare their speech.
Flexible and creative job candidates will typically present more solutions (or ideas). They will try to explore various ways of addressing the problem. They won’t stick to one solution only, for example the one they used in their last job when confronted with a similar problem.
You can also ask follow-up questions, for example pointing out solutions the candidate did not discover, and observe their reactions. Do they explore them, and elaborate on them? Or to they quickly dismiss them, sticking with one idea only? It tells a lot about their adaptability, and also about other things…
Alternative ways of assessing adaptability of a job candidate
Answers to interview questions can tell you a lot about each job candidate and their flexibility. However, you should not rely solely on their interview answers.
People who’ve been through many interviews in their lives, and prepare for the meetings with employers responsibly (for example by reading this article) can sometimes deceive you with their interview answers (though the probability of this decreases with the number of difficult questions you ask them).
To confirm your impression and judgement about each candidate, you can purposely test their adaptability with some surprises you include in the interviews. Let’s look at some ideas.
Changing the interview format in the middle of the interview
Two (or more) interviewers and two (or more) job applicants, both interviewing for a job at the same time, and both expecting to stay alone. Now, in the middle of the interview, you suddenly take all candidates to a conference room and assign them a task they should work on as a team. Basically you unexpectedly change the interviewing format to a group interview.
How do they react? Are they surprised? Which candidates can quickly adapt to a new situation and start working as a team? Group interview can tell you a lot about different abilities of each job candidate. You should not hesitate including it in your interview process, perhaps as a surprise :).
Unexpected or strange questions, tests, role play
Let’s face the reality: We live in 21st century, and responsible job seekers will prepare for the interviews in advance. They will check some questions, they will visit some quality websites with interview advice (InterviewPenguin.com is certainly the best one for job seekers, but not the most popular one, so they may or not visit us 🙂).
In any case, they will be ready for the common questions. What they won’t be ready for, however, are some unexpected questions, case studies, tests, or role plays. For example:
- See this pen on the table? Try to sell it to me.
- Here is a Rubik’s cube. You have twenty minutes, try your best.
- Tell us about a colleague you disliked (hated) the most.
- If you won a lottery tomorrow, what would you do?
Surprising them with something unexpected can give you a good idea of their adaptability. They will typically react in a natural way, since they did not prepare for such a question (test, role play, situation) in advance.
Final thoughts, next steps
If we want to “survive” in today’s economy, we have to constantly adapt to changes. The world evolves with a pace unknown to former generations, and it is unlikely to slow down in the near future.
Flexible people who can adapt to a variety of changing conditions (new tasks, colleagues, teams, challenges) are the best employees. Test their ability to adapt with right questions, and do not hesitate to make them uncomfortable in the interviews, to surprise them with a role play, test, or an unexpected question. Once you do it, you should get a good idea about their adaptability…
May also interest you:
- Emotional intelligence intelligence interview questions
- How well do you adapt to new situations?
- Analytical skills interview questions