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How to Hire for Emotional Intelligence

How to Hire for Emotional Intelligence

More and more hiring managers are realising that the best employees aren’t always those with the most knowledge or job experience. In fact, a growing body of research shows that an employee’s emotional intelligence, commonly referred to as “EQ”, is one of the most vital — and most often overlooked — predictors of success in the workplace.

High-EQ employees are:1,2

  • More satisfied with their jobs
  • Confident in the face of change
  • Happy to take on new challenges
  • Great at motivating others
  • Report fewer illnesses
  • Less likely to suffer burnout in stressful environments

What Exactly is EQ?

Emotionally intelligent people are skilled in recognising and regulating their feelings and behaviours. They get along well with others, remain optimistic and resilient, and can handle constructive criticism.

EQ is made up of 12 elements:3
  1. Emotional Self-awareness
  2. Emotional Self-control
  3. Adaptability
  4. Achievement Orientation
  5. Positive Outlook
  6. Empathy
  7. Organisational Awareness
  8. Influence
  9. Coaching
  10. Conflict Management
  11. Teamwork
  12. Inspirational Leadership

First Step: Identify the Relevant Traits:

Where should you start when screening applicants for emotional intelligence? Your first task is to clarify the EQ components you need to measure. Remember, there are 12 in all and some will be more relevant than others, depending on the job role. Identify which traits are most relevant to the position.

For example, if you need to hire a manager to lead a team in a fast-paced setting, you should focus on appraising empathy and adaptability.

How to Screen for EQ:

1. Interview Questions

Interviews are the perfect opportunity to measure EQ, but you’ll need to prepare carefully. Questions like “Where did you go to university?” or “Tell me about your responsibilities in your last job” clarify essential facts, but they don’t tell you much about someone’s emotional intelligence.

Asking questions that force candidates to explain how they react in challenging situations will yield more helpful answers. Consider the problems they are likely to face if they get the role and tailor your questions accordingly.

For example, if you are recruiting for a high-stress position, you need to make sure they can cope with the demands of the job. You could ask them to tell you about a time they were under pressure at work, and how they handled it. If they have applied for a role involving a lot of face-to-face customer service, ask them to explain how they would respond to an aggressive customer.

Watch out for generic answers that the candidate could have picked up anywhere, such as “When dealing with a customer, I listen to what they have to say and take appropriate action.” The more details, the better. Ask them not only how they felt and behaved, but how other parties responded. For example, if they had to deliver some bad news to their team, how did their teammates feel afterwards?

2. Role Plays

Role plays take hypothetical, scenario-based questions a step further. Some people might be able to give good answers to interview questions, but role plays give a more realistic insight into their skills.

For example, you could stage a role play in which the candidate has to respond to an irate client or deal with conflict between two colleagues. Pay attention not only to what a candidate says, but also to their language and tone of voice. Do they come across as sincere?

Don’t be afraid to throw a few surprise twists and turns into role plays; you’ll soon find out whether an applicant is good at thinking on their feet.

3. Psychometric Testing

You can also test for EQ using psychometric measures. The (BarOn EQ-i®)4 is perhaps the best-known, but there are many others available. They usually take 20-30 minutes to complete.

These tests can be expensive, but the time and money may be a good investment if they help you pick the right candidate. Note that you might need to attend training seminars before you are qualified to administer a test or interpret the results.

How to Remain Objective:

When using interviews and role plays, use rating scales or grids to generate scores for each applicant. The Society for Human Resource Management recommends using a rating scale that allows you to compare candidate answers with predefined model responses.5 Here’s an example of what the process could look like in your organisation:


Elect to use a five-point scale.


Decide with your team what strong (5 points), satisfactory (3 points), and weak (1 point) answers look and sound like — all members of the hiring team need to be in agreement.


Before the interview, encourage the interviewers to keep notes that explain precisely why they decided on their final score.


Following each interview, discuss any major rating discrepancies with the interview panel and aim to reach a consensus on the candidate.

You Can’t Afford to Overlook EQ:

EQ is a major predictor of job success, especially for leadership positions.6 In a world where the most innovative, flexible and cohesive organisations win, you need to take it seriously. Tailoring your hiring process to screen for EQ will require some work but your business will quickly start seeing the benefits.


1. Extremera, N., Mérida-López, S., Sánchez-Álvarez, N., & Quintana-Orts, C. (2018). How Does Emotional Intelligence Make One Feel Better at Work? The Mediational Role of
Work Engagement. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, 15(9), 1909.
2. Lee, H.J. (2018). How Emotional Intelligence Relates To Job Satisfaction And Burnout In Public Service Jobs. International Review of Administrative Sciences, 84(4), 729-745.
3. Goleman, D., & Boyatzis, R.E. (2017). Emotional Intelligence Has 12 Elements. Which Do You Need To Work On?
4. High Performing Systems, Inc. (n.d.). BarOn Emotional Quotient-Inventory (BarOn EQ-i®).