How to spot resilience in a candidate


Increasingly complex working environments mean organisations want employees that are adaptable and resilient. But how can you spot these qualities in candidates?

When hiring new talent, you may think technical prowess and interpersonal skills are all that matter. But in the stressful modern workplace, resilience is an increasingly sought-after skill.

So how can you ensure candidates have the resilience needed to succeed within your business? To help you find that all-important talent, we asked our experts for their unique insights.

Understand what you’re looking for 

It may be one of the most in-demand qualities in employees, but it’s essential hiring managers first understand what resilience is before being able to recognise it in candidates. “Resilience is a mental quality,” surmises Sharon Chen, senior manager of Robert Walters’ sales and marketing division in Taiwan. “It’s the ability to respond to, and recover quickly from, difficulties in the workplace to ensure you’re always persevering with a ‘never-give up’ attitude.”

An important resilience trait in employees is the ability to deal with uncertainty. As Sharon adds: “Resilient individuals are also often able to prioritise strategically, and to keep striving towards the long-term vision even if there are short-term challenges that need to be weathered.”

Don’t focus too much on a CV

It’s often the first port of call in any recruitment process, but when it comes to assessing a candidate’s resilience, a CV isn’t always that enlightening.

As Rungnapa Charoenrungsiri, Manager - Human Resource Division at Robert Walters Thailand, points out, “CVs can be overly decorated with matched or inflated titles, achievements, or interesting job descriptions but resiliency is a quality that you can only truly read from the person and not the paper. So do have the face-to-face conversations and interviews with suitable candidates.”

Rungnapa however also notes that there are clues in candidates’ CVs that hiring managers could pick up on. “Look out for names of companies that are well-known for their fast pace, what initiatives candidates have carried out there, their subsequent achievements, and their career moves,” Rungnapa highlights.

Assess your expectations against the role

When recruiting new talent, hiring managers should tailor their expectations of the candidates for the role being filled – and that includes their resilience qualities.

Rungnapa elaborates, “Hiring managers should expect more senior candidates to be able to handle more difficult cases, or situations requiring more than technical skills. As such, one key differentiating quality to look for in senior candidates is being resilient and getting through challenges and difficulties with grit.”

“For both senior and junior professionals, experience-based interviews can be used to assess resiliency. Hiring managers need to first decide what are the specific requirements and traits that they would like from candidates, and they can then use different scenarios to test for these characteristics under a pressure-cooker environment,” Rungnapa says.

Ask the right questions

The modern workplace is what’s known as a VUCA world (standing for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), and interviews are the best chance for hiring managers to assess how candidates would react to these challenges. “When assessing resilience, what you really want to understand from an interview is how a candidate’s emotions are triggered in the workplace – and how they react,” says Sharon. “So, make sure you ask the right questions to get these answers.”

According to Duy Tran, Manager - Sales & Marketing – Healthcare at Robert Walters Vietnam, hiring managers should ask about recent frustrations or failures candidates have encountered and how they’ve responded. “You can start off with questions such as ‘When was the last time you intended to resign, and what were the reasons?’, ‘How did you feel when you did not hit your target?’, and ‘How did you feel when you weren’t promoted as planned?’,” Duy says.

Look out for authenticity

Despite being essential in understanding an applicant’s experience and character, one of the most difficult things for hiring managers to assess is authenticity. “What you really want to know when evaluating an applicant is what they’ve actually done in the roles they’ve held, and what they’ve actually taken responsibility for, whether working alone or as part of a team,” says Sharon.

“What you don’t want is a candidate to simply reel off a list of pre-practised examples that’ll make it difficult to assess what they actually did, so you really need to probe into the detail. If anything doesn’t add up, or a candidate fails to give any detail about their precise actions, it could be a sign that they’re over-exaggerating – and leave you unsure what they’d actually bring to a role.”

Give them a role play

Hiring managers looking to better assess the qualities of candidates may choose to introduce new methodologies into their recruitment process.

Duy notes, “Role-plays are becoming increasingly common during interviews, as they help employers pick the right candidate for their company’s environment and culture. So if you want a clearer picture of your candidates’ resiliency, consider role-plays as they can help you better assess candidates’ authenticity when responding to given situations and challenges.”

“One scenario that I would suggest is to ask candidates to play the role of an employee who is the only person on the team not hitting their target – how would the candidate feel, perceive, and address the situation?” Duy says. “On the whole, hiring managers should be selective and chose one to two key scenarios for the interview, one of which should be a common situation in the company so they can better understand how candidates will react to a usual day at work. Remember to look out for authenticity and speed in candidates’ responses, and whether they could handle the intense pressure during the question and answer.”

If you require further expert advice on your hiring needs, visit our hiring advice hub or contact us for a confidential discussion.

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