I talk ad nauseum about the importance for companies, especially high-growth startups, to hire people who exhibit exceptional emotional intelligence. I’m not the first one who has come to this conclusion, but I think more people need to realize that EQ is just as important of an asset to a company as IQ. In my opinion, it is the single biggest factor in startup growth acceleration. You can usually find smart people, but building a team with kind people usually plays second fiddle to those with practical experience.
I thought a lot about why EQ isn’t higher on the list of things that people hire for and I came up with some reasons:
PEs and VCs run diligence based on an economic model, not a human one. The CEOs pitching their businesses are wonderful salespeople. They have beautiful decks, which almost always show the billions of dollars up for grabs in the total addressable market. They show some sales and some retention and voila: money in the bank. But what vetting was done on the person? Some back channels? Maybe more, but I think way more diligence should be done here.
The CEO is the single largest variable between a good culture and a bad one. If the CEO sucks, so will the company. At some point, I’d like to run an analysis that correlates Glassdoor CEO approval rating with the sales prices of those businesses. Prediction: low approval rating = really low valuation.
Pedigree is a factor for hiring. Isn’t that absurd? What did a good college and your MBA teach you about how to manage people, a P&L, and grow a business? Probably nothing. I know this because I have a college degree and an MBA, but I learned the practical stuff by doing, not reading the theories. Companies are nuanced, so the degrees aren’t helpful. Surely I learned the basics and how to work hard, but the more important elements of being successful like curiosity, grit, and kindness go a lot further. It’s also a massive bias when hiring and it creates exclusions because some people were not fortunate to go to college.
Do more with less. I can share from personal experience that being in a C-level position is not easy. The pressure to perform, especially in a revenue role, is brutal. Every year, the company likely wants to double in revenue, and in most cases does not want to spend double the money to do that. So you’re forced to increase the downward pressure on teams to do more with less. This means you’re likely taking less time to vet for kind, and just defer to making safe bets with those who check more of the boxes for getting the job done.
EQ is hard to interview for. You likely can find quantitative examples of whether or not a person can practically do the job because you can ask them to complete an assignment or look at their track record of success in their former roles, but how do you know if they’re a terrible person?
The list above isn’t exhaustive, but I believe those are some of the major drivers of why EQ lacks at some organizations. Given this, I tried to compile a list below of how to evaluate for hiring good humans, not just smart ones.
Create a hiring committee focused on asking questions around the company’s core values
Here’s what one of my directors, Seth Steinman, developed for our paid and SEO manager positions. I’ve also suggested some sample interview questions below. It’s important to not allow your biases to creep in. You’re looking to make sure they’re not objectively unkind.
Interviewer 1: Caring above all else
- What qualities make for good colleagues?
- If a colleague were to do this, you would be honored to work with them
- What are some traits of colleagues that you would not want to work with?
Interviewer 2: Think big and start small: Are they process-oriented, but think big? Can they GSD?
- Can you share an example of a project that you successfully implemented that was high impact, but low effort?
- When everything might seem as though it’s important and urgent, what’s your process for deciding your priorities?
Note: If the answer is “doing things at all costs,” this might be a red flag.
Interviewer 3: Chase excellence: Would they make incredible things happen?
- How would you define incredible? Incredible things can be anything from helping you close a major deal to bringing balance to your team or being able to manage and teach different personalities.
- What are some examples of things you’ve done that you would consider incredible?
Additional questions to consider
On a scale of 1-5:
- How happy are you in your role?
- How confident are you that you can achieve your goals?
- How would you grade my support with 1 being an F and 5 being an A?
Ask why the person left the last company or why they are looking to join this one, and look for the answer that leads with people. While seeking a new challenge may be an important part of why you leave or want to join a company, working with good people should be at the top of the list, in my opinion.
Did this person leave their team? Attrition is natural, both regrettable and non-regrettable, but the whys are important. Do the answers suggest that they didn’t care about the people, only about the results?
Ask about their extracurricular activities. Do they participate in activities that do more good in the world? This isn’t always a dealbreaker, but it can be reassuring to hear that they care about other people–even if that comes in the form of “spending time with my family/ friends.”
Ask about their management and leadership if they’re more senior.
- If they are coming from a company with poor Glassdoor reviews, ask them what they did to try to change that
- Ask them to share their team collaboration exercises and what has worked best to ensure healthy team communication
- Do they take pulse surveys of their team’s health and happiness?
Just like in your personal life, building a team of people that like you because you’re kind and treat people like humans is critical. You don’t, or at least you shouldn’t, evaluate friends based on their pedigree or IQ scores. You want to be around kind people. Don’t forget that a solid team isn’t always made up of all-stars and ultra-geniuses. It’s made up of a lot of personalities and backgrounds that come together to make the whole better than the sum of its parts.
Andrea Kayal is the CMO at Electric, a real-time IT support and security solution.