Emotional Intelligence

How to Identify Candidates With High Emotional Intelligence

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I want to hire people with a high degree of emotional intelligence. What questions should I ask to gauge this quality and how should I evaluate candidates’ responses?

A: Most organizations hire for a position based on the candidate’s education, knowledge, experience, and skills, but it’s arguably just as important to measure the person’s ability to recognize and control their own emotions and be empathetic to others. In other words: How emotionally intelligent is the candidate?

It certainly is easier to evaluate factors like education and experience than it is to determine if the person you’re interviewing has a high degree of emotional intelligence (sometimes called EQ, for “emotional quotient”). But if EQ is what we need more of, it’s important to evaluate it just as you would more traditional skills.

Behavioral interviews can be effective tools for gauging EQ. In this type of interview, you ask open-ended questions, such as: “Can you tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult coworker and how you responded?” Based on the answer, you can probe for additional information, using prompts like “How did you do that?” or “Tell me more.”

To determine the candidate’s level of emotional intelligence, ask about people and relationships. A good question might be, “Tell me about a time when you were unfairly blamed for a mistake that you didn’t make. How did you handle it?” Emotionally intelligent people will be able to tell you calmly how they went about clearing up the issue and what they learned from the experience. They won’t blame others.

Ask the candidate about relationships with managers and coworkers and about conflicts with others. Listen for how they worked to resolve these conflicts.

Ask the candidate about relationships with managers and coworkers and about conflicts with others. Listen for how they worked to resolve these conflicts. A person with a high degree of EQ will most likely tell you how the conflict felt or what emotions they were dealing with, while someone with a low EQ will probably overlook the emotions and get right to the resolution.

Another way to get information on your candidate’s EQ is to talk with their references. Ask about how the candidate handled interpersonal situations at work and dealt with difficult workplace issues. You should get valuable insights from these conversations.

Skills can be learned, but emotional intelligence is harder to acquire. Because EQ is critical to your organization’s success, it’s one of the most important qualities to look for as you bring people into your workplace.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR, The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook and the latest book—The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

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