Emotional intelligence involves self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. In other words, it's a complicated amalgam that hiring managers have a hard time testing for. As a result, many fall back on gut instincts and subjective impressions.
It isn't always a smart move to leave something so important to such faulty measures. When a candidate has these qualities, they can work well with others and lead change effectively, so it's no wonder why organizations are placing a higher priority on emotional intelligence. And fortunately, even the traditional interview format can be retooled to test for it.
Just about every smart interview candidate has figured out how to appear highly emotionally intelligent, whether or not they actually are. For hiring managers looking to tell a great performance from genuine attributes, a helpful first step is to get out of the office. Go to a quiet coffee shop, park, or some other place where you won’t be interrupted. That can help get your candidate off guard a bit without making them overly uncomfortable. Then ask these seven questions.
Instead of asking that outright, you might tell a quick anecdote about a family member or colleague who annoys you. Then ask if there's anyone at the candidate's last job who really bothered them and how they dealt with that.
Of course, a savvy candidate will focus on solutions—like how they've smoothed that relationship over—but it can still give you valuable insight into how they perceive other people. You'll probably also learn something about how well they understand the effect of their behavior on others (and its limits).
Here, too, you can start out by giving them an example of one of your days from hell. It isn't about feeding them a scenario you're looking for your interviewee to spit back; you're just modeling the type of situation you want to hear them reflect upon.
So don't just ask them to describe a bad day; ask how they dealt with it. Does it seem that they dwelled on the problem or blamed others (even if they put it differently), or really looked for solutions? Listen for evidence of any surefire coping mechanisms. You want to hire someone who's got the flexibility to deal with uncertain and unpredictable situations—a hallmark of emotional intelligence.
The relationships people build with others can tell you a lot. For that matter, so can the way they perceive those relationships. Based on the candidate's account, how do they see themselves, and what do they value in others? You'll also get some insight into your interviewee's self-awareness. Humor, unless it's sarcastic and demeaning, is always a good sign. If the relationship they describe sounds too formal and humorless to be true, it probably is.
This can set an interviewee off their footing a bit, but in a good way. Ask questions that indicate your lack of understanding and really press for details in the explanation. As you do, does your job candidate seem to fight back frustration and impatience—in their facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice? Or do they ask more questions in order to gather information about what it is you don’t get?
Are they able to explain the idea simply and rework their approach to clarifying things when it becomes clear you're still confused? A highly emotionally intelligent candidate naturally assumes responsibility for getting their ideas across. The opportunity to share their knowledge and teach others is exciting, not stress inducing, and takes communication skills that this type of person loves to hone.
Consciously or otherwise, we tend to model some of our behaviors after those we admire. Ask your interviewee to reflect on that. Is the object of their admiration a "people person," someone who inspires and encourages others, or more of a tactical thinker who's better left down in the weeds, working things out on their own? There are no categorically wrong answers here, and sometimes the person a candidate says they admire reflects attributes they wish they possessed, not those they do.
All this is useful to find out. Listen carefully, then dig further by asking if there's anything they've picked up from the person they admire. You can even ask whether there's anything about that person the interviewee doesn't like, in spite of the things they do.
This one's good to leave open-ended, although you can offer an example of something you've personally achieved in order to get them started. It can be related to their career but doesn't need to be. When the candidate talks about their achievements, do they include and credit others, or are they a one-person show?
Do they talk about how it made others feel—the validation and support they got from family, friends, and coworkers who helped them along the way and celebrated their success? Sometimes great accomplishments really are individual wins, but emotionally intelligent people know that nothing really meaningful ever happens in a vacuum.
This will give you a view into what your interviewee values in others and on teams. What sorts of people do they prefer to work with? Do they focus on the people or the outcomes? What's their style of relating to and managing others in order to accomplish shared goals? Do they like to work closely with others, or do they prefer to work independently?
The more you can get away from the traditional interview model, which is mostly geared to probing a candidate's past experience, the better insight you can gain into their emotional intelligence. This means being creative—ask hypothetical questions and don't hesitate to share your own views and experiences.
That can help get a candidate to open up and offer their own candid (rather than scripted) perspective on the things that will matter most in a real work environment. These seven questions are great to start with, but they're only a jumping-off point for measuring emotional intelligence, so don't hesitate to adapt them. You might even make better hires if you do.