Cultivating Career Adaptability with Proactive Personality to Thrive at Work
My first job out of University was working as an assistant Wedding Planner. I spent my school years working as a cocktail waitress and for my Aunt’s catering company, so I knew the events business pretty well at the age of twenty-two.
On a sunny Saturday in June, I arrived at the father-of-the-bride’s house, about 30 minutes outside Boston, in the wealthy suburb of Wellesley.
My main job was to get the bride and her father into the classic car and make sure they arrive at the church in the North End of Boston safely. But when the classic car didn’t show up, I tried to work out what to do. When I heard that the classic car broke down, I explained to the bride that I could take her and her father into Boston in my vehicle. Without a word, she left me with my suggestion to get her Dad. I was so eager to help. I had to think of something. My job required, me to problem solve, so I thought about other possible options.
“Hi, Beth. I hear the classic car isn’t going to make it,” her father announced.
“I’m really sorry. I’m happy to take you both in my car if that works?” I offered.
“Thanks for the offer, but I don’t think my daughter and her dress will fit into your Ford fiat, never mind myself!” he giggled at the thought. “How about you take us in our Cadillac and leave it in the parking garage in Boston. I can have someone pick it up tomorrow.”
“No problem,” I said with a smile and headed out to pack up the boot of the Cadillac. And then the panic set it… I had never driven a car the size of a boat before… and never down the narrow alleys of the North End! This is was going to be interesting.
The events business, specifically the wedding business, is all about coping with “disasters” or unexpected changes. It requires quick thinking and being resourceful to fix, divert, and solve problems. To be a good event planner, you have to be able to adapt and be proactive to thrive in this context of work.
Adapting and Being Proactive After COVID
There is much discussion in my networking groups, clients, and friends about what the world will “look like” as we open up after COVID. What will work look like? What will job design look like? What are the new expectations? I believe the event business and wedding planners galore are ready to tackle whatever is to come. Their minds are already wired for change.
But for those who are a bit unsure, anxious, or curious about the changes to come, we can start by learning how to apply the science of “career adaptability” and “proactive personality” to prepare and thrive in whatever the new life brings.
Last week I wrote about how we used our internal skills of creative adaptability to respond to COVID changes and foster wellbeing. This week, I’m looking at how we can go forward using our outward-facing proactive personality traits and our work or career adaptability resources to thrive as economies open up after COVID.
We’ll look at three things in this article:
- Identify and discuss career adaptability and its resources.
- Identify and discuss proactive personality traits.
- Then, how we can utilise BOTH to aim for Thriving at Work.
Career Adaptability refers to our internal ability to utilise our psychosocial resources to cope, adapt, learn, and respond with direction to career changes. What we’re looking at here are not INTERNAL resources to cope, adapt and learn to respond, which we discussed last week, but the PSYCHOSOCIAL. This is in the context of others, of social influence and its environments.
Career Adaptability: “readiness to cope with the predictable tasks of preparing for and participating in the work role and with the unpredictable adjustments prompted by the changes in work and work conditions” (Savickas, 1997, p. 254).
In a study conducted in 2012, Savickas & Porfeli worked with researchers from 13 different countries to construct a psychometric scale to help understand what individual factors contribute to our ability to adapt to changes in work. The “Career Adapt-Abilities Scale” (CAAS) was developed and outlines four “competencies”:
- Looking ahead into one’s future or what is called “concern”.
- Identifying and deciding on what career to go after or what is called “control.”
- Being able to outline the options with “curiosity.”
- And having the “confidence” or self-efficacy to move forward to pursue those career options and larger career goals.
The four C’s are flexible and individual and can be learned and honed for use in numerous situations.
There are days and activities in which we feel more confident, approach situations with more or less curiosity (for example, when the classic car broke down) and when we look toward the future and set goals making decisions and deciding actions to take. I’d even argue that we use the four C’s many times a day!
But in looking at my wedding planning story and thinking about the events business as a whole, I wondered if only a particular type of person goes about leveraging career adaptability skills more than others?
Science says yes. Those who have a Proactive Personality.
Studies have shown that those with a proactive personality tend to take the initiative, continually look to enhance themselves, and create favourable environments to “enact positive situational changes” (Wang et al.. 2017).
Proactive Personality is defined as the: “behavioral tendency toward displaying proactive behaviors to enact positive situational changes” (Wang, Z., Zhang, J., Thomas, C. L., Yu, J., & Spitzmueller, C. (2017).
Proactive Personality is the “eagerness” I explained earlier in my story. And what the research tells me is that WE ALL have proactive tendencies, especially when we are doing something we love or something that is of interest and engaging to us. Some of us utilise these skills of proactiveness, eagerness more often than others.
In the career construction theory (Del Corso & Rehfuss, 2011), the proactive perspective is in line with the concept of personal agency and argues that proactive individuals can successfully improve situations to suit their needs and preferences better. Although this may be an individual trait, this proactive assertiveness can help not just the individual but the team and organisation as a whole as well (discussed in next week’s article).
These proactive personality traits or tendencies have been studied for years, but NEW is the link between proactive personality and career adaptability.
