Building Resilience: A Key To Promotion

Building resilience is a critical skill for your personal and professional life. Resilient people can make lemonade out of lemons and ultimately grow from adversity. By recognizing they can handle (and grow from) difficult situations, resilient people ultimately have more self esteem and are able to handle future challenges better than non-resilient people can. Because of this, resilience has become a desired business trait.

One example that HBR shares brings the concept of resilience to life. Two Wharton grads were laid off by a Wall Street bank during the 2008 economic recession. Both graduates felt anxious and frustrated for a period of time. However, for Doug, the more resilient graduate, these feelings were temporary. Doug eventually moved on and recognized that the layoff was driven by a bad situation (not his poor skills). Doug applied to 15+ jobs and eventually landed a job in his hometown. Although it was not a perfect fit, Doug was able to move on and find happiness.

On the other hand, Walter internalized and “catastrophized” the issue. Walter considered himself a failure and believed he would never be able to find a job, given the bad economy. Walter ultimately needed to move back in with his parents. See the HBR article here for the full story.

Based on the story, it is clear resilience is important. Luckily, resilience can be built over time, and there are specific actions that you can take in your daily activities to increase your resilience.

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What Is Resilience?

Resilience encapsulates the idea of being able to handle challenging situations and most importantly grow in the face of adversity. Specific definitions from thought leaders in the space include:

  • Dr. Klein (Wharton): “the capacity to bounce back from setbacks or to thrive during times of challenge or change”
  • Cornell: “ability to cope with and bounce back from stress and adversity, and hopefully even grow through the experience. It is sometimes referred to as “thriving” … and not just surviving”
  • Dr. Reivich (UPenn and author of “The Resilience Factor”): “the ability to navigate adversity and grow through challenges”

Notably, Dr. Reivich uses the word “navigate” rather than “bounce back” in the definition of resilience, implying you are in control. Per Dr. Reivich, “the word ‘navigate’ reminds us that when we are resilient, we use tools. These can be inner resources like our optimism or sense of purpose. Or, it can be external, like tapping our relationships and relying on others.”

The University of Pennsylvania breaks down the components of resilience in the below framework (see here for additional details).

building resilience

Why Is Resilience Important?

Building resilience is key in both your personal and professional life. Especially in a high-stress, high-reward career like consulting, the highs are high and the lows are low. Every project (even for the top performers) will not be a home run (e.g., given project set up, conflicts with managers, etc.).

Given that challenges are inevitable, it is necessary to be resilient, given resilient people are more likely to:

  • Move on from setbacks, without internalizing and catastrophizing the issue.
  • Improve their well-being by having a better sense of self-efficacy and purpose.
  • Replenish their inner resources / be less likely to suffer from burnout.

In fact, per Dr. Reivich, “Resilience is a crucial ingredient–perhaps the crucial ingredient–to a happy, healthy life.” Taking it a step further, resilience is also critical for your professional success. Resilience enables you to keep going and grow in the face of the inevitable challenges that you will face and to progress professionally. You will find it difficult to be promoted if you are continually stuck on an issue that happened four months ago.

How To Build Resilience

Luckily, resilience is not a fixed trait. Rather, resilience can be built by focusing on specific behaviors. Per Wharton, there are four main behaviors that you can flex to build your resilience; the behaviors are also an acronym for the word “real.:

  • R: relationships: Social connection helps build resilience, given people are generally happier and stronger when surrounded by those who care about their well-being. In addition, avoiding social isolation especially in times of stress is key. Tactical ways you can stay connected include:
    • Getting involved in school clubs
    • Joining your work’s employee resource groups
    • Joining a social group (e.g., book club)
    • Volunteering with like-minded people
  • E: efficacy: Efficacy is all around mindset. In order to build resilience, it is important to believe that you are in control of your life, and that the actions you take actually have an impact. This enables you to keep going when things get rough (versus catastrophizing issues and thinking that things will never get better, no matter what steps you take).
  • A: (positive) affect: Per Wharton, your body relaxes when you experience positive emotions. As such, being in a positive state enables you to deal better with stress. Ways to be positive in challenges include:
    • Explicitly stating what you are grateful for.
    • Realizing that you have control over your “destiny”.
    • Doing things that bring you joy – whether it is doing a workout, playing soccer, or even reading a book!
  • L (l)earning: It is critical to take a key lesson from any challenge and learn from it. By adopting a growth mindset, you can have an easier time finding peace with the challenge and ultimately growing from the situation.


Building resilience is critical for your personal and professional life. In the work context, resilience is key to being able to grow from adversity. Resilience can be built by four actions:

  • Focusing on your relationships.
  • Realizing your actions have efficacy over your well-being.
  • Keeping a positive attitude.
  • Learning from the experience.

Resilience is considered such an important trait that consulting firms may test for the trait via the fit interview. Example questions include: “how do you handle adversity”; “how did you get through a big challenge in your life?” Be ready to answer these questions in your case interview. For 1:1 interview coaching with an expert, click here.


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Filed Under: Consulting skills