Why Emotional Intelligence Is More Important To Hiring Than You Think

Your potential employees might look great on paper–but do they have the emotional intelligence it takes to be a great addition to your team?

Why Emotional Intelligence Is More Important To Hiring Than You Think
[Image: Flickr user Doctor Popular]

Editor’s Note: This story contains one of our Best Business Lessons of 2014. Check out the full list here.


How you hire great professionals can make or break your organization. A good employee can do wonders for your company, bring you to new levels, and be a source of sustained growth.

A bad employee? Well, that’s a whole different story.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates the average cost of a bad hiring decision can equal 30% of the individual’s first-year potential earnings.

Many companies are forgoing traditional hiring methods in order to avoid this. Tech companies like Google are relying more on emotional intelligence, as opposed to where the person went to school or what grades they received.

The reason is simple: Emotional intelligence, a term first brought to the masses by Daniel Goleman, involves self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. When someone has these qualities, they have the ability to work well with others and are effective in leading change.


However, when someone is just “book smart,” they may not necessarily have emotional intelligence and therefore have a harder time learning from their mistakes. They’ve typically always achieved career wins–they don’t know any other way. According to Laszlo Bock, Google’s head of people operations, these types of workers attribute failures to other people or events, instead of having self-awareness and the motivation to better themselves.

This is not to say you should discount a candidate with a high IQ. On the contrary, the ideal worker would have a highly analytical brain, while still carrying the attributes of an emotionally intelligent person.

Let’s look at some reasons why hiring emotionally intelligent people would benefit your organization, as well as where to find them:

Problem solvers are not problem dwellers

You want people on your team who have enough gusto to solve issues, not only before they become larger than life, but also by looking at alternative perspectives.

When faced with a problem, highly emotionally intelligent people want to solve it as soon as possible. They don’t dwell on the actual issue or the outcome that has occurred. Plus, according to Travis Bradberry, president of TalentSmart, emotionally intelligent people are most effective when they are solving problems, as opposed to merely sitting on them.


Joe Bohling, senior vice president and chief human resource officer at Aflac Inc., believes it’s important to hire people who can pick specific examples that show the ability to stay cool during stressful situations. This can translate into how an employee may deal with a problem, either through actual solutions or by lingering over them.

Managing emotions is key

Interestingly, 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in pressurized situations in order remain calm and in control. They also stay positive and disconnect to keep things in check.

Stress is a normal part of your job, whether you’re in finance or human resources. However, as long as it isn’t prolonged, it’s harmless and can actually be good for you. In fact, research from the University of California, Berkeley, found that the onset of stress entices the brain into growing new cells responsible for improved memory. However, this effect is only seen when stress is intermittent.

How employees manage their emotions can make a big a difference in the end. Highly emotionally intelligent people are self-aware and understand when they need to take a step back if things are getting a bit heavy. Those who aren’t emotionally intelligent may blow up and create conflict. This all plays into how they go through tasks, solve issues, and create success.

“Yes people” don’t survive

You’ve probably heard of “yes people.” While they seem sunny on paper, “yes people” almost never survive and can actually harm the future of your organization. In fact, research conducted at the University of California in San Francisco shows that, the more difficulty you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression. Emotionally intelligent people won’t say yes unless they really want to, which can contribute to the level of engagement they have with a task, as well as the overall outcome.


Google is a great example of a company that just says no to “yes people.” Bock notes that the most successful people have a fierce position, argue like hell, and are zealots about their point of view. This is not to say they are egotistical, though. Bock asserts that, when these employees are presented with a new fact or valid argument to prove a stance, they will accommodate the correct viewpoint. In the end, they understand when to say no, both in terms of a commitment and in terms of their ego.

Emotionally intelligent workers are right under your nose

So, where do you find emotionally intelligent people? Some organizations use behavioral assessments, others look at big data. While these are all great recruitment tactics, emotionally intelligent workers can be found at home. That is, from your own employees.

It’s no secret that referrals are the best way to source and retain quality workers. However, when you look at referrals from an emotionally intelligent perspective, your employees can be a rich source of social capital to introduce to your organization.

Employees understand who will work and who won’t. At the same time, they’re watching their own backs and rarely recommend anyone who can’t do the job. In addition to hard skills, when you stress the importance of emotionally intelligent attributes–such as willingness to learn, relationship management, and social awareness–your employees will scour their networks to find the right fit. Not only are they able to bring you highly skilled workers, but also they’ll be able to present you with those who have the potential to perform well under an array of situations, as well as with a variety of workers.

By understanding the true value of an emotionally intelligent employee, you’ll begin to see the connection between the types of people you hire and the success that comes from it.


Kes Thygesen is the co-founder and head of product at RolePoint, a recruitment platform where the pipeline is driven by high-quality employee referrals. Connect with him and RolePoint on LinkedIn and Twitter.