What are learning skills

Flexibility, willingness to learn and the ability to learn

Flexibility and the ability to learn are innate characteristics of every human being. Without “mental agility” and without learning the natural instinct, there would basically be no human life. Small children are eager to explore the “new world”, to face unknown situations, to master them, to learn from them and to grow.


general description

Small children are eager to explore the “new world”, to face unknown situations, to master them, to learn from them and to grow. In many cases, however, the relationship to learning changes as soon as you go to school. The individual is assessed and their ability and willingness to learn is reflected in grades. What works for one person leads to frustration for another. On the other hand, a lack of learning ability can be partially compensated for by a greater willingness to learn. Therefore, the supposed geniuses do not necessarily have the edge in the end. The experience of learning continues during studies and at work. Not every learning activity is rewarded and not everything that is learned is really needed. And it has not been said for a long time that the person who learns the most can and is allowed to exercise the better diploma, the more demanding job, the higher income and the greater influence. Nevertheless, one thing is clear: a broad spectrum of knowledge, the will to learn new things and the mastery of effective learning methods contribute significantly to professional self-confidence and professional employment opportunities. They lead to the necessary security when it comes to accepting and managing new professional challenges.

Willingness to learn and flexibility are mutually dependent. Broad knowledge makes it possible to exchange one viewing location for another and to see problems or tasks from very different perspectives and then to solve them. This ability shows high mental agility. Conversely, anyone who can demonstrate a high level of flexibility has a good basic ability to dare to approach new situations, to learn from them and ultimately to master them successfully. Often, with increasing age, flexibility is exchanged for security. Instead of experimenting, familiar paths are followed. This is precisely where there is a high risk. As an engineer, anyone looking for a comfortable path too early runs the risk of becoming unattractive for their own and other employers.

No wonder then that the call for lifelong learning is being voiced here. However, it must not be misunderstood. This does not mean the arbitrary collection of academic titles, seminars, training courses, etc. Lifelong learning becomes a mindset! It means the need to constantly rethink knowledge, experiences, prejudices, etc., if necessary, to rethink and to learn new things in a targeted manner. It is therefore not important how much is learned, but that the right thing is learned. Today, however, engineers often lose sight of what is important to learn. Instead of selective and permanent further training, for example in management accounting, controlling or project management, you take a one-off all-round sweep and complete a second / postgraduate degree. A lot of money is best spent on a fashionable MBA program.

theory and practice

Theory rarely looks like practice and practice like theory.

Books, seminars and case studies on key qualifications cannot always fully take into account all practical problems on a topic and all special boundary conditions of the individual workplace. Explanations from seminars and books therefore hardly ever apply in pure form to practice.

When applying what has been learned in the workplace, hurdles and barriers quickly arise. If you still want to apply the new knowledge, more or less imagination is required. Perhaps the pure culture has to be abandoned and practical modifications, e.g. of methods and instruments, have to be created. It is often enough to filter out the few points from books and seminars and apply them that are most likely to help in practice.

The above knowledge should not be overlooked when it comes to the skills for the individual key qualifications. Certainly, the abilities detailed under the heading “Key Qualifications” cannot be fully accommodated in the application process. The study of the specializations should lead to a higher sensitivity for the qualification. After that, everyone has to decide for themselves which points could be important for the employer being advertised, which of them they would like to take up and whether they should do this in the written application or in the interview.

In addition, many terms can only be sketched out and not explained in detail. Here you have to look up it in the literature. References to literature can also be found in the following explanations.


The job offer usually focuses on the description of the tasks and the professional requirements of the applicant. Requirements that concern more the personality are usually presented in a catalog of contiguous terms in the lower part of the display. The terms flexibility, willingness to learn and the ability to learn are mentioned directly or, in rare cases, similar terms are chosen that aim in the same direction:

Adaptability, open-mindedness, quick comprehension, willingness to familiarize themselves with, curiosity, willingness to change, willingness to continue training, ability to familiarize themselves with

Key qualification

Focus 1

Make professional flexibility credible

  • Show how new / unfamiliar professional situations, which brought about major changes, were mastered
  • Emphasize range of work experience, diversity of different tasks and projects
  • Addressing the various corporate functional areas in which one worked
  • Reports on successful familiarization with new technologies, systems, materials, etc., especially as a specialist underpinning flexibility
  • Mastery of the various technical languages ​​(jargons) of the individual professional fields such as development, production, sales, etc.
  • Show how intercultural / international situations were encountered: assignments abroad, confrontation with a foreign corporate language, etc.
  • Address additional qualifications that have nothing to do with engineering studies / engineering practice
  • Reports on experiences / advantages with job rotation programs, if one has participated in such
  • Addressing honorary positions, engagements, hobbies that require completely different qualifications than the job

