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  • Writer's pictureFelicity Baker

How to Identify Resilient Candidates at the Interview Stage

Updated: Sep 16, 2022

Recruiting the right people to your organisation is key to building resilient teams and can play a huge part in reducing workplace stress. But, how can you figure out if the person you are interviewing is the one to hire?

Traditionally the interview process is designed to assess a person’s expertise and experience in the given field. However, commonly too little attention is paid to the skills that really set some people ahead of the rest and make for a successful team.

The skills of self-reflection and awareness, interpersonal skills, and the ability to grow through adversity are often overlooked or dismissed as “soft”. Though when it comes down to it they can be as important to a team’s successful functioning as expertise in the actual job role itself.

Research tells us time and again that resilient people tend to experience less chronic stress than the rest of us. However, they do still experience stress. They are not superhuman. They’re just better able to bounce back from stressful situations, often finding new skills along the way. Able to adapt and grow through challenge and change, they can see positives and possibilities even when things seem at their bleakest. Plus they tend to be both self-aware and aware of other people, appreciating their strengths and tolerating their foibles.

These are the people we want. Their resilient skill-set makes them great employees and colleagues, whatever the field. Their positive attitude, adaptability and ability to connect with others contributes to building a resilient workplace culture, growing team cohesion and co-operation and creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

So how can we spot resilient people at selection?

Typically, our selection processes are formulaic and ask predictable questions. Anyone worth their salt is able to anticipate these questions and will have their answers ready.

If you want to really get a sense of the person you might end up working with, here is set of questions drawn from our experience as leaders, psychologists and resilience experts that should help you along the way. They aim to elicit evidence of some key resilience skills that you should definitely be looking for in a prospective employee:

1. Can you give us an example of a challenging situation you have encountered either at work or at home, and how you managed this? Here we are looking for evidence of the candidate’s ability to manage their emotional reactions to challenges they’ve faced and how they learn from these experiences. It gives us a general overview of a person’s capacity for self-reflection and adaptability and an insight into their ability to use resilience strategies to cope.

2. Can you think of a time when you felt someone else was putting pressure on you or asking you to do something you felt was unreasonable? This question gives a sense of the sort of situations the candidate finds stressful and how they have dealt with the feeling of being put upon or the perception of unreasonable demands. By focusing it on when they received pressure from another person, the question gives us an insight into some of the interpersonal challenges the candidate has faced and the skills or otherwise that they have drawn on in dealing with them. It also draws out evidence of prosocial attitudes and the ability to contribute to team cohesion and co-operation, both of which are important for resilient teams.

3. Can you describe a time when you experienced a failure or setback, or did not achieve something that was important to you? The candidate’s answers to this question will give you an insight into their value system, what is important to them and how they deal with not achieving goals associated with this. When something is important to us and we fail to achieve it we can end up blaming ourselves, giving up or attacking/criticising others who we may feel have thwarted our attempts, denying our part in the failure or set-back. These reactions are not particularly resilient. A candidate’s response will show us the extent to which they are able to respond resiliently to self-reflect, bounce back and grow through the experience.

4. Can you tell me about a difficult colleague or manager that you have worked with? This question helps you to get a sense of the sort of interpersonal difficulties the candidate may have struggled with in the past. More importantly perhaps, their answers to this question give us insight into the candidate’s ability to manage difficulties in work relationships, their level of interpersonal awareness, the impact of their own behaviour on others as well as the impact of others on them, and their ability to tolerate other people. This skill is particularly useful for building resilient teams where people are expected to work together despite interpersonal differences.

Resilience skills you would want to see in prospective employees:

When rating candidate’s answers to these questions it is helpful to score them on the following resilience dimensions: • Self-awareness: is the candidate able to reflect on and talk about their emotional reactions, thinking styles and any helpful/unhelpful coping behaviours? • Self-management: are they able to reflect on and talk about what they did to manage their reactions, and whether or not this was helpful? • Ability to reflect and adapt: are they able to think flexibly about challenging events and find new ways to deal with them? Are they able to talk about what they learned from a failure or setback, and to acknowledge mistakes and ask for help/feedback? • Optimism: is the candidate able to give a balanced view of negative events? Can they locate challenges or set-backs in the specific context, not taking them personally and seeing that they would not go on forever? • Prosocial interpersonal skills: such as empathy, appreciation of and interest in others. The ability to acknowledge struggles with other people, but being able to see beyond these and find ways to engage with them. • Evidence of self-care: taking breaks, maintaining supportive relationships, making healthy choices and ensuring they have a good balance between work and life outside work.

Would you like to find out more about resilience? Check out our other blog posts here.


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