Forget Interview Questions: 4 Fresh Tactics to Screen Candidates for Emotional Intelligence

March 22, 2017

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a hot topic right now. So hot that it caused a lot of controversy on ABC’s The Bachelor, where one contestant told another that she “lacked the emotional intelligence” to be with this season’s bachelor. Burn.

However, most discussions about emotional intelligence are happening beyond such high quality TV (wink) in relation to job skills. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, emotional intelligence will be one of the top ten most wanted job skills in 2020. Faced with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and an ever-changing workforce, employees will have to develop the skills that AI and computers can’t replicate (yet). And, emotional intelligence falls into that category.

The question is, how do you hire for emotional intelligence? If you’re looking for someone with a proven sales track record, or a master at Excel, there are easy ways to screen for those skills. But things like self-awareness and empathy are a little trickier. But, it’s not impossible. Here are four suggestions to help recruiters hire for emotional intelligence.

1. Ask candidate’s references the right questions

References are a great way to gain insight into a candidate’s soft skills. But, hiring managers often make the mistake of asking references basic, cookie-cutter questions, like “can you describe the candidate’s work performance?” or “what are the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses?” By doing so, they miss a more nuanced view of how the candidate manages themself and others.

One staffing company, Office Team, found reference checks were the most common way companies gauged job applicants’ emotional intelligence, beating out interview questions and personality tests.

Not sure where to start? Try asking:

  • Can you tell me about a time the candidate made a mistake? How did he or she handle it?
  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how well did the candidate get along with other candidates? Why do you think that was?
  • What do you think motivates this candidate?

These questions assess a candidate’s accountability, social skills, and internal motivations and the answers can help predict how the candidate will behave in the future.

2. Analyze how the candidate interacts outside of the official interview   

For onsite interviews, you can enlist the help of your building’s front desk person, receptionist, or even the valet to help you gauge for soft skills. Was the candidate friendly and polite? Did the candidate talk down to someone? If he or she can easily engage in conversation and show respect to others, that’s a good indicator of emotional intelligence.

Another way to accomplish this is by inviting the candidate to a meal. Charles Schwab’s CEO, Walt Bettinger, famously takes candidates to breakfast—and asks the restaurant to mess up their order. Bettinger pays attention to how they respond. Are they frustrated? Understanding? All telltale signs of someone’s emotional intelligence.

3. Consider hiring for short-term projects first

Candidates can be great at interviewing, but not so great when it comes to actually doing the job. Plus, references can be inaccurate or biased. So, if you’re looking for a more objective way to review a candidate’s soft skills, consider utilizing a temp agency, hiring candidates for a short-term project or holding job auditions before bringing them on full-time. This allows you to assess job skills, cultural fit, and emotional intelligence in real-time.

Chicago-Based Parker-Dewey helps companies utilize college students and recent grads for immediate assistance on short-term, professional assignments that may otherwise be neglected or completed by employees whose time is better spent elsewhere. This allows the business to get the support they need—and if a full-time opportunity arises, know that there is a fit before they make the commitment.

Other companies are replacing job interviews with “job auditions,” where candidates are asked to perform the job they are applying for before they’re hired. WordPress does all their hiring this way. Candidates go through a contracted trial process where they are assigned actual work that they would be performing. In an interview with Harvard Business Review, CEO Matt Mullenweg says of the process, “there’s nothing like being in the trenches with someone, working with them day by day. It tells you something you can’t learn from resumes, interviews, or reference checks.” That something includes EQ levels.

4. Have candidates take personality assessments   

Personality assessments can also offer insight into a candidate’s EQ levels. Some employers use job simulations and role-playing exercises to measure a candidate’s problem-solving and interpersonal skills.

For example, Amtrak has potential employees take a 104 multiple-choice assessment called Amtrak’s Culture Fit Assessment. This assessment is meant to evaluate “how likely a job candidate will perform certain behaviors on the job that support [the] Amtrak culture.”

Koru, founded in 2013, uses machine learning and analytics to predict whether candidates are a right fit for a company. Touted as “predictive hiring,” Koru has applicants take a 20-minute online test that measures for different personality traits including grit and ownership.

While personality assessments can be helpful, it’s important to note they shouldn’t be looked at as an end-all, be-all. Instead, consider them an additional variable to factor in, along with reference checks and interviews.

Low EQ makes for great reality TV, but in the real world emotionally intelligent people make better employees and better leaders. Recruiters and hiring managers can use these techniques to gauge a candidate’s emotional intelligence.

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