Team of employees sitting at desks inside a bright office.
Focusing on soft skills and knowing the right questions to ask while interviewing are two ways to hire employees that are easily adaptable and open to change. — Getty Images/LanaStock

In today's ever-changing business economy, flexibility is a must-have skill to look for when recruiting new employees. Having a flexible, adaptable workforce is essential if you want your company to be able to pivot quickly, as many have had to throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

But finding these candidates isn’t as simple as looking at their resume. You need to know what to look for, both before and during the interview process, to hire people who can pivot with your evolving business needs.

Why is flexibility important?

The best employees are flexible, not just in terms of location and communication style (in a remote or hybrid work environment), but also in their abilities and work styles.

Certain industries have workdays that can change at a moment’s notice. A great employee should be able to learn of the new changes, make adjustments and prioritize the next project. This is particularly true in businesses like restaurants, retail stores and in-person services, which have had to make dramatic shifts to accommodate for COVID-19 safety concerns and social distancing.

“It’s critical to have the ability to think on your feet and react quickly to situations you may be unprepared for,” said Allison Maize, regional operations director at Angry Crab Shack. “Our managers have had to strategize for the long term and have even had to adjust operations overnight to entirely different business models, like shifting from dine-in to strictly carry out and delivery.”

[Read: Creative Small Business Pivots Throughout the Pandemic]

Employees who want to understand why changes are happening by asking questions to understand the bigger picture set themselves up to be the most successful during times of frequent change.

Alana Christou, senior talent acquisition manager, Fracture

How to hire flexible employees

Every hiring manager would love to hire someone who is flexible and multifaceted. However, not every candidate has these qualities. Furthermore, assessing flexibility requires looking beyond the resume. You’ll need to learn about the prospective candidate’s experience and personality so you can gauge how they’ll adapt to different settings.

“The ability to collaborate, observe and adapt are what we look for in hiring our managers and teams,” said Maize. “[This] translates into excellent communication skills, the ability to teach and a willingness to roll up your sleeves to help the team.”

Here are three tips for finding and hiring flexible employees.

1. Focus on soft skills.

In addition to a candidate having the right education and working experience to perform the job, you’ll want to make sure they also possess soft skills that demonstrate their adaptability.

Soft skills are certain personality traits and behaviors that are often developed through experience, not education. If you’re looking for someone who can easily pivot from project to project, or even department to department, you’ll want to hire someone who possesses these critical soft skills.

“[Look for] curiosity, willingness to ask questions, open communication and collaboration,” said Alana Christou, senior talent acquisition manager for Fracture. “Employees who want to understand why changes are happening by asking questions to understand the bigger picture set themselves up to be the most successful during times of frequent change.”

[Read: What Are Soft Skills?]

2. Ask the right questions.

Since soft skills aren’t always apparent on a person's resume, you'll have to look beyond the surface to learn more about the candidate. Before you start interviewing prospective employees, think about what type of questions you want to ask them to see if they're a good fit at your company.

Christou advised specifically asking about a candidate’s attitude toward change.

“Does change excite or intimidate someone?” she said. “Do growth and new professional challenges come up as something they are looking for in their next opportunity? Flexibility is often just not being so attached to ‘how’ you do something that you are unwilling to look for a different way of doing things.”

Another good way to assess soft skills is by asking candidates about how they overcame certain adversities in their previous jobs.

“When you’re hiring for a position that requires flexibility due to unpredictability, it’s essential to initially look for a calm and confident demeanor,” Maize told CO—. “We will often ask [candidates] to recall a time where they have to think on their feet to problem solve and how they arrived at a solution.”

3. Lay the foundation for change and flexibility during the interview process.

As you seek out candidates, set the stage as early as possible to ensure that only people who are prepared to pivot continue on in the hiring process.

“Lay the foundation that the only constant is change, and as a result team members should constantly be re-evaluating the way they do things to look for areas of improvement,” Christou said. “Just because something is working doesn't mean it could not be working better. Iterate, create and challenge each other as often as possible.”

[Read: 4 Big Hiring Trends To Watch For in 2021]

Honing adaptability among your current team

Once you’ve found and hired a flexible employee, you’ll need to nurture that adaptability and willingness to pivot with a strong company culture.

“Creating a team culture where growth and change are expected and celebrated will make business changes more part of the ‘norm’ rather than a disruption,” said Christou.

Maize agreed, noting that the best way to build a highly adaptable team is to equip them with resources and knowledge so they feel prepared to handle a variety of situations.

“Through continued training and development, we teach them to remain calm during seemingly chaotic situations by remaining solution-focused and setting attainable goals each day,” Maize explained. “Change is not easy, especially if the way you have been doing it was ‘successful.’ Setting small goals with new procedures allows your team to feel a sense of achievement in moving forward.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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