Bosses want “rubber band” workers

Whenever there’s a list of sought-after traits for job applicants and employees, a few words commonly appear. The top two: flexible and adaptable.

I’m going to call them the rubber-band qualifications. Employers want workers who’ll bend, stretch, and pop back into useful shape no matter how often they’re twisted into new configurations.

They also want quick learners, people who can absorb the duties and perform them well without a lot of further instruction or hand holding. There isn’t always much time these days for training and mentoring.

It’s no secret to anyone in the work world – especially in downsized or fast-growing office environments – that prized employees do whatever new is asked of them. Here’s the corollary to that truism: The most sought-after workers do it without drama.

You’ve probably seen “No Whining” or “No Complaints” posters hung in workplaces. Sure, they’re unrealistic and, in some cases, unfair. Well-reasoned and well-focused complaints can make things better, as long as there are solutions included.

But a plethora of pre-offer applicant tests and employee performance evaluations hinge on those squishy qualities of flexibility, adaptability, and attitude-related assets like “works well in a team” and “takes initiative.”

Sometimes, I hear comments from mid- and late-career job hunters that make me cringe about their re-employment odds. They talk about the way things used to be or about out-dated projects they did in the past. Sometimes their tone of voice is plainly negative or suspicious about change.

They’re not selling themselves as rubber bands. They’re selling themselves as rigid metal O-rings with no stretch toward what they could be.

Remember: Technical skill and experience are minimum requirements. Stretch is the differentiator.