“How do you adapt to change?”
This is a common behavioral question and one that invites a variety of different answers ranging from a few sentences to a few paragraphs.
What’s the best way to answer this one? We’re going to cover all of that below, so keep reading!
Variations of This Question
There are many questions centered on the theme of “change” and they can all be approached roughly the same way:
- How adaptable are you?
- How well do you adapt to new situations?
- Tell me about a time your work situation changed.
- How do you handle starting a new job?
- How do you feel about company changes?
- Are you an adaptable person?
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
Unlike some interview questions, the intent behind this one is actually fairly obvious from the question itself.
It has a lot to do with your personality.
Interviewers simply want to know if you can flexible when it’s required of you. They want someone who can roll with the punches and rise to new challenges when they present themselves.
Being too set in your ways can be detrimental to the company because policies and procedures often change in response to the needs of the customer, employees, company, or community.
That’s to not say that’s all an interviewer can learn by asking this question; they might also want to see if you can recognize when change is necessary.
Being aware of problems in the workplace and how they affect the company as a whole means you can identify when changes need to happen, even if it’s not up to you to enact those changes.
How to Answer: “How Do You Adapt to Change?”
Rather than give you a list of arbitrary tips, we wanted to provide a formula for building an impactful and well-rounded answer.
Here’s our 3-step process:
1. Describe Your Mindset Around Change
Start by explaining how you feel about change, particularly in the workplace.
When done correctly, this will communicate to your interviewer that you’re able to embrace change, even if you don’t necessarily agree with it.
So how exactly do you do this?
Regardless of whether you’re the type of person who responds well to change, you need to communicate something positive to the interviewer when it comes to necessary changes in the workplace.
Perhaps you embrace change because:
- You trust in your superiors to make the right call
- You enjoy taking on new challenges
- It can lead to growth and learning
- It can make processes run more smoothly
- It can directly benefit customers
It’s also worth prefacing this part with adjectives like “adaptable,” “flexible,” or “versatile” to describe your personality in a more general way.
Here’s an example:
“I believe I’m very adaptable, especially with my work. I’ve always put trust in my superiors to address issues and make the right changes, even if the reasons for those changes aren’t always immediately obvious to me.”
2. Give an Example of a Situation That Required Change
Next, talk about a time a significant change was needed at work.
This is important because it presents a problem that forced a change, and gives you an opportunity to talk about how you adapted to that change in the next part of your answer. This is the “setup” for the final act, if you like.
Think back to a problem you experienced at work that was eventually addressed, whether it occurred in your current job or a previous job.
These problems might include:
- Team meetings being unproductive
- Employees relying on outdated software
- Stores not staying open late enough
- A lack of communication between staff
- Downsizing to fewer employees in a department
- Negative reviews regarding service or product quality
Then, briefly touch on what changed in an attempt to fix the issue, whether it was new employees, a company policy change, or something else entirely.
Remember, we’re just setting the stage. The interviewer doesn’t really care what caused the change in your environment or even what that change was; they’re far more interested in how you adapted to it — which we’ll cover next.
Here’s an example:
“At my last job, large team meetings were a regular occurrence. Oftentimes, though, the same few people would hash out their ideas and everyone else would just sit quietly. Management took notice and eventually rolled out smaller, more personal meetings.”
3. Describe How You Adapted to It
Finally, talk about how you responded to that change.
This part is what really shows your adaptability as an employee. Anyone can describe themselves as adaptable or flexible, but not everyone can demonstrate those attributes through a relevant anecdote.
If it wasn’t already obvious, this is the most crucial aspect of your answer so it’s important to say the right things.
Focus on the following points where relevant:
- How you felt about that change, even if you initially experienced a negative feeling (apprehension, a lack of confidence, confusion).
- What actions you took in order to align yourself with the change in policy or environment.
- How it impacted your work and productivity, both short-term and long-term.
- How you feel now looking back on it.
While honesty is often recommended in an interview, it’s best to leave your opinions at the door when talking about whether or not you agreed with the changes that were made.
Here’s an example:
“From then on, I spent a lot more time developing my ideas because I knew I’d have to present them at my next meeting, and I actually started to look forward to those sessions. It was a nerve-wracking but very welcome change.”
Putting It All Together (Example Answers)
What would a 3-step formula be without some examples to boot?
Below are several full sample answers using the exact structure we outlined above, each tackling the question from different perspectives.
Sample Answer #1: Downsizing
“I’m pretty easygoing, so I don’t usually get bothered by change. I understand the needs of the company, and I know things aren’t going to stay the same forever. Employees need to be able to adapt.
Recently, there was downsizing at my current job. My department went from 13 to 8 people, and that was a big shift. There was a lot of confusion about who was supposed to take on which tasks and what was no longer required.
It took some time, but we worked together to figure out what would work. We also talked to management about the new expectations. I wasn’t thrilled about the change at first, but in the end, we did work just as efficiently with fewer people, so it improved our team dynamic as a whole.”
Sample Answer #2: Working From Home
“Change isn’t something that typically worries me. I’m a go-with-the-flow type of person. I enjoy trying new things at work as it usually leads to me learning and growing in my role.
Almost two years ago, I had to transition very quickly to working from home. Overnight my company decided the whole branch would transition to remote work for safety reasons during the pandemic.
It was quite a shock at first. I struggled initially because I’d never worked from home before. Within a few weeks, though, I had a good system and schedule in place. I now feel just as comfortable working from home as I do working from the office.”
Sample Answer #3: Updated Computer System
“I like to try different ways of doing things to see which works best, so I’m a fan of change. If something can be improved to make a process run more smoothly, I’m all for giving it a chance.
At my previous job, we had a computer system that often ran slowly and would sometimes crash. Customers would get upset with long hold times and our customer service ratings suffered. The managers realized we needed to upgrade the software to be faster and more efficient.
The new system had a bit of a learning curve, but I felt much more confident helping customers when I knew my computer wouldn’t shut down. It made my job far more enjoyable.”
How NOT to Answer
Job interviews can be high-pressure environments where mistakes are prone to happen, but knowing the common mistakes to this question should help you sidestep a few unnecessary errors.
Don’t Get Too Personal
Don’t talk about personal change such as a divorce or a death in the family.
Your interviewer wants to hear about how you’ve addressed challenges with change at work, not in your personal life. They also don’t need to learn such intimate details about you during a job interview.
Instead, stick to professional topics and things that happened while at work.
Don’t Say You Don’t Like Change
Even if you don’t like change, avoid saying so outright.
Just the act of getting a new job exposes you to change, and there will inevitably be change at some point when working at the company. Saying you don’t like change tells the interviewer you might not be ready to switch jobs.
Find something positive to talk about when you explain how you feel about change and how you’ve handled it in the past.
Don’t Lose Focus
A common mistake is to focus on the change rather than how you responded to it.
Remember, the interviewer isn’t asking you what type of change you’ve experienced. They’re asking how you adapt to that change. Leaving that part off makes for an incomplete answer.
Regardless of what happened, be clear about how you remained flexible even if the change wasn’t initially what you wanted.
- Learn the variations of the question
- Tell them your basic feelings about change
- Describe a time when you had to change
- Explain how you handled the transition
- Don’t share intimate details
- Don’t say you’re not good at dealing with change
- Don’t forget to share how you adapted