Assessing Resilience – A Quick Guide For Accurately Assessing Candidates

How to find resilient individuals to hire.
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Company’s facing continuous volatility may need to depend on successfully hiring resilient candidates for survival. After a year of turmoil, every firm is now seeking recruits and highly resilient employees. Meaning that they can handle and quickly bounce back from any number of near-catastrophic business events. Resilience is the ability to “quickly return to normal.” It goes by many names, including adaptability, agility, toughness, flexibility, and resilience. My research has shown that even though the need for it is now crystal clear, in practice, the accurate assessment of a candidate’s resilience is, at best, a hit or miss proposition. Like most, you need to help strengthen your organization by recruiting many more resilient candidates for every job. Here is a quick checklist of valid recruiting and assessment approaches that you should consider.

Best Recruiting Practices For Attracting Highly Resilient Candidates 

An organization must first attract resilient candidates before it can assess which ones are the most resilient. Below you will find a quick checklist of the top five most effective recruiting approaches and tools (in descending order) for attracting resilient candidates. 

  • Target employees from highly resilient firms.  We all know the names of top firms that have proven to be highly resilient. So, it makes sense to target your sourcing on the current and former employees that worked at firms that have a successful track record of recruiting and developing employee resilience. Those agile organizations include Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Berkshire Hathaway, Airbnb, Microsoft, and Zoom. However, if you can only target one firm, in my experience, it should be Amazon.
  • Ask your employees to focus on referrals that are resilient.  Your employees are well aware of the resilient individuals that are in their network. So make sure that your referral program literature specifically encourages your employees to target their resilient colleagues.
  • Focus on Boomerang rehires. It makes sense to target former employees that you already know to be resilient from among your corporate alumni.
  • Make resilience prominent in your job postings.  Resilient individuals seek out opportunities at resilient firms. So, make sure that your jobs can be found by individuals that include the terms resilience, agility, or adaptability in their job search strings. Encourage your recruiters to ensure that resilience appears prominently in every critical job posting and job description.
  • Search for online resumes that include resilience-related language.  It makes sense to encourage your recruiting sourcers to seek out resumes and LinkedIn profiles that utilize words/phrases related to resilience. Look through your employees’ resumes that you know to be resilient to identify which words and phrases they use to describe resilience. Also, because the terminology frequently shifts, search the job postings of your talent-competitors to determine what terms they are using. They may include bounced back, agility, adapted, persevered, flexible, innovation and bent but did not break.

Assessment Best Practices For Determining If A Candidate Is Resilient

Rather than just winging it when choosing assessment approaches. I recommend that you collect data on which resilience assessment approaches have the highest probability of predicting resilience on the job. The different assessment approaches that I recommend here are broken down into two categories, those that occur during the interview and those that happen outside the interview.

Assessing resilience-ability during the interview. (Note: The easiest approaches to implement are listed first.)

  • Use behavioral interview questions to identify and assess their resilience track record – under this most common “tell me about a time” approach. Simply ask the candidate to describe a recent example (within six months) of how they were resilient and bounced back from a major catastrophe in their current job. Also, ask how the resilient actions that they took actually had a business impact. Because many employees have shifted to 100% remote work, it makes sense to ask questions regarding how they handled this trauma and how they successfully bounced back to higher productivity levels.
  • Ask them to force rank their soft capabilities – avoid asking candidates directly, “Are you resilient?” Instead, give them a sheet listing the essential soft performance differentiators for this job. And, without mentioning resilience, ask them to force rank the top five that they excel at. Downgrade them if they don’t include “resilience” in their top five.
  • Ask about their current manager’s assessment of their resilience ability – tell them that resilience is important. Then ask the candidate to reveal “How they think (when you contact them) they’re last two managers will rank them on a 1– 10 resilience scale?” 
  • Have the candidate walk you through their resilience steps the best candidates have already developed a personal resilience plan or process. As a result, you should consider giving the candidate a likely catastrophic problem (or let them pick their own) and ask them to walk you through the steps of how they would quickly assess the problem. Then, ask, “what steps they would take to bounce back from it when working in this job at your company?” Finally, compare their steps to your own predetermined list of the optimal resilience steps. Downgrade them if they don’t include collaboration, data gathering, and learning as key steps. Alternatively, you can directly ask them to list their specific strengths and weaknesses in the resilience area. Another alternative is to realize that the very best will have learned over time that resilience is quite difficult. So when asked, the best will be able to list at least 5 major problems or roadblocks that they have encountered in the past while they were attempting to bounce back from a catastrophe. 
  • Use peer interviews to assess resilience – consider supplementing regular interviews with peer interviews. During these interviews, the interviewees are exclusively peer coworkers. These types of interviews are effective because, without a manager present, the candidate is more likely to let their guard down. In addition, it turns out that because coworkers realize that they will need to work alongside this individual during catastrophes, they are more diligent in identifying whether the individual might be a drag on the team because they are not resilient.
  • Ask them how they continually learn about best practices in resilience – the best employees continuously learn about resilience. So, they already know and utilize the best resilience information sources. So, ask them, “What specific information sources would you utilize on this job to continually learn about new emerging resilience best practices?”. 
  • The best use of failure analysis to increase resiliency – is that there is plenty of data to indicate that the best way to continue building resilience is by learning from one’s inevitable failures. As a result, one of the strongest indicators of resilience ability is when a candidate shows in their resume or during the interview that they conduct a “failure analysis” immediately after every major failure (and a corresponding “success analysis” every time they are wildly successful). So, ask them to highlight the steps that they would take after a major failure. The best will include conducting some form of formal failure analysis. Exceptional candidates will also mention that they immediately shared what they learned from the failure with others on their team and throughout the firm.
  • Assess their knowledge of your company’s resilience approach – it is safe to assume that prior to the interview, those that excel at resilience will have done some information gathering on your firm’s historical approach to resilience. So, ask the candidate, “What do you know about our firm’s history and approach in this area?”. 


