An article in the Journal of Vocational Behavior* has reported that in selection processes, those who can show examples of their resilience are more likely to get a successful outcome. The premise employers are using, is that resilience is a personality trait that a candidate either will or will not have. It also assumes that it will always be available to them.
The truth is more complex. Most resilience is not defined by your genes but what you have learnt from the difficulties you have experienced in your life. It does not matter if those difficulties were in work or in your personal life, resilience is about how you recovered, but also what you learnt from that disruption that you have taken forward with you. It is also true that no one is resilient all of the time. In the course of a day, a week or a year we may have times of sailing through difficulties and times of getting overwhelmed
But, given selection processes may not know this and still believe that resilience is something that you were given as part of your genetic makeup, how do you answer the question:
Can you tell me about a time when you have had your resilience tested?
In answering it, you can go to any part of your life:
- When you failed to get the right results for the university course you wanted.
- When your parents got divorced
- When you had a major illness
- When someone close to you died
- When an important relationship ended.
- When you had a setback in your career
The key part is not the episode, it is how you approached recovery:
- What was the immediate impact on you e.g. loss of confidence, feeling lost without any purpose, feeling alone, being unable to make a decision?
- What did you do that helped you move forward e.g. I started talking to people, I signed up for things which took my attention away from my feelings, I set myself challenges such as running a half marathon, I volunteered, I looked at what I could do rather than focusing on my failure, I acknowledged my part in what had happened rather than denying it.
And what you learned from it:
- I learned that life does not have certainty and that I am adaptable.
- I learned that connecting with others when in difficulty is better than being miserable in silence.
- I learned that absorbing myself in a challenge helps me to move forward
- I learned that everyone has difficulties and that having my own, has made me more able to be empathic when others have theirs.
- I learnt that leaning into difficulty rather than denying it or blaming others is a better way of moving forward.
It is not the example that matters, it is what it says about you that will show up whenever life or work throws you a curve ball.
Rather than resilience being a fixed quality, it is a quality that grows throughout our lives as we face into difficulty and learn. It is also more than mental toughness. Sometimes toughness can be armour that prevents learning.
The interviewers may not know that, but you can show you do by how you answer the resilience question.
*D King, B Lyons and C Phetmisy, Perceived resiliency: the influence of resilience narratives on attribution processes in selection, Journal of Vocational Behavior, October 2021.