As the working world diversifies, it’s becoming harder to stand out as a highly specialized candidate. In all levels of employment, companies are looking more for teachable, jack-of-all-trades candidates than for ones that have a lot of experience in a single topic. Adaptable candidates are preferred because of their ability to be molded into pretty much any role relevant to their field of study.
That flexibility is an attractive trait to have for any professional, as it shows that you can work easily in a cross-functional role and adapt quickly to make a deeper impact than what is written on your job description. But how exactly do you display that adaptability in a job application? After all, it’s information that you want to get across, but it’s not easy to do so in a written format.
There’s a way to put extra focus on your adaptability in your resume, cover letter, and application documents without having it seem out of place. Here are a few ways to show it:
A great way to show you’re a flexible, teachable candidate is to highlight your efforts at continuing your education past university. Professionals that focus on learning tend to perform better and achieve more at any job, simply because they’re not content with letting their skillset stagnate. They also show their willingness to learn things they don’t know in order to better their careers.
If you’re one of those professionals who always looks for that next certification exam, make sure you prominently include that information in your resume. If you’re not, plenty of free and paid options exist for any skill or trade you want to learn, so make the time and financial investment to buff up your resume.
Use a “tough” reference
Typically, you’re told to pick references who have nothing but great things to say to you, but it can also be useful to provide hiring managers with a “tough” reference. A tough reference is someone you had a failing project with, a boss you initially clashed with, or someone who simply might be more honest about some of your drawbacks. It’s a person you now have a positive, productive relationship with that you didn’t get along with initially.
Whether they can tell a story about you being the light in an otherwise bad time at work, how you adapted to a relationship that wasn’t working and were the one to adjust, adapt, and make it work, or someone who will more candidly speak about your rough beginnings turning into a lot of lessons and learned expertise, these tough references can tell a compelling tale about you as an adaptable and hardworking person.
As you’re asked to send in references, make one of them a person you’ve had a rough start with or worked on a losing project with and now consider a friend or mentor. They’ll be able to pinpoint how you evolved and matured as a professional, which is a valuable perspective to give any hiring manager that wants an adaptable employee.
Membership in professional associations
Being an active member (or even a leader) of a professional association shows not only that you’re an eager networker who has connections. It also shows that you’re actively taking steps to learn from others in your field and beyond. A hiring manager wants to know that you can internalize the advice and feedback that they provide, and the professional associations you join go a long way to displaying that ability.
This is especially true if you join organizations not only for your own field and industry, but also for the ones that you’re learning about on your own time. So list out your professional associations in your resume, add in a few words on how you’re involved, and talk in further detail about those learnings when it comes time for the interview.
Individuals who actively volunteer in their community usually do it for their passion for a cause, whether that’s to help the homeless, save stray animals, protect the environment, and so on. But beyond that passion, they also show their eagerness to learn through new and unfamiliar experiences.
As a volunteer, you’ve probably worked with small organizations that have little funding but serve a large need, and as a result needed to show flexibility and the willingness to adapt to tough circumstances. That trait is highly attractive to employers, so make sure you highlight that time you managed to stretch a budget to feed an extra 100 hungry people, or that time you handled logistics for a beach cleanup when your team was short-staffed.
Show a pattern of growth
One thing many job seekers forget to focus on in their resume is showing a pattern of their own improvement. They rightfully put a strong focus on their achievements and responsibilities, but they fail to add in a third, crucial set of bullet points to each of their jobs listed: their takeaways.
Takeaway bullet points display one or two major things that you learned in each job and how they impacted your performance. They can be hard skills, soft skills, or lessons you learned from success or failure. Add in one or two takeaways for each job you’ve held to show that you were not just there to earn your paycheck.
High-value hobbies matter
It’s considered taboo these days to include your hobbies in your resume, with much of the common knowledge advice dictating that you’ll look silly and immature for doing so. But there are high-value hobbies that you can highlight on your resume that will make a difference in showing your willingness to adapt.
For example, if you play guitar, that’s not worth talking about, but if you’re part of a small local band, take care of booking shows, run your band’s finances, and the more, that can show employers an entrepreneurial flexibility that would make you stand out in their shortlist of candidates. It’s great that you're a talented photographer, but if you use that ability to take photos and make promotional materials for small businesses as a freelancer, it’s that aspect you should focus on in your resume. This will show not only an additional skill or talent, but also a willingness to use it for the benefit of your finances and your career.