Adaptability is the ability to change based on shifting circumstances. It’s a soft skill that’ll come in handy if you’re thinking of adopting a job without significant routine, or experiences significant, regular change.
Just about every job requires some degree of adaptability, as nothing stays the same forever! Employers know this and look for it in graduates. If you can show them examples of you adapting to changing circumstances, you may just impress them enough to help you land that job. Investing in becoming adaptable can also pay dividends in future for your personal life. Sticking to routines and staying organised are fantastic qualities, but there will be times when that holiday itinerary will be turned on its head, or a friend will break up and need to stay with you. Maybe you’ll be hit with an unforseen bill, or forgot someone’s birthday. All these things can be dealt with if you’re not confronted by change.
You’ll naturally encounter opportunities to adapt during assignments and exam periods, but there’s even more you can do to get a leg up.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the ways to develop this skill during your bachelor’s degree. You may be surprised to learn that a lot of the time, opportunities to adapt will present organically… so long as you know what to look for! Here are just a couple activities, exercises and mindsets to try.
One of the primary goals of university used to be getting a ‘universal’ education, one that encouraged studying widely. Adopting this mindset is one of the best ways to become more adaptable. One of the best ways of putting this mindset into practice is to start meeting people outside your circle. Universities have built-in mechanisms of doing this in the form of student societies. Whatever your discipline may be, venturing into the unknown thickets of other circles is a surefire way to delve into new opportunities for growth, building friendships, learning skills that may come in handy despite being outside your discipline and more. Pertinent to this discussion, it’ll test your ability to adapt in social situations. It doesn’t hurt that you’ll be making a couple new friends along the way!
Whether it’s an investment banking competition, sporting championship or talent show, getting into some competitive events is a great way to test your mettle and improve your adaptability. Competitions are naturally loaded with opportunities to develop creative new lines of thought and… well, adapt to changing circumstances! Nothing improves adaptability quite like practice. There's little better in the way of practice than competition. Better yet, why not ask some of the new people you’re meeting to join you? Oftentimes, university-run competitions at least require teams of two or three depending on the nature of the event. This is a chance to form some real long-lasting bonds while continuing to grow that social adaptability too.
No need to limit yourself to just uni events either. Private sport clubs, debating societies and more are all available if you seek them out. So long as you’re exercising your competitive side, you’re doing well!
Creativity is one of the keys to succeeding as an adaptable person. There are a few ways to build this.
Be they professors, parents, bosses or otherwise, your mentors have likely exercised more than a fair amount of adaptability. It can be weird asking them about it, but well worth the awkwardness! Literally just ask how you can get better at adapting to change. It’ll come across as insightful. If they look at you funny, who cares? Clearly they aren’t adapting well. Just asking them how they’ve learned to be creative, or how they handled this or that challenge, can go a long way to giving you inspiration. Even if it’s just asking them via email. There’s really nothing to lose by reaching out.
Another method is learning from peers. What did your friend do differently for this assignment? How did they tackle this essay question, or troubleshoot that bug? How did they argue their case differently? The goal here isn’t to rip off their ideas. It’s to broaden your thinking and open your mind to alternatives. More often than not, there are more ways than one to accomplish any given task. It’s just a matter of finding them. Adaptable people know this and seek to create a directory of as many available options as possible before committing to a decision. Whether it’s choosing what you’ll eat for lunch today or deciding between two job offers, adapting starts with widening your options before narrowing in.
We’ve fleshed out this concept in a separate article here. To sum it up:
Improve your lateral thinking to develop original solutions.
Improve your vertical thinking to develop logical and ordered solutions.
Learn to use both together to become an innovative thinker.
Most of your uni time will be spent learning new things, which is naturally conducive of adaptation. You’ll likely encounter opportunities to apply old knowledge to new areas, apply new knowledge to old areas or deal with new everything! This is great for adaptability, but there’s more you can do to get out of your day-to-day uni life. For one, try pushing yourself to use different methods of problem solving in familiar contexts. This can apply as much to mathematics as to programming or writing. Going outside the bounds of methodologies you’re currently familiar with can expand your arsenal of techniques to draw upon when faced with unfamiliar circumstances in future.
An active observer can extract knowledge from the world simply by thinking about what they’re seeing. They form and test hypotheses on the fly to better understand their surroundings. This invaluable habit makes them better at adaptation by helping them stay informed. There are a few things you can do to become a keen observer too, without going out of your way.
Occasionally, stay in the moment while commuting and ask questions about your surroundings. For example, look at what people on the bus are wearing, how they’re carrying themselves and why that might be. Look for graffiti on the seat in front of you and consider the type of person who may have written it. What led to the appearance of that building you see out the window. Why that patch of footpath may be cracked but not the other. The point at this stage isn’t to learn some vital information. It’s to practice the act of actively observing things you’d otherwise filter out.
Force yourself to read through the minutiae of each assignment. Every element of the rubric you’re given, lecture, note or email in your CMS. It’s tempting to skim, particularly if you’re a seasoned law student! Staying attentive to seemingly unimportant details however can make you a more patient observer. The time will come when something you’d otherwise skip falls within your field of view. You can learn more about developing attention to detail here.
You should now have a much better idea of what adaptability is about, why it’s important and how you can develop it. Like many of the other soft skills, getting really good at it takes time and effort, but it’s worth it in the long run. So long as you’re keeping it in mind throughout your time at uni, you’ll be better prepared for your first graduate job later on… and the next teary-eyed friend just needing a shoulder!
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