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Interviewing for Emotional Intelligence

The interview process can feel like a game of chance; no matter how many skills we measure or points we cross reference between candidates, it’s still a coin toss as to whether they will excel in their role.  And all too often we see bright, promising employees turnover quickly, leaving everyone involved in the selection process frustrated with how to proceed or what went wrong.

Every company faces these same challenges in the hiring process: how do you determine what a good hire for your organization looks like, whether they will be successful in the role, and what will determine their success against another candidate.

Much of the problem can be attributed to not looking at the right identifiers in the selection process.  Of course every company wants the best and the brightest candidates who have high marks and are talented in their fields of study, but what many companies have yet to start considering is a candidate’s soft skills.

Soft skills?  Sounds like more workplace new-age mumbo-jumbo?  Think again.  While a person’s IQ or intelligence has always been perceived to be a determination for success in the workplace, more and more studies are proving that it is actually a person’s EI or Emotional Intelligence that is a better predicator of success.

Emotions in the workplace?  Are we all going soft? Isn’t work the time when we shut off emotions and focus on the bottom line?  Not if you want to be effective in today’s workplace.  Before you raise an eyebrow to the notion, consider the facts and you might just be going soft too, in your next interview.

What is Emotional Intelligence? 

Emotional Intelligence is not a new concept.  In fact, as behavioral interviewing has become more common, the majority of interview questions tend to dig into defining a candidate’s character over direct skills.  In defining a candidate’s character, interviewers are determining how a candidate handles themselves in various situations, their ability to work under pressure or within different types of environments, which is essentially identifying their soft skills.

The difference is in recognizing the weight of these soft skills as a predicator of success.  The Institute for Health and Human Potential describes Emotional Intelligence, or EI, as the ability or capacity to perceive, assess, and manage the emotions of one’s self, and of others.  Emotional Quotient, or our EQ, is how one measures Emotional Intelligence. (1)

Coined in the 1990’s, the term Emotional Intelligence roughly describes a form of “social intelligence” that involves the ability to become aware of one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, apply self control as needed, and learn to manage one’s self-expression.  Or more simply put, EI is a framework to help us think about, understand, and manage our feelings, so they have a purposeful, positive impact on our decisions, behaviors, and performance at work.(2)

There are various methodologies that have come about in researching EI but most break down the EQ into 15 basic  factors to consider: Emotional Self-Awareness, Assertiveness, Self-Regard, Independence, Self-Actualization, Empathy, Social Responsibility, Interpersonal Relationship, Problem Solving, Flexibility, Reality Testing, Stress Tolerance, Impulse Control, Happiness, and Optimism.

Sounds like a lot to remember, but Salovey and Mayer’s popular definition of EI, “The ability to perceive emotion, integrate emotion to facilitate thought, understand emotions and to regulate emotions to promote personal growth (3),” breaks the thought process behind the 15 EQ factors into four main ability types: perceiving emotions, using emotions, understanding emotions, and managing emotions.

EI in the Workplace

According to TalentSmart.com, when emotional intelligence first appeared to the masses in 1995, it served as the missing link in a peculiar finding: people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70% of the time.(4)

It’s a surprising thought to consider when hiring: the brightest individuals may not always be the most successful.

Some other interesting statistics to consider regarding Emotional Intelligence in the workplace:

  • 90% of high performers have high EQ (4)
  • EQ is responsible for 58% of your job performance (4)
  • People with a high EQ make on average $29,000 more annually than their low EQ counterparts (4)
  • Fundamental elements of Emotional Intelligence such as: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills, support the skills that account for 76% of effectiveness of leading managers (5)

Unlike IQ and personality, which are considered stable over a lifetime, emotional intelligence can be developed. This is great news for both candidates and managers alike.

For job candidates (and employees), this means you can effectively mature your soft skills and learn to showcase your EI effectively in the interview process.  Because EI is a host for the majority of your critical skills, it affects everything you say or do, so by developing your EQ you can reap the benefits of increased job satisfaction in your current or future role.

How do you do this?  In its simplest form, your EI is about mindfulness and widening the gap between your impulse and your actions. Being more mindful and self-aware, you allow yourself a moment or two to change your relationship to your current experience.  Instead of getting caught in the moment or swept away by impulse, you allow yourself to see there is an opportunity to make a different, better choice.

For managers, aside from learning to identify these abilities during the selection process, you can effect change in your own workforce, to reduce turnover and increase productivity, by investing in developing EI among your employees.  If you think it could be a costly investment, weigh the monetary impact against your average cost per hire and productivity lost during time to fill and training of a new employee.

There are many different tests, applications, systems, and approaches to measuring EQ or EI as well as a host of service providers and coaches all catering to this new approach to hiring and workforce effectiveness.  Many companies and individuals have chosen to incorporate these tests and trainings directly into their interview process and are seeing the benefits.

But if you don’t have the resources available to invest in such practices or you’re still a skeptic, whether a hiring manager or a candidate, there are simple steps and changes where you can apply emotional intelligence to the interview process for positive results.

This article is continued in Interviewing for Emotional Intelligence: Part 2


(1) Institute for Health and Human Potential.

(2) Sue Reynolds-Frost. 2012. The Speaker’s Choice. Emotional Intelligence Workshop.

(3) Salovey, P., & Mayer, J.D., 1990. Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9, 185-211.

(4) TalentSmart.com

(5) Goleman, ’98 Working with Emotional Intelligence


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