Focus 2

Flexibility as a way of thinking and acting

  • Address vocabulary that emphasizes flexibility: versatility, agility, improvisation, adaptability, openness, etc.
  • Talking about flexibility as your own, internalized mindset, action maxim and philosophy of life
  • Willingness to be able to revise / modify one's own opinion, to tolerate other opinions, to accept them in whole or in part
  • Willing to listen to the ideas of others, to understand, take up and develop them further, to link them with your own ideas
  • Report on solutions that were only made possible by leaving your own location / position
  • Show that you are able to change your perspective or way of looking at things
  • Demonstrate ability to quickly empathize with new situations / other people
  • Explain situations in which different / new paths had to be trodden, familiar, well-trodden paths had to be left
  • Demonstrate willingness to take on new challenges, to be spatially flexible (mobile)
  • Show how flexibility was used to manage private situations in an advantageous manner

Focus 3

Flexibility as a management philosophy

  • Underpin strengths as a situational manager: Find flexible (situational) decisions and solutions instead of rigid regulations
  • First listen, ask and then answer instead of basically having the only correct answer to everything
  • Extending the scope for decision-making (alternatives) through flexible reaction to new situations
  • Evidence of flexible reactions, e.g. to market changes, changed supplier constellations, new customer requests, etc.
  • Representation of conceptual flexibility, e.g. around the clock availability (just in time) of technical services for customers
  • Show confidence in discussions in areas such as flexible working hours, remote work (home office), part-time solutions, job sharing, etc.
  • Addressing interface qualities: harmonizing goals, balancing out conflicts, being able to integrate departmental interests
  • Represent the ability to play different roles: manager, moderator, coach, consultant, specialist, etc.

Focus 4

Demonstrate willingness to learn

  • Show willingness to systematically familiarize yourself with new tasks, occupational fields, positions, etc.
  • Show thirst for knowledge, curiosity, striving for perfection, openness to new things
  • Understanding learning as a lifelong process, talking about the short shelf life (half-life) of knowledge
  • Address the willingness to invest in further training yourself and not just leave this to the employer
  • This becomes even more believable if investments in further training have already been made in the past out of pocket
  • Demonstrate commitment to learning: Include seminars, etc. in your résumé, attach certificates to your application
  • Include the ability to quickly familiarize yourself with the training and readiness for further training in your job reference
  • Ask about the induction program and personnel development measures of the company in the interview
  • Address trips abroad (professional / private) to perfect your foreign language skills
  • Present investments in interdisciplinary (interdisciplinary) further training as worthwhile, show how the further training was implemented
  • Explain the red thread of your own further education: systematics instead of arbitrary accumulation of training courses, seminars, etc.
  • Show how you have created professional and private space to gain learning time
  • Describe the reaction to globalization: Educational measures to develop international, intercultural skills

Focus 5

Prove the ability to learn

  • Talking about teaching and learning methods that you have mastered, reporting on their advantages and disadvantages
  • Bring examples from the past that prove your ability to learn
  • Indicate the ability to systematically familiarize oneself with new tasks, occupational fields, industries, etc.
  • Tell about experiences of success as a career changer in new functional areas (professional fields) or industries, write in the application
  • Report on successful induction: probationary periods, new projects, tasks, languages, systems, technologies, tools, etc.
  • Present learning progress (professionalization / perfecting) with regard to one's own qualifications through training, coaching, etc.
  • Talk about your own mistakes (e.g. wrong résumé decisions) and the insight that you can learn from mistakes
  • Claim to be up to date with the latest technology, tools, media, etc. (if applicable)
  • Demonstrate willingness to try out what has been learned in practice and to adapt it to practice, to experiment and learn from it
  • Let the will to see through to want to expand your own level of knowledge through new experiences

Proof in the application process

Proof in the cover letter

Five to seven of the most important tasks and requirements from the job advertisement should be addressed and dealt with in the cover letter.
First of all, it is a matter of working through the technical requirements. Some advertisements only briefly describe the professional requirements. This leaves space in the cover letter to address personality requirements. Since these are mostly prayed down in a catalog of terms, it is initially difficult to decide which requirements should be addressed in which way in the cover letter.

