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For many looking for a new job or promotion, it’s not always enough to be skilled, smart and emotionally intelligent in dealing with others. Employers also want to know a candidate’s AQ – adaptability quotient.

The keywords flexibility, agility and adaptability crop up frequently in job postings now as organizations strive to respond more expeditiously to emerging opportunities, challenges, technological advancements and changing markets. (A recent career ad for an accounts receivable co-ordinator in the food manufacturing industry is reflective of the qualities employers are increasingly seeking: "Adapts to changes; changes strategy in response to new information; responds quickly and appropriately without having all the parameters defined; demonstrates tolerance for speed and uncertainty.")

While the pace of change and innovation is most pronounced in the technology sector, "I think every industry is being disrupted in some way, shape or form," says Erika Van Noort, senior director of talent acquisition and onboarding at Toronto-based tech company Softchoice Corp.

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As an IT services provider with a diverse North American client base, Softchoice is constantly evolving in order to meet the changing needs of its customers "and we are constantly changing the skills we recruit for," Ms. Van Noort said in an interview. "Organizations that are moving at such a pace require people who can not only keep up, but people who are receptive to change. You have to be receptive to it before you can actually adapt to it."

Jacqueline Szeto-Meiers, chief executive officer of NarrowContent Inc., a Toronto-based firm that rates the quality and impact of advertising content in the financial industry, said the first thing she looks for in a prospective employee "is someone who has entrepreneurship within."

NarrowContent is a small shop and the team comes from diverse backgrounds - capital markets, marketing, video production, software engineering, financial writing, graphic design. What the employees have in common is open-mindedness, strong collaboration skills and the ability to move quickly in response to business challenges and opportunities, she said. “If you have meeting after meeting and finally come to a decision a month later, that ship has sailed,” said Ms. Szeto-Meiers, who comes from a capital markets background.

Management psychologist Guy Beaudin, a Toronto-based partner of consulting firm RHR International, said adaptability has always been an important, although sometimes overlooked, trait in hiring and promotion decisions. “I do think it’s critical.”

But it’s also important for organizations to identify what kind of adaptability they need from staff – not everyone is in a role that requires frequent or continuous change. "It can’t be a blanket ‘we want people with high AQ.’ It has to be ‘in what role do we need it, and to what end?’

“Curiosity, orientation to learning, coachability … people who don’t see themselves as a finished product but are always looking to improve themselves - those are some of the dimensions of adaptability,” Dr. Beaudin said in an interview.

There is an intelligence component to AQ, and emotional intelligence is also important in supporting others through change, he said.

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“People who will look at a problem from a number of different angles, who are able to sit a little bit with uncertainty as they gather other people’s perspectives, people who think about the consequences of an action or decision would be higher on the adaptability mode,” Dr. Beaudin said. “Adaptability is not recklessness. You still need to do the scenario planning and analysis.”

Organizations and people who embrace adaptability have a competitive edge, said Nadeem Nathoo, a former McKinsey management consultant and executive director of Toronto-based The Knowledge Society, a not-for-profit that provides mentorship and development to the next generation of innovators and leaders in the tech sector.

Many of the tech skills being taught to the middle- and high-school students involved in the TKS program will be obsolete by the time they graduate from university, Mr. Nathoo said. But the intellectual ability, curiosity, flexibility and learning habits they develop now will serve them well in the future.

“If you teach people the skills necessary to adapt, how to be incredibly resourceful, how to ramp up quickly to understand new concepts … they won’t fall behind.”

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