The Science: Linking Proactive Personality to Career Adaptability
When I began researching Career Adaptability, I noticed a lot of research on personality traits and their relationship to entrepreneurship. But the research around career adaptability is less and, to me, more interesting. Here are some findings:
- Two of the Big Five personality traits (conscientiousness and openness) are the strongest predictors of career adaptability. (Zacher, 2016)
- Other traits found to predict career adaptability include self-esteem, emotional intelligence, core self-evaluations and future orientation (Lee, 2021). (You can see this finding mirror the CAAS competencies).
- People who utilise their proactive personality traits can manoeuvre career transitions better than those who exhibit lower proactive characteristics. (Lee, 2021)
- Research has also shown that those with proactive traits are intrinsically motivated “to actively improve the constrained environment via positive coping strategies” (Zhao & Guo, 2019). This proactive responsiveness to WANT to shape both their inner self and outer work environment develops an individual's career adaptability resources. (Lee, 2021).
The main finding for me was that proactive personality traits overlap with the other traits outlined on the CAAS. So, are they proactive skills? As opposed to traits? I’d argue yes because they are flexible — you can foster curiosity, you can enhance openness, and you can learn to expand your emotional intelligence. The science shows some people, extroverts, have these skills instilled in their personality and use them at ease.
So the science is there explaining why as an event planner, I had no problem managing the changing situation (with my proactive personality trait), but it also links the career adaptability skills (utilising the psychosocial — context of others) to the numerous work changes I’ve had across my career (and life really).
Ok — so what if you want to make a change. You know things are going to change as COVID ends and you want to be prepared. By honing the proactive traits of your personality and by leveraging others, in context, through your career adaptability skills — you CAN manoeuvre the new world. Here’s how.
Developing Career Adaptability Skills and Building Proactive Traits
Loads of business websites outline “strategies” to become more proactive, including tips like planning, take action and initiative, set goals, and don’t dwell on mistakes.
Most of these lists also mention taking responsibility for your actions, outlined in Dr Stephen Covey’s first book, The 7 habits of highly effective people.
“The proactive approach to a mistake is to acknowledge it instantly, correct and learn from it.” — Stephen Covey
But what about other techniques to help you build your career adaptability skills around Concern, Control, Confidence, Curiosity?
Here are some of my favourite:
- Character Strengths: Learning how to use your own character strengths can develop all four career adaptability characteristics. You can find your character strengths here on the VIA Character Survey. Give me a shout if you’d like to learn how to use these strengths to foster career adaptability.
- Understand how the brain adapts to changes and how you can tap into that neuroplasticity.
- Asking “what” and “how” questions will build your curiosity resource when confronted with a challenge.
- Use your Creative Adaptability skills as outlined in last weeks article to help develop openness and options.
- Finally, my favourite technique that I use moment-to-moment is to use your inner voice to build self-esteem, motivate you to be more assertive, and prove to yourself you can adapt to any situation.
For those of you who understand having career adaptability is important, especially with the changing work landscape, but don’t necessarily feel you possess proactive traits or the idea of “skilling up” is not of interest, there is some good news.
Instead of making the goal about gaining tools and techniques, how about combining your individual personality traits with the four c’s of career adaptability to… THRIVE!
“Thriving” at Work and in Life
The concept of “thriving” at work pertains to “the psychological state in which individuals experience both a sense of vitality and learning” (Jiang, 2017).
What if this was the goal? To use (and/or to upskill) ourselves to feel the sense of vitality and learning? This one research study (below) convinced me that thriving is a COMBINATION of being proactive and fostering the 4 C’s of career adaptability — not just for those who for have natural proactive tendency but also for those who don’t.
In the research study, conducted with 364 adults, the relationship between proactive personality, career adaptability resources and that feeling of thriving at work are interconnected (Jiang, Z. 2017).
A proactive personality promotes an individuals’ thriving at work, “which in turn [leads]to improved career adaptability” (from a psychosocial level). So, working on your proactive behaviours and proactive personality traits WILL improve your career adaptability resources (the Four C’s — concern, control, confidence, and curiosity) to thrive.
But for those who have low proactive personality traits, the effect of thriving (that sense of vitality and learning) has a STRONGER impact on career adaptability. Those (with low proactive personality traits) “relied more on thriving when developing career adaptability resources”. Tapping into that feeling of thriving at work can be a tool for those who have low proactive traits to build career adaptability.
They are all interconnected.
Conclusion — Where to go with this knowledge?
Back to my story… I made it safely onto the four-lane highway known as the MASS Pike with the bride and her Dad in the backseat of the Cadillac. They were enthralled in a quiet, meaningful conversation when I exited the Pike and embarked on the narrow one-way street in the North End.
I pulled the massive Cadillac toward the church front door, hitting the curb, lurching the bride and her father up and forward.
My boss was on the sidewalk waiting for our arrival and saw the whole episode. She opened the door of the car that was half on the street and half on the sidewalk. With a very upbeat tone and a huge smile on her face, she said, “There is no such thing as a perfect event — aren’t you glad you got the disastrous bit out of the way? You look absolutely beautiful and glowing…. Let’s go get you married!”
From that day on, I knew that I had added a new “confidence” resource to my career adaptability skillset… using humour.
With all this new insight, it’s time to think of your proactive traits and see if you can foster a new perspective to develop your career adaptability skillset of concern, control, curiosity and confidence.
Go Get Em!