How to Hire for Emotional Intelligence

By Ryan Ayers

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Modern office environments revolve around adaptability, communication, collaboration and the ability to learn new skills quickly. These are difficult requirements for candidates to fulfill, which is why it can be tough to find the right team members, even if your organization is willing to invest in training. When hiring, instead of focusing too much on factors like education and experience, it can be beneficial to your organization to hire new employees with high emotional intelligence. It’s a strategy tech companies like Google are beginning to use to help avoid bad hiring decisions, which can be costly for businesses.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence was originally introduced by psychologist Daniel Goleman, who described a number of qualities that make up this trait in an individual. Emotional intelligence is generally seen in individuals who have self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Broken down, this means that emotionally intelligent people have the awareness and motivation to regulate their responses and actions, while being empathetic toward others and able to excel in social situations.  Emotionally intelligent people have natural curiosity and know their strengths and weaknesses, which allows them to harness their abilities to help themselves and others grow and thrive.

Why is Emotional Intelligence so Important in the Workplace?

At first glance, emotional intelligence may sound like a soft skill that’s not all that useful to your business. But the truth is that people with high emotional intelligence relate well to others and have intangible qualities that help them excel in a team environment and often helping to avoid and resolve conflict—something almost every company needs.

Travis Bradberry of Forbes outlines the reasons that hiring emotionally intelligent people gives companies a competitive edge:

“Decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as being the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack. The connection is so strong that 90% of top performers have high emotional intelligence.”

Every company wants these star performers, but not all recruiters and hiring managers know what to look for. If you’re feeling lost on how to evaluate emotional intelligence, you’re not alone. To help you get started, here are some tips for detecting emotional intelligence in candidates.

1. Use emotional intelligence in your job descriptions to attract the right candidates

You can’t hire the right people if they don’t apply, of course. Companies like Adobe and Zappos have designed their onboarding materials very carefully to appeal to the candidates they’re looking for, using techniques like a relational process and adding emotional intelligence to employment materials.

2. Use initial screenings to your advantage

There’s no reason to bring in a candidate who obviously does not have some of the qualities you’re looking for. During the phone interview, look for indications of emotional intelligence, such as positivity, grace under pressure, and looking at success from a team perspective, rather than individual achievements.

3. Tailor your interview questions

You know by now that there’s no reason to use the same, worn out interview questions used at every company—it’s better to tailor your questions so they make sense for detecting the skills you’re looking for. Carolyn Sun at Entrepreneur has come up with a list of interview questions designed to separate emotional intelligence out of the pack that could be very useful in assessing candidates.

4. Use references for clues

Forming lasting friendships in the workplace is a common behavior of emotionally intelligent people, and speaking to references can give you insights about how they fit into teams at their previous companies. You’ll get insights not just from references in management roles, but from peer level colleagues who worked closely with your applicant.

5. Create a culture that is appealing to emotionally-intelligent people

Once you’ve found the right emotionally-intelligent candidates, you’ll need to offer them more than a salary and benefits. These top performers will expect a lot from their employer in exchange for their skills, and you’ll need to provide an engaging environment that is transparent and respectful to employees. Clear growth paths, opportunities for learning and collaboration are all helpful in promoting engagement and long-term retention of emotionally intelligent employees.

Long Term Benefits of Hiring for Emotional Intelligence

If you find the right fit for your company—someone who is emotionally intelligent and engaged with your business’s goals and values, there is immense long-term benefit in hiring for this trait. Emotionally intelligent people help businesses grow, promote team unity and can be great choices for leading the company down the road. All you have to do is find them, engage them and respect them. 

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