How to recruit for emotional intelligence

In many workplaces, first-class honours degrees from a top university seem like manna from heaven for hiring managers. You can never be too smart.

However, high grades, technical skills, certifications and strong test scores say nothing about a candidate’s emotional intelligence.

Staff with emotional intelligence understand how their feelings and moods impact on others. They deal with pressure, build teams and work towards group goals more successfully.

It’s hard to overstate how important emotional intelligence has become. Partly because we now network and collaborate with each other so tightly at work. Effective communication is the number-one skill that’s in demand, followed closely by teamwork, adaptability and influencing people.

Of course, workplaces still need smart and experienced people. But in today’s fast-paced world, you also need team members with strong people skills – it’s these skills that create work environments where everyone can be at their best – and that’s real manna from heaven for hiring managers..

How to assess emotional intelligence

People skills, emotional intelligence, EI or EQ – these various names imply this is a tricky skill to pin down. Nevertheless, it is possible to accurately access people skills using a range of assessment techniques that will give you the clearest picture of your candidates’ emotional intelligence and capabilities.

Importantly, you need to understand what type of emotional intelligence you’re assessing. These competencies will vary depending on the particular role and seniority.

Once you’re clear about which competencies you’re looking for, here are the basic dos and don’ts.


Use personality tests in isolation to assess people skills.

  • A personality test will sketch a candidate’s character; it won’t assess or rank specific people skills such as empathy, inspirational leadership, flexibility, positive outlook or self-awareness.


Use a Use a range of assessment methods to assess emotional intelligence, including:

Talk at-length to referees. Combine open and probing questions to pinpoint your candidate’s level of competency in a particular area. Aim to marry specific examples and details against particular EI competencies. A letter of reference will be of little help – you must talk to referees to assess EI.

Use a recognised feedback tool such as DISC psychometric assessments. This tool evaluates an individual’s emotions, motivators and behaviours and can pinpoint how candidates tend to interact with colleagues by pinpointing their level of social skills, empathy, motivation, self-regulation and self-awareness.

Interview for emotional intelligence. The trick here is not to ask how candidates feel about particular EI competencies – you’ll only get an idealised portrait of who the candidate thinks they ought to be rather than an accurate reflection on their emotional intelligence or behaviour. But you can sidestep this barrier by using behavioural event interviewing.

Using behavioural event interviewing to assess emotional intelligence

A candidate’s problem-solving abilities are a reliable indicator of your candidate’s performance on the job. However, typical job interviews can easily run off the rails when you ask candidates to describe how they’ve solved a problem at work. This issue stems from the fact that it’s relatively easy for candidates to exaggerate their role in solving a particular problem.

To sidestep this issue, indicate to a candidate that you wish to discuss a situation at work in detail and that you need the candidate to choose a difficult challenge at work, that they had to solve, where they were the protagonist and where the outcome was successful – i.e. it led to job satisfaction.

The trick is to use open and probing questions to make the candidate go back over the details of a particular work challenge until you pinpoint their level of ability in specific EI competencies.

Next, use the same process but inquire about an unsuccessful situation, where your candidate learned a valuable lesson. You need your candidate to leave your interview on a positive note, so it pays to then ask about a third workplace challenge – one that was a success.

With this interview technique, you can elicit details from the candidate about how they dealt with stress, other people and challenges. You also uncover information about their emotional state and the impact of their actions on other people.

Ensure you make it plain that it’s OK for candidates to discuss the same scenario several times, encourage them to use different viewpoints if necessary. The goal is to see their EI in action, and it’s the what, where, when, why and how of a specific scenario that will give you an EI assessment.

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