Evaluating Emotional Intelligence When Hiring or Promoting People

If Emotional Intelligence is one of the best predictors of workplace success, how can employers determine just how emotionally intelligent a candidate for hire or promotion is?

Maya Angelou. Daniel Goleman. Leadership Institute. Wall Street Journal. The Financial Post. The Center for Creative Leadership. Travis Bradberry.  Egon Zehnder. John Sullivan. Carnegie Institute of Technology. Evidence continues to mount that shows that someone’s emotional intelligence is one of the most reliable predictors of their success in the workplace. How, then, can an employer determine just how emotionally intelligent someone is before extending him or her a job offer or promoting him or her into a position of greater responsibility? 

Here are three powerful ways to consistently select for emotional intelligence.

One: Ask the Right Interview Questions.  While many traditional interview questions help interviewers assess a candidate’s technical skills and relevant experience, the following questions are designed to help you assess your candidate’s emotional intelligence.  As with any effective interview, you will need to ask follow-on questions and probe for details in order to get a true and accurate picture of the candidate.

1) Tell me about the person (co-worker, customer, boss) with whom you regularly need to work who is most challenging for you. What do you do to manage this working relationship?

  • High EQ Clues: the candidate takes responsibility to make the relationship work. He or she does not badmouth the other person. He or she adapts his/her approach to work more effectively with the other person. He or she seeks a positive relationship with the challenging coworker.  The relationship is currently productive.

2) When did you last embarrass yourself at work? What were the circumstances, what happened, and how did it turn out for you?

  • High EQ Clues: the candidate can readily admit being embarrassed. The candidate gave details disclosing how he or she felt. He/she took ownership without blaming others or circumstances. The candidate provided evidence that it was a learning experience.  He/she has gotten past the negatives of what happened.

3) Who is your favorite role model with whom you worked? What specifically makes him or her a good role model for you?

  • High EQ Clues: the candidate describes the role model’s personal qualities that reflect emotional intelligence, such as trust, compassion, integrity, work ethic, relationship-building, authenticity, and resilience. He or she wants to be more like that role model and has taken steps to develop him/herself in that direction. 

4) What specific things make you angry or frustrated at work? Tell me why they anger you and how you cope with your frustration.

  • High EQ Clues: the candidate is self-aware enough to identify things that anger or frustrate him/her and WHY they do so (self-awareness). He or she demonstrates self-regulation to manage his or her negative impulses. He or she doesn’t simply bottle up his or her emotions, but seeks appropriate ways of moving past the anger and frustration.

5) Take a moment or two to identify the top four or five things that motivate you to do your best, and how present or absent they are in your current role or position.

  • High EQ Clues: the candidate is well-aware of what motivates him or her. He or she identifies several that are intrinsic (not supplied by others, such as money, recognition, or advancement). He or she finds appropriate ways to use his or her motivational factors in the current job/role. He or she finds motivation in the work they do.


Two: Use an Emotional Intelligence Assessment. A reliable, validated, and correlated emotional intelligence assessment is one of the wisest investments you can make to improve your quality of hire.  The greater the degree of people contact the job or role requires, the more important it will be to hire someone with well developed emotional intelligence. 

Among the best EQ assessments I’ve tested are Emotional Quotient™ (TTI), the TriMetrix EQ™ which blends the sciences of EQ with DISC Behaviors and Driving Forces, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (Bradberry), and the Emotional & Social Competency Inventory (ESCI, Goleman).

Here is a sample graph from the 13-page Emotional Quotient™ assessment.  It shows how and individual scored on a 100-point scale across five different areas of measurement relative to two benchmarks:

  • The international mean for the millions of people who have taken the assessment (designated by the 74* in 1. SELF-AWARENESS), and
  • Where 2/3 of the population falls (one standard deviation above and below the mean, as represented by the red-canoe shape in 1. SELF-AWARENESS, below the bar graph and above the mean score of 74).

What follows the graph page are additional details and explanation, and more importantly, the specific actions the participant can take to improve his or her EQ in each of the areas measured. 

Three: Train Your Interviewers in Emotional Intelligence.  In addition to understanding the best practices of effective interviewing and talent selection, interviewers who are trained in emotional intelligence are much more aware of what to look for in a candidate, including the body language signs of a candidate’s emotional intelligence.  The adage, it takes one to know one, is applicable here.  Emotionally intelligent people tend to be able to spot candidates who possess high (and low) emotional intelligence.  They are more sensitive in identifying the nuances of emotionally intelligent behavior, and more likely to be accurate in projecting how well a candidate will fit on the team and in the organization. 


Bottom Line

Too many organizations fail to pay attention to emotional intelligence as a success factor when hiring or considering someone for promotion.  With the cost of a bad hire regularly exceeding 2.5 times the total annual compensation for a position (SHRM, HBR, WSJ), your organization can no longer afford to make emotionally UNintelligent hires!  

This article is based on more than 30 years’ of my work in behavioral science and the principles taught in   Leading Through People 18 – Leading More Effectively with Emotional Intelligence and B2B Sales Essentials 15, Selling With Emotional Intelligence.

I love working with people and organizations who want to improve their effectiveness! Here are several outstanding resources that can help you and your organization to go to the next level:

  • Improving your (or your team s) management and leadership skills: Leading Through People . This acclaimed program equips participants in thousands of current and emerging best practices of leadership, hiring, and talent development.
  • Raising your (or your team s) selling and sales management effectiveness: B2B Sales Essentials (among the 30-plus courses we offer are ones on selling with emotional intelligence and storyselling!)
  • Conducting a more effective job search: Get a Better Job Faster

For the past 25 years I’ve worked with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. Thanks to our clients, the company I founded in 1998, Boyer Management Group, was recognized by CEO Monthly Magazine for its “Most Influential CEO Award, 2023” in the executive coaching field.  Our coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time.  Our extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new and developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive.  BMG boasts one of the most extensive sales and sales management curriculums anywhere, with behavioral assessments to help develop talent. I also help job seekers, higher ed, and employment services connect people to better jobs faster. To find out more, please visit us at www.boyermanagement.com, email us at info@boyermanagement.com, or call us at 215-942-0982. 


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