Brendan Browne, head of talent acquisition at LinkedIn, recently wrote an article in Fast Company partially titled “…experience doesn’t matter if you have these skills.” The subheading was “Highly adaptable and transferable skills can often trump specific job experience.” The headlines we used to see went something like “past performance is the best predictor of future performance.” In this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world we live in, many of the jobs being advertised did not exist before, for which there are no logical prerequisite positions. So, if you are looking for someone who did “that” job in some other organization or had similar skills in their current or some previous position, you may not find any candidates. So then what do you do?

Browne contends that nearly half of professionals aged 35 to 44 are not sure what their career path should look like. Once upon a time, career paths were a useful way to explain to someone the progression they would need to follow if they aspired to a certain senior level position. If you were in sales and wanted to ultimately be the Vice President of Sales, you needed to start as a salesperson in a small territory. You would then get promoted into basically the same position in a larger territory, maybe next moving to another position in a different geography, then you might be given a position focused on national accounts or some other specialty area. You would then move into management, first of a group of salespeople in a territory and then groups of sales managers in a geographic region. Finally, you would have all the prerequisites to be a candidate for the next open head of sales position. Organizations had career paths and ladders that made career development discussions simple and straightforward. It also made them rigid. This all became more irrelevant and obsolete the further into the 21st century one gets.

Browne suggests that it is all about transferability of skills. Making that determination about how one set of skills can be applicable in a totally different context is harder than it may sound. Browne also talks about “up-skilling,” which I call development. Start by conducting an assessment of an individual, so you can determine their capabilities. This gives you their baseline or starting point. It is only through that process that you determine a person’s baseline – or starting point. Some of the capabilities that Browne mentions are things like adaptability and intellectual curiosity. Professor Warner Burke at Columbia University did five years of research in this area he called learning agility. He defined it as finding yourself in a situation where you have never been before, not knowing what to do, and figuring it out. Learning agility sounds like what Brown called intellectual curiosity. Burke identified nine ways, or dimensions, that someone displays learning agility. One of those ways is called Flexibility, which sounds like what Brown called adaptability. Browne calls these capabilities “soft skills” and suggests that they need to be assessed or auditioned. Burke created just such an assessment called the Burke Learning Agility Inventory. Over his five years of learning agility research, he also determined that people that have more learning agility perform better in more situations more often. The assessment consists of 38 items that are all behaviorally based. What this means is that they are all developable. The nine dimensions assessed by the Burke Learning Agility Inventory are:

Flexibility: Being open to new ideas and proposing new solutions.

Speed: Acting on ideas quickly so that those not working are discarded and other possibilities are accelerated.

Experimenting: Trying out new behaviors (i.e., approaches, ideas) to determine what is effective.

Performance Risk-Taking: Seeking new activities (i.e., tasks, assignments, roles) that provide opportunities to be challenged.

Interpersonal Risk-Taking: Discussing differences with others in ways that lead to learning and change.

Collaborating: Finding ways to work with others that generate unique opportunities for learning.

Information Gathering: Using various methods to remain current in one’s area of expertise.

Feedback Seeking: Asking others for feedback on one’s ideas and overall performance.

Reflecting: Slowing down to evaluate one’s own performance to be more effective.

Browne claims that 25% of employees are worried that their current skills are, or will be, redundant. We agree. The best way to stay current is to put yourself in new and/or unknown situations and work on your learning agility. Browne also says that 58% of employees indicated an interest/willingness to change jobs. The more learning agile a person is, the more options they will have to take on new and different opportunities.

About the Author

David Hoff is the COO and EVP of Leadership Development for E.A.S.I-Consult®E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. E.A.S.I-Consult’s specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring advisement. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about E.A.S.I-Consult, visit, email or call 800.922.EASI.