Identifying a candidate’s Emotional Intelligence


What sets a star performer apart from the pack? Traditional wisdom might start by citing intelligence, or IQ, as a determinant of success.   Yet we all know the brightest isn’t always the one who will deliver in the workplace. There’s diligence, ambition, perseverance and endless other qualities to consider. And then there’s a softer, less tangible talent that is increasingly recognised as being at the heart of success. It’s called Emotional Intelligence, or EQ. Definitions will vary, but EQ is about managing personality, both your own and others.  Organisations are social entities, so it’s no wonder that how we manage behaviour and navigate social complexities will often dictate the performance of that organisation.

Some see EQ as simply shorthand for ‘empathy’, but in fact it is made up of four core skills:
Self-Awareness – the ability to understand your emotions and stay aware of them as they happen

Self-Management – the ability to use this awareness of your emotions to positively direct your behaviour

Social Awareness – the ability to accurately pick up on emotions in other people.

Relationship Management – the ability to use this awareness to manage interactions successfully.

According to Harvard Business Review, “Without EQ, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but s/he still won’t make a great leader.” So how do we identify it in a candidate?

Research suggests that low EQ is the second most common reason why new recruits fail, yet this is a competence that isn’t typically evident from their CVs.  EQ isn’t linked to IQ either, so you can’t predict it based on how smart someone is. While some are naturally endowed with it, emotional intelligence can be learned through experience.

Unsurprisingly, experts have been falling over themselves in the quest to identify means of uncovering EQ in interviews. Mark Murphy in Forbes pares it down to two simple questions.

Ask them about a time they made a mistake at work

People of low emotional intelligence don’t tend to take much accountability for their mistakes. Emotional intelligence means identifying the errors you’ve made, accepting the errors had consequences, and learning from the experience.

Ask them about an occasion when they got tough feedback from the boss

Again, candidates of low EQ will go on the defensive, tending to apportion blame for the unfairness and injustice of it all. High EQ on the other hand means having the self-assuredness to recognise one’s shortcomings and act constructively to remedy them.

In general, open ended, non-leading questions are useful in teasing out someone’s emotional intelligence. Look to the candidate’s choice of words in answering them. High EQ tends to correlate with strong use of language to express feelings. Specific words like “frustrated,” “anxious,” “excited” and “surprised”, for example, instead of “good” or “bad” in describing emotions is a signal of strong EQ, as are composed, deliberate answers as opposed to rushed, impetuous responses.

Emotional intelligence is a relatively complex quality, and unearthing it within the constraints of a job interview is far from easy. However, given its acknowledged position as a critical distinguishing factor in business today, we are doing a disservice to our business by ignoring it.