SPRING 2018

Career Matters: Honing the Most Critical Job Skill – Adaptability

Personal adaptability is an important skill in today’s competitive job market. Deb Wojcik, who served for two years as director of career and professional programming and counseling at the Nicholas School, shares her insights on this key skill, including how it is cultivated at the school.

1. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE PERSONAL ADAPTABILITY?

Personal adaptability involves both a mindset that prepares you to face change and ambiguity as well as a skillset that allows you to deal with it effectively. Adaptable people are able to identify and embrace change as well as keep an open mind when the landscape shifts. They are willing to experiment and take risks. They see change as an opportunity to grow and develop rather than as an obstacle to overcome.

2. HOW CAN HAVING THIS SKILL HELP ADVANCE ONE’S CAREER?

I’ve heard several workforce experts and futurists describe adaptability as one of—if not the—most critical job skills. If you’re on the job market or looking for your next promotion, be ready to share examples where you have demonstrated abilities to adapt, be flexible and flourish under uncertainty. Show that you can be their go-to person when things don’t go as planned.

3. HOW IS PERSONAL ADAPTABILITY DEVELOPED AT THE NICHOLAS SCHOOL?

Students can stretch themselves by taking courses in different schools across Duke’s campus, which the Nicholas School does a great job of supporting, and by adapting to the variety of content, teaching styles, student interactions, and expectations that come with those opportunities. The interdisciplinary nature of the Nicholas School is great training for adaptability. Students learn a breadth of tools that can be applied in different contexts along with decision-making frameworks that help them ascertain what the best approach to a particular problem might be under conditions of uncertainty. We’ve also worked to integrate adaptability into the master’s curriculum. I worked with Deb Gallagher and her Business and Environment Master of Environmental Management students this year to present a three-part workshop addressing adaptive management from an organizational perspective and personal adaptability as a professional skill. This gave students the opportunity to reflect on how they currently react to change and how they can proactively work to improve their skills to achieve greater career success.

4. WHAT IS YOUR BEST ADVICE TO THOSE SEEKING TO BECOME MORE PERSONALLY ADAPTABLE?

First, make yourself uncomfortable. Stretch yourself, then stretch some more. Put yourself in situations where you can’t possibly know what’s coming. Second, be mindful when you face change. We have natural self-protective instincts that can lead us to avoid uncertainty and shy away from change. Instead, actively reflect on how you react and how you feel when you face change. Think about how you could do it better next time and figure out what skills you might need to make that possible. Adaptability can only come through practice. The more we put ourselves in situations where we have to deal with uncertainty and change, and the harder we work to improve our mindset and skillset to handle what comes, the more successful we will be.