Emotional intelligence (or EQ), entered the workplace about a decade ago as a new metric that could be applied to candidates to gain a more accurate picture of their potential success on the job. During its early years, the term became synonymous with a general sense of social adaptability, cooperative inclinations, and communication skills. Emotionally intelligent candidates were deemed pleasant, kind and receptive to the needs of others.

But since then, the term and its applications have become much more nuanced and specific. Emotionally intelligent candidates aren’t just “nice.” Rather, they show elevated levels of empathy and situational awareness. EQ reflects the ability to place one’s self in someone else’s position and thus accurately predict what the other person needs, wants, fears or plans to do. In other words, a high score in this area can bring immeasurable returns to employers in almost every industry.

So how can you assess EQ during a 30-minute interview? Start by asking questions like these.

“Describe a serious interpersonal conflict you’ve had on the job. What happened and what did you do?”

Leave the question open-ended so your candidate can choose a scenario that reflects their own definition of “serious.” If the chosen conflict seems trivial or especially grievous to you, make a note of this. Then listen to the story and read between the lines. How accurately do you think they assessed the situation? How appropriate was the response? How well do their past actions align with the culture of your company?

“How do you typically approach new teams/conflicting team goals/difficult people/etc.?”

Fill in the blank by choosing the type of social challenge your candidate will most frequently encounter in their role. For example, if they will need to soothe angry customers day after day, ask how they typically approach this type of situation. If they will need to frequently switch teams or meet new people, ask how they expect to adapt.

“What would you do first, second and third if you had to (fill in the blank)?”

Present your candidate with a situation that may not offer a clear right or wrong answer. Make sure the scenario is relevant to the kinds of personalities, goals, and situations they may face on the job. For example, present a scenario in which they’ll need to say no to a valuable client, stop a manager from making a bad decision or teach a direct report to do a task that exceeds their capacities.

“How would you define (fill in the blank)?”

Present a frequently used term with multiple or vague meanings, like “teamwork,” “success” or “leadership.” These words mean different things to different people, but what do they mean to your candidate? Again, read between the lines to get a sense of their social sensibilities.

For more on how to better understand your candidate’s EQ and ability to relate and empathize with others, contact the staffing experts at Extension.


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