4 minute read

How to recognise candidates with high emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a critical skill for the future, says the World Economic Forum. But how do you recognise a high EQ in a candidate you are interviewing? Emotional intelligence expert Salman Raza shares his insights

How to recognise candidates with high emotional intelligence

High-performance teams are comprised of individuals who hold an advanced level of emotional intelligence, that is, the capacity of individuals to recognise their own and other people’s emotions. Those who have high emotional intelligence are more likely to be able to differentiate between a variety of feelings and label them appropriately than their less emotionally intelligent counterparts.

When interviewing prospective candidates for an open job opportunity, recruiters and teams are looking for experience, fit and potential. A baseline of experience is needed to fill the requirements of the specific role. Cultural fit is important to ensure the candidate will integrate easily into the work culture. Potential signifies the assets the candidate brings to the table that can elevate the existing team or business to new heights. In addition to these important components emotional intelligence should also make that list.

To identify candidates with high emotional intelligence you should keep your eye out for some of the following clues:

They express themselves clearly

Job interviews can make even the most seasoned applicant a little nervous. Despite interview jitters candidates should be able to articulate their answers thoughtfully and appropriately. Clear and concise answers to interview questions signify the candidate is self-aware and thoughtful when responding to questions. The candidate’s answers should play out like a short story with a captivating beginning, detailed middle and satisfying ending.

Candidates who pause before speaking demonstrate this thoughtfulness as well. Remember, you’re not necessarily looking for an expert public speaker, but rather someone who is deliberate, aware and thoughtful in their responses.

They are aware of their own body language

You’ll want to assess to see what your candidate says with their body language. Do they mirror you? Fold their arms across their chest if you do or sit up straight when you do so. Is their neutral expression relaxed or do they appear angry? Don’t make a hiring decision based on this alone, some people, even emotionally intelligent people, are unaware their “neutral” expression appears hostile.

These behaviours are important because it demonstrates the candidate has a keen awareness of their own body language, a telltale sign of someone with high emotional intelligence. Keep an eye out for aspects such as a firm handshake, consistent eye contact and a relaxed but confident posture.

They ask great questions

The interview is a time for the spotlight to shine brightly on the candidate and they know and understand this. However, in an attempt to form a genuine connection with the interviewer, the prospective candidate should seize the opportunity to ask thoughtful questions that are not related to the self. For example, “What do you believe is the most rewarding aspect of this role?” or “How do you foster a sense of teamwork and accountability in your day-to-day operations?” While the candidate would be directly impacted by the answers to these questions, they are demonstrating an interest in others, making the interview more collaborative.

They are self-reflective

A highly emotional intelligent candidate should be able to show their progression and growth in their interview questions.

Asking candidates about times they may have been criticised or have experienced conflicts at work can help you to spot emotional intelligence red flags. Try asking candidates either of the below:

  • Tell me about a time someone has criticised your work. How did you respond and what did you learn?
  • Tell me about a time you had a conflict with your supervisor. How did you resolve it? Share how the conversation went.

If a candidate provides ‘template’ answers that lack specific examples, like ‘I had a disagreement with a colleague and we sat down and resolved it’ or ‘I stay calm under pressure’, this could be a red flag to show they are lacking emotional intelligence. Another red flag would be if they are quick to criticise other people without being self-reflective of their own behaviour.

Even if these kinds of questions are not asked candidates should find a way to prove insight into their own professional transformation beyond the resume.

Their ‘greatest weakness’ is authentic

If the recruiter asks the famous “what is your greatest weakness” question and the candidate answers with “nothing” or “I’m just such a hard worker” or “I am a perfectionist to a fault” this could be an emotionally intelligent red flag. Instead, look for answers where the candidate clearly defines an authentic weakness and demonstrates several tactics they have taken to improve upon that weakness. Humility is an emotionally intelligent trait and a great one to have in a professional setting.

They articulate emotions

Throughout the interview keep an ear and an eye out for times when the candidate identifies specific emotions. Individuals who are highly emotionally intelligent are also experts at identifying their own feelings and the feelings of others. If a candidate shares a story about how they were frustrated by a specific work scenario and also mentions how others felt in the same scenario, you know you are interviewing someone with keen awareness of emotions within the self and others.

They follow up professionally

Candidates who reach out after the interview with a thank you note or email are not just following the order of operations for successful interviewing. They are also demonstrating empathy by recognising your valuable time was spent getting to know them and their skills in a more comprehensive manner. This gesture is both polite and also a sign of high emotional intelligence.

Above all you’re looking for candidates who approach the interview with awareness of self and others, who articulate themselves appropriately and who seem invested in the bigger picture beyond the self. The new role may mean a bigger paycheck or the gateway to new opportunities, but if a candidate is demonstrating other-serving behaviours before hiring, you can rest assured they are an emotionally intelligent individual.

Salman Raza, pictured below, is an expert of international cultures and founder and CEO of training and development consultancy Razalution Bureau

Salman Raza founder Razalution Bureau

Published 20 April 2022
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