Why understanding the Adversity Quotient matters during career transition

Organisational Change
Paul Slezak

Phoebe had been laid off three weeks ago. She was one of 11 impacted employees at her organisation and her CEO had introduced her to me as he was keen for Phoebe to work with a career coach as part of the outplacement process.

Our first session had been the day after the layoffs, and I’d given Phoebe quite a bit of ‘homework’ to do before we came together again.

When we caught up for our second session last week, I was extremely impressed with how proactive Phoebe had been in terms of how she had approached the tasks I’d given her, and whilst I would typically wait until a third (or even fourth) session to work through a particular activity, I could see that she was more than ready to tackle it, and I was excited to take her through it.

“Today I want to look into your AQ to help you determine your resilience and ability to bounce back in the face of any future setbacks so that you can really focus on what lies ahead”, I said.

“People have told me before that I’ve got a pretty high level of emotional intelligence”, she replied. “So, this should be pretty easy”.

“I totally agree”, I replied. “But we’re not talking about EQ. I want to introduce you AQ”.

Phoebe looked a little confused.

While IQ measures cognitive intelligence or intellectual ability, and EQ assesses emotional intelligence, AQ measures a person’s resilience, adaptability, and capacity to grow in the face of setbacks.

The Adversity Quotient has been designed to test the unconscious pattern of how people respond to adversity, and show how to increase it and, thereby, help individuals grow stronger.

In the context of a career transition, such as facing redundancy, a high AQ becomes crucial, which is why it is a tool I use regularly in my role as a career coach.  

I explained to Phoebe that measuring AQ is a bit nuanced, as there isn’t a standardised or universally accepted test like there is for IQ. However, researchers have developed several assessments and frameworks to help gauge and individual’s AQ and I often bring one of these assessments into both my leadership and career coaching practices.

AQ is a concept that definitely goes beyond traditional measures of intelligence or emotional intelligence. It really can gauge an individual’s capacity to learn and thrive in the face of adversity.

“Sounds pretty cool”, Phoebe said. “Let’s do it”.

I was glad Phoebe was so enthusiastic to take the assessment because from experience, particularly in the context of a redundancy where emotional and practical challenges are abundant, a high AQ becomes a critical asset.  

Based on a series of 20 questions through which candidates explore their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours related to adversity, the candidate’s AQ response is comprised of four C.O.R.E. (Control; Ownership; Reach; Endurance) dimensions. These questions cover topics such as how individuals cope with stress, view challenges, and bounce back from setbacks.  

Understanding these is the first step towards improving your response to adversity, expanding your capacity and, ultimately, increasing your AQ.

Control: To what extent can you influence the situation?

Those with a higher AQ perceive they have significantly more control and influence in adverse situations than do those with a lower AQ. Even in situations that appear overwhelming or out of their hands, those with a higher AQ find some facet of the situation they can influence. Those with a lower AQ respond as if they have little or no control and often give up.

Ownership: To what extent do you hold yourself responsible for improving the situation?

Accountability is the backbone of action. Those with a higher AQ hold themselves accountable for dealing with situations regardless of their cause. Those with a lower AQ deflect accountability and most often feel victimised and helpless.

Reach: To what extent does the adversity extend beyond the situation at hand?

Keeping the fallout under control and limiting the reach of adversity is essential for efficient and effective problem solving. Those with a higher AQ keep setbacks and challenges in their place, not letting them infest the healthy areas of their work and lives. Those with a lower AQ tend to catastrophise, allowing a setback in one area to bleed into other sometimes unrelated areas and become destructive.

Endurance: How long will the adversity endure?  

Seeing beyond even enormous difficulties is an essential skill for maintaining hope. Those with a higher AQ have the uncanny ability to see past even the most insurmountable difficulties and maintain hope and optimism. Those with a lower AQ see adversity as dragging on indefinitely, if not permanently.

When Phoebe had completed her assessment, we looked closely at her C.O.R.E. breakdown to determine which aspects of her own AQ we might need to work on together. To be completely honest, she didn’t score quite as highly in all the C.O.R.E. areas as I had expected her to. Having said that, this reassured me that it was the right time for her to complete the questionnaire and for me to talk her through the key findings.

A career coach focusing on AQ understands that layoffs are not just about losing a job; they can shake an individual’s confidence, identity, and sense of purpose.

At the same time, emphasising AQ also recognises the importance of guiding an individual who has been impacted by a redundancy to become even more adaptable and flexible. This may involve exploring new industries, acquiring different skills, or even considering alternative career paths. Embracing change becomes not just a necessity but an opportunity for growth.

Navigating a career transition post-layoff involves a series of decisions – from updating resumes to networking and interviewing.

AQ is closely tied to effective problem-solving and decision-making skills. A high AQ individual approaches these challenges with a proactive mindset, breaking them down into manageable steps and finding innovative solutions. By focusing on AQ, an experienced career coach will encourage their candidates to develop these critical skills, empowering them to navigate the job market with confidence and efficacy.

As I explained to Phoebe, it goes without saying that AQ encompasses emotional intelligence, emphasising the importance of understanding and managing the emotional roller coaster that often accompanies a layoff. While she may well have a high EQ, her AQ ‘score’ reinforced the need for us to work more closely on addressing fears, managing stress, and maintaining a positive outlook even though she assumed she had it all ‘under control’.

A career coach equipped with an understanding of AQ becomes a partner in the career transition journey, helping impacted employees not only secure a new job but also develop the mindset and skills necessary for long-term success. By emphasising resilience, adaptability, problem-solving, and continuous learning, the coach facilitates a transformative experience, turning adversity into an opportunity for personal and professional development.  

Remember, at Jobaccelerator we help outplaced employees land their next role faster with our on-demand job search portal that serves personalised, high quality and curated content, coupled with guidance from expert career coaches.