Adaptability Quotient (AQ): The future of hiring top talent

11 January 2021 Victoria Butt

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With most industries going through more change in the last 6 months than they have in the last 10 years, 2020-21 has certainly lived up to being one of the most memorable years in the last 50! The need for mental resilience and adaptability has never been more important – particularly one’s ability to adapt to fast-changing environments.

What is Adaptability Quotient (AQ)?

The definition of Adaptability Quotient (AQ) by Forbes is "the ability to adjust course, product, service, and strategy in response to unanticipated changes in the market.” It is a term first written about in Forbes white paper on Adapt or Die.

Tech Investor Natalie Fratto shares in her 2019 Ted Talk that she invests in tech founders only based on AQ -

“We’re entering a future where IQ and EQ both matter far less than how fast you’re able to adapt. Adaptability itself is a form of intelligence, and each of us has the capacity to become more adaptable. Think of it like a muscle…. it has to be exercised”

Human Capital futurists have been writing about Adaptability Quotient increasingly since the start of 2020 and while it is not as defined as IQ and EQ just yet, it will shortly become the most robust way to hire top talent.

IQ to EQ to AQ

IQ, EQ, and AQ are all important factors to consider when hiring top talent. IQ is a measure of a person's intellectual ability, while EQ is a measure of their emotional intelligence. AQ is a measure of their adaptability quotient, or their ability to adapt to new situations.

A person with a high IQ may be able to perform the job well, but if they have low EQ or AQ, they may not be able to interact well with others or adapt to change.

Conversely, someone with high EQ or AQ may be able to adapt to change and interact well with others, but if their IQ is low, they may not be able to perform the job well. All three of these factors are important to consider when hiring top talent.

7 Characteristics & Skills of someone with a high AQ

I recently attended a webinar by Future Crunch on Adaptability Quotient who (as always) delivered an awesome keynote on AQ. They talk about AQ as muscle and that it needs flexing by:

1. Staying curious

There are many ways to stay curious and improve your Adaptability Quotient (AQ). One way is simply to expose yourself to new and different experiences as often as possible. Try something you've never done before, go someplace you've never been, meet new people, and learn about new cultures.

Another way to stay curious is to ask lots of questions. Ask questions about everything, from the big questions such as "what is the meaning of life?" to the small questions such as "why do dogs wag their tails?" Asking questions helps you learn more about the world around you and helps you understand yourself and other people better.

2. Adopting an Amateur mindset:

When we view things from an amateur mindset, we're more likely to explore new ideas and concepts, we open ourselves up to new possibilities and ways of thinking. We're also more likely to be less judgmental and more accepting of differences. This openness allows us to adapt more easily to new situations and cultures, which in turn increases our AQ.

3. Staying strong in your views but flexible to change your mind:

When it comes to adapting to change, it's important to find a balance between staying true to your convictions and being willing to adapt as circumstances warrant. Those who are inflexible in their views tend to be less adaptable when faced with change, while those who are too flexible may find it difficult to stick to their principles. The key is to find a middle ground between the two extremes.

4. Learn and adopt emerging technologies.

The willingness to adopt new technologies by continuously experimenting with different frameworks is of good quality. People with good AQ can effectively share their ideas and have a strong understanding of the business implications of adopting new technologies.

5. Willing to make mistakes

Mistakes are an inevitable part of our life. If you are comfortable taking risks then you’re easy to adapt to new surroundings. People with high AQ are less judgemental and more problem-solving with different approaches. They are not afraid of change and see things from people’s perspectives. This openness allows them to embrace new experiences and learn from their mistakes.

‍6. Unafraid of the unknown

Every person should enjoy exploring their thoughts and feelings and have a rich inner life. High AQ people are often introspective and reflective. People with a high AQ are typically not afraid of taking risks, either physical or emotional. They are willing to experiment and explore new possibilities. They also tend to be independent thinkers who don't rely on others for their opinions.

7. Environmentally conscious

Having a high AQ means having a high level of awareness about your surroundings and the people in it.

It makes sense that people with high AQs would also be environmentally conscious. They are attuned to the needs of the planet and the delicate balance that exists between humans and nature. They understand that we all need to do our part to protect our environment, and they take this commitment seriously.

5 questions to check someone’s Adaptability Quotient (AQ)

What most of my research on AQ has shown me is that to build your own adaptability, it’s an ongoing quest of changing and adapting your thought process, taking risks, and embracing learning. By unlearning your assumptions and deeply held beliefs, you become more mentally agile.

Selecting and hiring top talent is becoming increasingly hard as the rate of change and requirements from our people are unprecedented. Simple IQ/EQ/situational-based interviews are out of date (if not archaic already). Pro interviewees who have well-oiled/rehearsed answers can still make their way through 4-5 rounds of interviews seamlessly. So, the question is, are the right people getting the right roles? Unlikely.

​The best way to assess an applicant’s ability to adapt is to ask them behavioral questions that will give you insights into their thought process and how they would handle various situations.

AQ assessment is the future of selecting the very best talent. Here are some questions which can flesh out a professional’s AQ:

  1. When was the last time you learned something genuinely new?

  2. What is a strongly held belief that you have recently altered your opinion on?

  3. When was the last time you received feedback from a superior? What was it and how have you responded to it? (if at all)

  4. If you found yourself heading up this organisation, what would be the first 3 priorities/initiatives you would roll out?

  5. How do you typically learn new things? And provide examples of this?

It is quite obvious that you will never receive linear answers to these questions and while it may take some time to get used to, you will see patterns emerging and over time, better understand a professional’s level of AQ. A high AQ person will be full of examples of learning, asking more questions and giving answers, taking and actioning feedback (even if it’s a small part of the overall feedback) and on a constant journey to experiment and learn new things.

Adopt new hiring techniques

It takes much more effort to actively unlearn something you ‘know’ to be true than to continue in the way in which you have always worked. A small step would be to alter your hiring techniques to include hiring adaptability rather than focus solely on someone’s smarts/emotional intelligence. By making adaptability a key criterion in your hiring process, you will be able to build a more successful and effective team.

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About the Author

Victoria is an Executive Search Specialist, entrepreneur, Founder, and Managing Director of Parity Consulting - a thought leader, wife and mother, blogger, and wine snob! She believes in life by design and is blessed to have found her career home in the training & recruitment industry, founding Parity Consulting on the belief that the candidate and client must be equal within the hiring process. Know more about parity consulting here.

Parity Consulting works with clients who embrace diverse and inclusive environments and empower their teams to bring their authentic whole selves to work. We encourage people with different beliefs, abilities, backgrounds, and life experiences to contact us.

Feel free to reach out to Victoria Butt on +61 402 418 326 or