More than Credentials: Hire for Emotional Intelligence

When scouring resumes for the right job candidates, most people tend to focus on factors like intelligence, schools, and technical skills. But are those going to lead to the best people? 

You probably don’t have to look far to answer that question: No. At least, not always.

When the rubber meets the road and an employee faces change, conflict, stress, or any of a plethora of other issues that pop up in real life, what matters most tends to be emotional intelligence. People with a good grasp of their own and others’ emotions can better inspire others, adapt to change, build strong teams and understand how people’s moods affect the workplace — and how to handle those moods.

And making a bad hire isn’t cheap — the average cost can be 30 percent of the person’s first-year potential earnings, the U.S. Department of Labor has estimated. Then there’s also the toll on productivity and morale.

But most people aren’t taught how to hire for emotional intelligence. So where do you begin?

In recognition of Emotional Intelligence Awareness Month, here are some of our Frequently Asked Questions about evaluating emotional intelligence in job candidates:

Does hiring for emotional intelligence mean I have to pay for expensive tests for job candidates?

No. While tests can be beneficial tools, there are interview techniques and ways to handle job applications that can provide a lot of insight into emotional intelligence. The process does, however, take practice, time and legwork. But when you get the right people on board, you won’t regret that effort.

So how can I evaluate a job candidate’s emotional intelligence effectively?

A good way to start is by making full use of references. Reference letters tend to be very formal, brief and general — you want specifics. Call the reference and ask for detailed examples of how the candidate exhibited various aspects of emotional intelligence, according to Harvard Business Review. You’ll especially want to know how the person treats others.

Also, take a look at your interviewing process. Are you actually interviewing for emotional intelligence? It’s easy to let candidates give broad-based responses, then move on to the next topic, but you want details about how a person actually handles real-life situations.

Get more specific about the interview. What kinds of questions can I ask to best vet emotional intelligence, and how do I evaluate the responses?

An interviewing technique called behavioral event interviewing can provide helpful insights, according to Harvard Business Review. You’ll want to set the candidate at ease by taking an informal, conversational tone, then asking the usual background questions.

After that, ask the person to tell you — briefly at first — about a difficult work situation that had a successful outcome. Next, talk through it again, asking pointed questions about the candidate’s thoughts, feelings and actions at each juncture. You’re trying to find out what the person actually did and how the person acted.

Follow up by using the same strategy to ask about a situation that seemed like a failure and provided a learning opportunity. Then conclude by asking again for a successful story.

In the responses, you’re looking for clues about how the person thinks and feels in difficult situations, and you’re trying to gauge how well the candidate learns from mistakes, manages his or her emotions, and understands his or her effect on others.

What are common pitfalls in attempting to assess a job candidate’s emotional intelligence?

Some hiring managers make the mistake of thinking personality tests or self-report tests will sufficiently evaluate emotional intelligence, according to Harvard Business Review. But personality tests overlook key components of emotional intelligence, such as how driven someone is, self-awareness or how well a person can inspire others. And self-report tests fail because candidates either have a hard time evaluating themselves or slant answers to try to look like the perfect candidate. Even emotional intelligence tests that can be effective development tools aren’t meant to help with hiring evaluation. 

Avoid hiring pitfalls. Let us help you find the right people — contact us today.