Flexibility, willingness to learn and the ability to learn should be addressed in the cover letter if they are expressly required in the job advertisement or if they are to be emphasized in the context of an unsolicited application. In the cover letter, the engineer can briefly and exemplarily address why he covers the requirements. Here's an example:

“The standardization of maintenance management for our maintenance area required flexibility from all sides. As a production engineer, I quickly familiarized myself with a completely new system and participated in the implementation of the new structures and processes. "

Proof in the curriculum vitae

There are few special places in the curriculum vitae where qualifications for flexibility, willingness to learn and ability to learn can be listed - for example under the focus on “further education”, “training”, “additional qualifications”. To assess these key qualifications, however, the entire résumé is used to a much greater extent. Are flexibility, willingness to learn and the ability to learn recognizable there or not?

In extreme cases, after studying electrical engineering, you have 10 years of professional experience with an employer in sensor development as a project engineer. In terms of industry, position level, functional area, region and company size, there are high levels of loyalty and high employer loyalty that run counter to flexibility. It is difficult to derive a strong ability to learn, willingness to learn and flexibility from such a résumé. It looks different in a résumé that shows movement in terms of industry, position level, functional area, region and company size. General, technical, business training, etc. can also underline flexibility, willingness to learn and the ability to learn.

Conclusion: Anyone who has often changed companies, worked in different positions, industries, functions, regions, company sizes and enjoyed many further training measures shows a high degree of flexibility, willingness to learn and the ability to learn. However, a common thread must be recognizable. An arbitrary change or just an accumulation of further training speaks more for headlessness than for goal orientation. Doubts arise as to whether the person concerned may not be willing to adapt to the respective challenges.

If a curriculum vitae shows a high degree of consistency, it should be considered how a longer station can be broken down into several individual stations. In most cases there is an evolution in tasks and responsibilities over the years, even if you have stayed with the same employer. It must be documented accordingly. The above-mentioned retention period of 10 years could e.g. be split into the positions: trainee - engineer clerk - project engineer. Dynamics can be brought into the curriculum vitae by showing increasing responsibilities or changing tasks / projects. The same applies if, for example, projects have been carried out in different countries. The countries should be mentioned in the résumé. The projects were probably similar, but the regional-specific challenges were quite different.

Evidence 3rd page

Some applicants add a “third page” to their résumé, mainly dealing with the questions: Who am I? What I want? What can I? Regardless of the sense or nonsense of such a page, engineers can address their qualifications here in terms of flexibility, willingness to learn and ability to learn. This is particularly useful if such qualifications are asked for in the advertisement for the vacant position or if it can be assumed that they play a decisive role, which also applies to an unsolicited application.

The question “Who am I?” Usually includes personality traits. Terms can now be used for this purpose, which aim at flexibility, willingness to learn and the ability to learn and which appear familiar to the personnel from the advertisements in a similar way. Here are a few examples: "Technical / personal flexibility", "Open to new ideas", "Able to learn", "Willingness to continue training".

Evidence in the documents

When it comes to application documents, some are spoiled for choice when it comes to attaching seminar, training and education certificates. Seminars, trainings, coaching sessions that convey skills in terms of flexibility, willingness to learn and the ability to learn will only be available in the rarest of cases. If completed, certificates should be enclosed.

Otherwise it is the same as with the résumé. The evidence attached to the application (certificates, seminar certificates, etc.) must ultimately lead the reader to the conclusion that the key qualifications required are flexibility, willingness to learn and ability to learn.With regard to the seminar certificates, a broad (colorful) spectrum should be shown as far as possible. Job references should contain a certain range of tasks and projects in order to demonstrate flexibility. For longer periods of residence with an employer, the various stations should be documented in the certificates for the same reason, including the associated responsibilities, etc.

Proof in the qualification profile

In the qualification profile, the applicant presents a short biography in four or five focal points. Under individual focal points, explanations can now follow that emphasize flexibility, willingness to learn and the ability to learn, similar to the stations in the curriculum vitae, eg "familiarization with the new maintenance management system" , "Learning the corporate language of French". As part of the short biography, one line can be devoted to all personality traits. Here it is important to put together an interesting mix in which terms can be used that underpin flexibility, willingness to learn and the ability to learn. Here is an example of such a mix: "High learning ability, mental agility, situational solutions, courage to take new paths."
Overall, however, the entire qualification profile is used to assess flexibility, willingness to learn and ability to learn.

Proof in the interview

The topics of flexibility, willingness to learn and the ability to learn are addressed more or less directly or indirectly in the interview, depending on the tendency of the job advertisement. Regardless of this, the engineer should raise the issue on his own initiative if related properties were listed in the ad or if it is likely that they play a key role, such as in technical sales, product management, production, etc. The engineer can also use their own Questions and answers depict a lot of related skills, qualifications and experience. Examples from professional practice, internships, etc. are more helpful than theoretical treatises: “We only came to the new technical services through another consideration. So far, the services have mainly been determined by suggestions from our own development. Today it is the customers' production managers who have a major impact on the services offered. We all had to retrain here. "

In preparation for the interview, it is also advisable to create a list of all projects and tasks that have been completed so far and to ask again in advance which ones are particularly suitable for demonstrating flexibility, willingness to learn and ability to learn. It is then easier to bring the specific work experience into play in the interview or to return to other questions via minor detours on the subject of flexibility, willingness to learn and the ability to learn.

