How You Can Assess Your Candidates’ Emotional Intelligence

CEO and Founder, The EQ-i Coach; author of Emotion at Work: Unleashing the Secret Power of Emotional Intelligence; public speaker and coach

Emotional intelligence is critically important in developing your company culture. Last month, I wrote about five EQ skills to look for when hiring amid the Great Resignation. This article will help you know what questions to ask candidates if you want to hire with those preselected EQ skills in mind.

How do you decide which EQ skills to consider when hiring for your organization? One of the things you could do is map specific EQ skills to your organization’s competency model and/or mission statement. You could also identify a group of high performers—those whom you think have the highest EQ in your company and whose behavior you want to use as examples of good leadership—and ask them relevant questions to determine which EQ skills are their biggest strengths.

Of course, the best way to do this is to use a scientific assessment, but if you are not able to do that, here are some ways to improvise. For the purposes of this article, let’s say you have already identified the five skills I wrote about last month as being attractive to your companies’ culture. Here are some questions to ask to find out how strong a candidate might be in the following skills, as well as some typical “high” and “low” EQ responses.

• Gauge their self-actualization. People strong in this skill act according to a purpose or plan, seem to be on a quest for continual learning, motivate themselves and set inspirational goals.

Questions to ask:

• What are your plans for self-improvement?

• What are you currently learning or studying?

• What do you do to keep learning and growing, either personally or professionally?

• Are there any certifications you have earned recently?

Someone strong in this skill will articulate their passions and identify tasks or jobs that bring fulfillment or add to their meaning and purpose. They will also share what motivates them.

Alternatively, a person with low self-actualization won’t tell you about the big picture. Instead, they will focus more on day-to-day tasks, neglect to leverage their strengths and have lower expectations for their achievements.

• Get a sense of their happiness. Candidates who exemplify the skill of happiness are pleasant to be around, more satisfied in life, high spirited and enthusiastic employees.

Questions to ask:

• What type of work do you consider fun?

• In your personal life, what do you do to have fun and/or rejuvenate?

Someone strong in happiness will respond with enthusiasm about fun activities or hobbies they do outside of the workplace. They will be able to name projects that brought them a sense of play and pleasure from their involvement. A person who is weak in happiness can be withdrawn from social situations or friends, can be dispirited or might worry a lot. They also may have difficulty identifying projects they find fun to work on.

• Measure their optimism. People with high optimism view the world in a positive light, see opportunities for growth instead of setbacks, believe in themselves and inspire others to achieve their goals.

Questions to ask:

• Describe a disappointment you’ve experienced in your career. What happened? How did you respond?

• What do you expect from your future career?

Someone with high optimism will share what they learned from the experience without an excessive amount of self-criticism or blame. They will be able to reframe the disappointment as a stepping stone or a learning opportunity. Someone with low optimism might self-chastise, speak from a victim mindset or pass the blame to other people. They might even sound negative about their career.

• Test their self-regard. Candidates showing high self-regard believe in themselves while also accepting their limitations. They have a well-developed sense of identity and appear confident and influential to others.

Questions to ask:

• Tell us about one of your biggest faults. How does that fault get in your way?

• Tell us about a significant accomplishment. Why are you proud of it?

Someone with high self-regard will admit to one or more flaws without shame. They will discuss their strengths and weaknesses in a candid, matter-of-fact way without being overly egotistical or self-deprecating. Someone with low self-regard will be unsure of themselves and lack confidence.

• Feel out their assertiveness. People with high assertiveness express their thoughts and opinions in a non-offensive way. They can be firm and direct when necessary and are able to stand up for themselves when needed.

Questions to ask:

• Share a recent conflict you had with someone. How did you handle it? What was the outcome?

• How would the other party describe what happened?

Someone with high assertiveness will demonstrate how they appropriately use emotions to take a stance. Someone with low assertiveness will be passive, keep their opinions to themselves or sound defensive when describing the conflict and outcome.

If you want to hire with your company culture in mind, figure out which EQ skills are most important to you, and use these questions as a starting place. Asking behavioral questions in your interviews can help you assess which candidates have the EQ skills best aligned with your competency model and/or mission statement. Doing this can help set your organization up for success.


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