How to Use Emotional Intelligence to Conduct Solid Interviews

Filling a key vacancy at a company or organization is a high-stakes decision, often influencing how well a company or division will perform in achieving the organization’s goals and objectives. This is why interviewers should consider emotional intelligence in evaluating potential employees.

Three professionals discussing documents at a table in a bright, modern office setting.

Daniel Goleman, the American psychologist credited with pushing emotional intelligence into the country’s consciousness, said emotional intelligence involves five key elements:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Self-Regulation
  3. Internal Motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. Social Skills

Such an approach requires companies to explore new ways of evaluating potential employees. However, when it comes to the interviewing and hiring process, looking for emotional intelligence markers can be just as valuable, if not more so, than factors such as experience, education and sterling references.

An interviewer who seeks to identify self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy, and social skills in a candidate is poised to discover the sometimes hidden gems in the job selection process. Let’s examine how using the five elements of emotional intelligence and gauging their levels in others will improve the interview and hiring process. 

How to Determine If the Candidate Is Self-Aware

In evaluating the job candidate’s level of self-awareness, the interviewer must determine how the applicant sees themselves and understands their emotions. Interview questions should probe into previous interactions with fellow employees and what emotions the candidate had during those interactions. In this way, the interviewer will better understand how the candidate sees themselves. 

For example, asking the interviewee, “How would you describe yourself in one word?” can reveal how the candidate might perform with the new company.

Dara Richardson-Heron, CEO of YWCA, says that interviewers should carefully watch how candidates respond to this question. “The best candidates are the ones who know exactly who they are,” she said. 

Heron says it’s not about which word they use but how they define themselves. She said the best candidates take some time to reflect before answering.

Self-Regulation Tendencies Revealed

This element of emotional intelligence deals with controlling impulses and moods and having the ability to think and weigh before speaking or acting. In assessing the candidate, the interviewer should ask questions that indicate whether the applicant is impulsive or moody. A candidate’s ability to control impulses and moods is a major contributor to a harmonious work environment.

Sample question: “Give me an example of a time that you lost your temper. Tell me what happened. What was the outcome?”

Annette Matthies, a human resources consultant, says that answers to this question can be illuminating.

“Emotional intelligence is about being aware of self and others as well as interacting with others,” says Matthies. “Answers to these questions will tell you how their interactions will be, how much conflict there will be on the job and how the mood of the organization will be.”

Is the Candidate Internally Motivated?

One of the most important aspects to consider when evaluating a potential employee is the subject of internal motivation. Is the individual driven by something other than external rewards, such as financial remuneration?

Research indicates that employees who are internally motivated by pride, loyalty, work ethic and other internal factors will outperform employees who rely solely on external rewards.

Sample question: “What is your perfect job?”

Paige Carratturo of Enertech Search Partners says that the goal of this question is understanding a candidate’s motivations.

“What’s critical is finding out what drives people in their careers. Most people aren’t looking for a job, they are looking for a love affair,” says Carratturo. “Look for people who are willing to work hard to pursue that ‘next step’ in their careers.”

How to Gauge Their Level of Empathy

Understanding how other people feel is an asset in any human relationship, including in the workplace. During the interview, the interviewer must gauge the level of empathy in the candidate. Depending on the job requirements, being able to understand how the people around you feel can be an asset to an organization. Most successful companies strive to build a team-centered working environment. Empathy is a critical ingredient in that process.

Sample question: “How would you go about buying a birthday present for a friend?”

Erin Engstrom with RecruiterBox said it’s critical for companies to hire candidates who can put themselves in other people’s shoes.

“We ask this question about buying a birthday present because it gives us insight into a candidate’s thought process when tasked with doing something for someone else,” says Engstrom. “It requires candidates to use pre-existing information to the benefit of another person.”

Social Skills: Will They Fit In?

At every level of every organization, knowing how to build and manage good relationships is considered a valuable skill set. The concepts of teamwork, harmony and cooperation rely on team members having the social skills to interact with other team members.

The interviewer must determine if the candidate possesses sufficient social skills to blend into the company’s workforce.

Sample Question: “Describe a time when you faced conflict and how you addressed it.”

This type of question allows interviewers to get a sense of how a candidate deals with conflict and works under pressure. During times of stress, an individual’s social skills, or lack thereof, are on full display. The interviewer wants to discover which social skills the candidate possesses that can be applied in the workplace. 

Even as the modern workforce embraces more technology, it is the human connection that merits our attention. In a digital age where artificial intelligence now permeates nearly every sector, those who understand human interactions and have the social skills to master those interactions will continue to rise to the top of organizations.

The Innovation Premium

A recent Harvard University report found that organizations that have emotionally intelligent employees enjoy an “innovation premium.” These organizations report more creativity, higher levels of productivity and employee engagement, stronger customer experience, and higher levels of loyalty, advocacy and profitability.

Before the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, a survey done by Verizon asked if emotional intelligence would be an important skill for employees in the future. Less than 20% of those surveyed agreed. A follow-up survey conducted during the pandemic showed a seismic shift in priorities. Nearly 70% of respondents said emotional intelligence would be an important skill for people in the future.

The importance of emotional intelligence during a crisis was explored in our blog, “How to Help Your Leaders Maintain Emotional Intelligence During Challenging Times,” published April 1, 2021.

“Emotional intelligence doesn’t downplay or remove emotions from the decision-making process. Instead, it is about understanding, managing and having compassion for those emotions. Creating a culture that supports and fosters emotional intelligence can strengthen relationships with your employees and improve your organization’s work culture,” the blog stated.

Digging Deeper

When evaluating a potential employee, an organization should, of course, consider factors such as education, experience and accomplishments. The soft skills, however, can prove to be as valuable in the long run. Emotional intelligence speaks to an individual’s ability to be self-aware, self-regulating, have internal motivation, show empathy and demonstrate acceptable social skills.

Though a little harder to discern, interviewers should learn how to spot those emotional intelligence markers when they have the candidate face to face.

Looking Forward

For much of the workforce, the COVID-19 pandemic has involved adapting to virtual meetings and working from home. For information about managing remote employees download our free eBook, “Managing Remote Employees.”

The eBook addresses eight critical areas in managing remote employees:

  • Hiring the right employees
  • Assessing candidate skills and establishing team norms
  • Steps to managing and getting to know a remote team
  • Keeping your team connected
  • Balancing remote team schedules
  • Evaluation and reward
  • Providing feedback
  • Pitfalls to avoid

Managing remote teams requires some trial and error. However, this eBook will help you understand how to find the right employees to get the job done by selecting the right team members and orienting them to the team as well as assessing individual skills. Download this free eBook now and discover how to optimize your team’s performance, engagement and productivity.

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