Do I really need to be resilient or will stubbornness suffice?

Over the last 4 years, I’ve been recruiting recruiters and the main trait my hiring managers were looking for was “resilience”.


What is resilience, really? 

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, resilience is “the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened”. 

If we dig a bit deeper into the definition of resilience, we see that there’s a subdivision into psychological resilience, which is defined by the American Psychological Association as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors”. Wikipedia, makes it even clearer by defining psychological resilience as “the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly”. Quickly being the operative word here when it comes to resilience in the context of work. 

Realistically, most people will eventually recover and/or move forward after a difficult episode at work or in their life, so is resilience, really a skill or a trait that we need to look for in candidates? Can you train staff on resilience the same way you would train them to make cold calls? 

And if resilience is so important, shouldn’t it be the main skill listed on people’s CV? Shouldn’t everyone upskill to be more resilient? In my 12 years in the workforce, resilience training has never been offered to me (and I’ve been offered training as random as learning how to use Twitter).


How do you become resilient? 

According to Wikipedia, “resilience exists when the person uses "mental processes and behaviours in promoting personal assets and protecting self from the potential negative effects of stressors"”.

So, in order to become resilient, you need to be faced with a “crisis” of some sort that goes beyond the regular day to day stressors that you normally encounter in your personal and professional life. To pick a few that are very relevant to 2020: a global pandemic, losing your job, the death of someone close to you, getting a divorce or living in lockdown for months. This year really has been testing everyone’s resilience to be fair.


According to the American Psychological Association, here are the key behaviours and processes to building your psychological resilience

  • Build your connections.
  • Prioritize relationships.
  • Take care of your body.
  • Practice mindfulness.
  • Avoid negative outlets.
  • Find purpose.
  • Help others.
  • Be proactive.
  • Move toward your goals.
  • Look for opportunities for self-discovery.
  • Embrace healthy thoughts.
  • Keep things in perspective.
  • Accept change.
  • Maintain a hopeful outlook.
  • Learn from your past.
  • Getting help when you need it.

Now, does that sound familiar to anyone? 

It should, really. That’s what we’ve been told to do for the past 8 months to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Is everyone applying these behaviours and processes? Is it working for everyone? Have we all suddenly become experts at resilience? I would argue that the answer to these questions is a big fat no. And even if we were all applying every single one of these processes and behaviours, even the most resilient person may be faced with a crisis that they are not equipped to cope with. 

While we can learn the behaviours that make us resilient, but will we be able to apply them when a crisis hit us? Only time will tell.


When we look for resilience in our candidates, are we automatically excluding people who have not faced any significant hardships in their lives?

Obviously, after 2020, everyone still alive will have experienced significant hardship, and if there’s one thing that we have all practiced this year, it’s indeed resilience. To the dumbass recruiter/hiring manager that will ask you what you learnt or achieved during the lockdown(s), there’s your answer: “I became more resilient”.

But for those of us who have led a fairly sheltered life and haven’t run into a “crisis” yet; does that mean that our resilience in an unproven skill? How do we answer that question during an interview if we don’t have any example or any work-related example? Let’s face it, most of the crisis that builds our resilience will happen on a personal level. The death of someone close, losing your job, a relationship breakup, these are not necessarily the type of examples that you will want to share during an interview to demonstrate that you’re resilient.

The moment you mention losing your job, people will assume that you got fired, when really it might have nothing to do with your skills and ability to do that job. You’re not going to share your breakup with your partner, the death of your twin sister or anything like that really. So where do you find examples that will support your ability to be resilient? Honestly, I don’t have the answer.

I know I’m a particularly resilient person; with everything that happened to me in the space of 8 weeks in the fall of 2016, I scored at 319 on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. And yet, I managed to secure a job, start it and be successful (still in that job almost 4 years later).


But, really, is it my high level of resilience that makes me good at my job?

In truth, probably not.

One thing I learnt from Law School is that doing my best is (often) not good enough. So why for the love of everything that’s good in this world did I keep on studying law to gain a master’s degree? I could have gone and studied something less difficult, in a less competitive environment that wouldn’t sap my self-esteem 80 hours a week (yes, Law School is a lot of work). But I did not. In retrospect, I don’t think that was because I was resilient; I think it’s because I’ve got a stubborn personality. I decided to go to Law School when I was 10 because I wanted to be a detective, and I just was too stubborn to give up.

Everyone in my family has accused me at some point in my life of being stubborn. Maybe I am, or maybe I was just standing up for what I wanted and pushing to get it – it’s a matter of perception, really. Could this mean that what one would typically consider a weakness (being stubborn is rarely seen as a quality) could actually be my greatest strength in my professional career?  

Honestly, I could well be expanding my pool of talents by looking for “stubborn” people rather than just “resilient” people. Obviously, there’s a happy middle ground because you can’t have a whole team of stubborn people who are set in their ways and won’t accept any change, but curiosity, openness to change and new ideas is something that you can interview for. So, provided that your candidate gives you strong STAR method answers on being stubborn and on being open to change and to learning, you could actually have a better candidate than if you were only interviewing for resilience. Or I could be talking crap.