Why AQ is the New EQ And What That Means For Recruiters

One of the biggest upshots of our age of upheaval is the need for recruiters to look beyond hard skills when making hiring decisions.

An early Talent Unlimited post listed the most in-demand soft skills in the job market. A couple of years later, it appears one of them – adaptability – is becoming the Holy Grail for recruiters operating in what we might call a post-skilled world of work.

The diminishing shelf life of skills

In recent years, hard skills and specialist knowledge have become a devalued workplace currency. In previous generations, workers could spend an entire career carving out and honing their specialism, building their skills methodically as the world progressed steadily, non-tangentially, predictably.

Fast-forward to today, and the pace of change in technology, work methods and jobs themselves is such that specialist expertise now only has a shelf life of a few years at best.

The World Economic Forum offers two projections that neatly illustrate the point:

  1. 35% of our most valued workplace skills will have changed within 5 years
  2. 65% of schoolchildren today will work in jobs that haven’t been invented yet

In a post-skilled world of work, the question faced by recruiters is starkly simple. Exactly which trait marks out the best candidates for a given role?

Adaptability is the answer

With the necessary skills for a given job (even the job itself) superseded so quickly, today’s best candidate is the one who’s proven their desire to continually, successfully retrain and reinvent themselves throughout their career.

This is the crux of a high Adaptability Quotient: one’s facility for dealing with and thriving in the rapidly changing context in which we all now live and work.

Expanding on that definition, high-AQ employees are:

  • Comfortable with change and uncertainty
  • Prepared to adopt new ways of working
  • Happy to go outside their functional role and take on something new
  • Eager to solve problems, even ones they haven’t encountered before

These are the traits that many smart recruiters are looking for first. HR influencer Jennifer Dulski states in a LinkedIn blog post:

“We all know there will be new devices, new programming languages, and new approaches tomorrow that don’t exist today. I like to hire people who want to learn those new things and who want to be part of creating them.”

Dulski has a simple way of assessing adaptability during selection:

”I usually ask very direct questions like, “Can you tell me about a time when your company or team went through a major change and how you handled that?” People who can describe situations where they adeptly maneuvered a period of change are especially valuable on teams.”

Why AQ is something new

At this point, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Isn’t this merely rebadging the Growth Mindset we’ve been assessing for umpteen years?

Actually, there are two reasons why AQ is worth paying more attention to. First, on a human level it’s not that easy for us to be truly adaptable, for reasons set out in this excellent article.

Second, AQ doesn’t just apply to individuals. In fact, employee-level adaptability is only half the story. In an increasingly complex and volatile corporate climate, adaptability must also be a top organisational priority, in order to avoid going the way of Blockbuster, Kodak, Toys R Us et al.

The 2018 Innosight Corporate Longevity Forecast is sobering reading for even the biggest blue-chips. It tells a story of corporate lifespans speeding inexorably up. This is highlighted by the downward trend in average tenure of companies in the S&P 500 – from 33 years in 1964 down to 24 years in 2016. By 2027, Innosight predicts, that tenure will be a mere 12 years.

Faced with this prospect, ‘Adapt or die’ seems a corporate mantra worth adopting for the next decade or so. But crucially, it must be baked into company culture. In order for their adapters to thrive, first companies have to create the conditions in which adapters thrive.

In the best cases, high AQ will be a healthy symbiosis between individuals and the organisation they work for. Recruiters will be able to lure high-AQ hires with the promise of continual upskilling in a naturally fluid culture that truly celebrates learning. In turn, those hires will become loyal employees proactively motivated to evolve and reshape their organisation to succeed in the unchartered future ahead.

Before that can happen, AQ has some evolving of its own to do. For now it’s appreciated as a prized candidate asset. But its true value will only be realised when it becomes a quantifiable metric for ranking candidates (and by which candidates can rate prospective employers). No doubt the adapters are already on it.

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