Proof in practice

Flexibility, willingness to learn and the ability to learn are particularly noticeable during the probationary period when it comes to exploring the new work environment and familiarizing oneself with new tasks and projects. The newcomer is quick to nag at tried and tested concepts and processes because he cannot or does not want to get used to the new world of work. Another new employee constantly refers to his job description during the probationary period, which differs more or less from everyday work.

Candidates who rarely had to familiarize themselves with new tasks, projects, positions and companies in the past find it difficult here. For them, the risk is particularly high that they will fail during their probationary period. It is therefore very important to consider a methodical approach for the familiarization period, such as how one can systematically develop the new tasks and their environment (e.g. with analysis methods from process management). A flexible mindset is also required. Many things are probably done differently at the new employer than at the old one.


Technical / management career

Flexibility, willingness to learn and the ability to learn are among the most important key qualifications for engineers in today's fast-paced world. The market is pounding fast, and the corporate pressure to innovate and rationalize is enormous. Engineers are therefore faced with ever shorter life cycles for products, systems, machines, tools, etc. It has to be refilled faster and faster and the change and new development projects are under considerable time pressure. Regardless of the professional field in which the individual engineer moves, he is increasingly confronted with new or rapidly changing technologies, materials, processes, etc. You simply have to deal with this and acquire the latest knowledge in order to keep your finger on the pulse of the times and to remain in demand as an engineer. This applies all the more, the more the engineer moves in the professional career.

As far as management is concerned, the requirements for interdisciplinary, business and international / intercultural thinking are increasing. In the age of globalization and the pressure of companies to maximize profits at (almost) any price, these are traits that technical management increasingly has to prove. There is no question that in order to develop the right mindset here, engineers in management positions require a high degree of flexibility, willingness to learn and the ability to learn.

Occupational field-specific importance

The job-specific significance for the key qualification “flexibility, willingness to learn and ability to learn” can be derived from an evaluation of around 4,000 job advertisements that were placed on ingenieurkarriere.de in 2012. The job advertisements searched for terms that directly target the respective key qualification. Accordingly, the following result was shown for the key qualification "flexibility, willingness to learn and ability to learn":

Very important

Great importance

  • Occupational safety, environmental protection, plant safety
  • Product management
  • construction
  • Research and Development
  • Technical sales, technical marketing
  • Quality, material and quality testing
  • Servicing, maintenance, commissioning
  • Assembly-oriented production / process engineering production
  • Project management
  • technical shopping
  • Logistics (production, sales, purchasing)

Moderate importance

  • Technical management / management

Among the 11 evaluated key qualifications, the key qualification “flexibility, willingness to learn and ability to learn” takes fifth place and is therefore in the upper middle of the ranking.

There were no separate evaluations for the occupational fields “Engineering in Plant Construction”, “Controlling / Calculation / Project Planning” and “Facility Management”. The occupational fields of "engineering in plant construction" and controlling / calculation / project planning "can best be brought on a par with the occupational field of" project management ", the occupational field of" facility management "with the occupational field of" maintenance, repair, commissioning ".

Further training opportunities

Seminars / training / coaching

General seminars on flexible thinking / acting are as good as not offered. There are seldom offers that deal with "alternative" approaches in which flexibility then plays an important role. On the other hand, there are more frequent offers in the direction of learning: the basics of learning, learning methods and techniques, the approach of lifelong learning. Situational (flexible) leadership is often discussed in general leadership seminars as part of the presentation of the different leadership styles. As far as learning techniques are concerned, there are also a number of individual seminars, e.g. on mind mapping, NLP, etc. Increasing flexibility as a mindset, on the other hand, is more a topic for coaching or small group seminars that address central topics such as: Inner flexibility and stability in times of change or increase flexibility and resilience.


The range of literature on this topic is very diverse in terms of learning methods and learning in general. When it comes to flexibility, it gets more difficult. Here is a small collection of literature:

  • Meyer, Jens-Uwe, The Edison Principle, Campus
  • Müller, Horst, Mind Mapping, Haufe-Lexware
  • Hofmann, Eberhardt; Löhle, Monika, Successful Learning, Hofgrefe-Verlag