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Screen job candidates for emotional intelligence: 3 smart strategies


As companies change to meet the demands of an ever-evolving world, it’s increasingly important for companies to screen candidates for emotional intelligence, or EQ.

Not sure what emotional intelligence is? Simply put, it’s the kind of qualities and characteristics you’d find in someone your grandmother might describe as a “nice, smart person.” In today’s language, someone with a high EQ is self-aware, mature, and has social skills and the ability to establish and maintain rapport with others.

Emotional intelligence is predicted to become one of the top 10 most wanted skills by 2020. Since that’s only three years away, chances are, you already need and are looking for candidates with EQ. So how do you screen for this elusive beast?

1. Pay attention to the content of answers

If you’re searching for emotional intelligence, you’re looking for a person who can communicate and work while controlling their emotions. As you ask behavioral interview questions, focus on the specific vocabulary of their answers.

For example, did they feel “bad” when they couldn’t resolve a client’s problem, or did they feel “frustrated” or “irritated” and explain the situation in some detail? Does it sound like they get stressed easily or react before thinking things through?

You’re not looking for a long, dramatic reconstruction of what happened. You’re looking for someone who is in touch with their feelings enough to identify and explain how a difficult work situation made them feel, and how they worked through the issue.

In your analysis, it’s also important to consider the type of job under consideration. A public-facing job requires a higher level of EQ than a back-office position. Still, even the most reclusive IT worker needs to be able to interact effectively with coworkers.

2. Pay attention to body language

While a phone call is fine for an initial screening, avoid a phone- or video-only interview process. You want to observe the candidate’s body language in person before making a hiring decision. Nonverbal cues observed face-to-face can provide added insight into how someone feels or will react in certain situations.

Does the candidate look you in the eye when answering your questions? Do they nod in agreement as you talk? Do they adopt defensive or uncomfortable body language (arms and legs crossed) when answering difficult questions? Do they seem unprepared or surprised by a question, or do they struggle to provide an answer? Do they repeat back to you things you’ve said, to make sure they fully understand?

The appearance of discomfort isn’t necessarily a deal-killer. It’s simply an indication of what the person may be feeling, and just one of many things you should consider.

That being said, there is one body language sign that probably should be a deal killer: looking at their phone. It’s understandable if the candidate forgot to silence their phone and has to turn it off in an interview (with an apology). It’s not okay for the candidate to keep looking at text messages or take a call during the interview. That’s a form of disrespect and a sign of low emotional intelligence.

3. Ask questions that evoke emotion

Here are a few questions that may help you gauge a job candidate’s emotional intelligence. As you listen to the answers, pay attention to the depth of the explanation and look for emotionally healthy responses and indications of professional behavior:

  • Do you feel that conflict plays a healthy role in the workplace?
  • How do you calm yourself when you’re upset or frustrated at work?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to negotiate for something you needed from work.
  • Tell me about a project you’re particularly proud of.
  • Take me through what you did to land that big client?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your long-term goals?

Spend some time before the interview developing questions that lead to nuanced answers. And be prepared with follow-up questions should you get a surface answer. If you need help developing interview questions, consult your HR or hiring specialist.

Putting the time into solid questions upfront will pay off as you screen candidates for emotional intelligence, a trait in employees that will help you build your business.

Emotional intelligence is just one of the qualities you need to build a stellar group of employees. Download our free e-book, How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business, to learn more.