8 ways to assess resilience outside of the interview (Note: The easiest approaches to implement are listed first.)

  • Make resilience ability a selection criterion and a self-screening tool – by simply placing resilience as one of the job requirements. It may attract those with the capability and at the same time, it may simultaneously discourage those that are not resilient. Finally, mention in the job posting that the candidate’s resilience will be assessed during the hiring process.
  • Look for resilience indicators in their resume – expect the best to mention their resilience capability somewhere in their resume or LinkedIn profile. Look for keywords and phrases and indications that they encountered and successfully overcame major difficulties or catastrophes. 
  • Look in LinkedIn endorsements and recommendations –you can get an outsider’s view of a candidate’s resiliency by reviewing their “skills and endorsements” section as well as their recommendations in their LinkedIn profile. When it’s appropriate, you can also look at a candidate’s social media postings to find out if they have been resilient when faced with catastrophes outside of their job.
  • Ask references to force rank a candidate’s soft skills – start by asking the candidate’s job references to list the candidate’s top five soft capabilities to see if resilience is included in those five. Alternatively, ask their job references to rate the candidate’s resilience on a scale from A+ to C. 
  • Use referrals as an assessment tool – in addition to asking employees to target potential referrals with resiliency skills specifically. As part of the referral process, the referring employee must list and assess their candidate’s top soft skills, including resilience.
  • Utilize a live whiteboard exercise covering a difficult resilience problem – prior to the interview, tell the candidate how important resilience is for success in their job. Then provide the candidate with a resilience problem or scenario. And, ask them to spend no more than one hour studying it. Then set up a live remote whiteboard exercise with back-and-forth questions to assess their resilience. Work with your resilient employees in advance to identify the essential steps and any significant errors to avoid when resilience is needed in this subject area. Alternatively, ask them to evaluate a flawed resilience plan or process. Do that by sending them a “flawed” sample employee resilience plan in a well-known catastrophic area. Then, ask them to identify the potential omissions and the flawed areas within that sample resilience plan or process.
  • Ask for work samples – be careful of bragging during the interview. Where appropriate, instead, ask individual candidates to provide an actual sample of their resilience plan and its results from their current job. 
  • Be careful with online resiliency tests – unfortunately, there is very little proof that online resiliency tests accurately predict success within a business setting. So make sure you validate any outside online tests.


How not to assess resilience

  • Don’t expect direct questions like “are you resilient?” to be honestly answered. 
  • Also, never stereotype and assume that candidates with advanced degrees, a lot of experience, young people, or those that have worked at an agile firm automatically excel at resilience. 
  • Finally, be sure that whatever approach you use to assess resilience, that you go out of your way to keep it as objective, data-driven, and direct as possible. 

Final Thoughts

Because the need to be resilient is now obvious to almost everyone, hiring managers and recruiters, need to be aware that almost every candidate will now claim that they are resilient. And that means that those in recruiting need to go out of their way to require comprehensive assessment that ensures that each candidate has the level of resilience that is actually needed to succeed on the job. So, avoid being fooled, instead exclusively use proven data-driven approaches that accurately reveal the level of resilience in each candidate.

Author’s Note: Please pass this article throughout your team and network. Next, please follow and/or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn, where you can also leave comments on this article. His 1,300 other talent management articles can be found at

© Dr. John Sullivan 1/11/21 for the DJ S Aggressive Recruiting newsletter

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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