Why you should hire people with emotional intelligence – and five tips on how to do it

Did you know that people who understand and manage their own and others’ emotions make better leaders?

Why? For one, they’re better equipped to efficiently deal with stress. They also inspire people to work toward collective goals, are better at managing conflict, and have the ability to build stronger teams.

While that may sound obvious, in fact many managers lack such basic self-awareness and social skills. They don’t recognise the impact of their own moods and feelings on their staff, they’re often less adaptable and don’t demonstrate basic empathy for others.

In short, they don’t understand other people’s needs – which means they’re unable to meet those needs or inspire people to act.

So why is there so little emotional intelligence in the workplace?

One reason: organisations don’t hire for it – often because their recruitment staff never learnt how.

Naturally, most organisations hire staff for their skills and experience – a non-negotiable for many positions. But when hiring managers focus on technical skills, test scores, certifications and intellect, they fail to see other vital qualities: a proven ability to build and motivate great teams, the skills to deal with change, and effective management of both their own and others’ emotions.

Want to build a team – or a whole organisation – of staff who possess those fundamental qualities? Here are five tips to help you hire for emotional intelligence:

1. Personality tests don’t shed light on emotional intelligence

While these tests attempt to measure ‘personality’, they fail to gauge core elements of emotional intelligence like self-awareness, positive outlook, achievement orientation, empathy or inspirational leadership.

2. Self-reporting tests are useless

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, if a candidate lacks self-awareness, they’re obviously going to have trouble assessing their own emotional intelligence.

Alternatively, if they’re self-aware enough to know their personal weaknesses, do you think they’re honestly going to share them with you before you’ve hired them?

3. Don’t use 360-degree feedback questionnaires

Even if they measure emotional intelligence competencies, these instruments are best used for staff development, not evaluation. If used for evaluation, a candidate can easily coach respondents on how to present them in the best light, leading to inaccurate and biased results.

 4. Try speaking to a referee

When it comes to understanding your candidate’s emotional intelligence, you need to speak to their referees – letters of reference aren’t sufficient here.

When you do, ask specific questions about how the candidate demonstrated various competencies of emotional intelligence – things like self-awareness, motivation, empathy and social skills.

Gather as much detail as possible by asking for examples of how the candidate treats other people in various situations.

5. Interview for emotional intelligence

When interviewing, many hiring managers allow candidates to get away with vague responses and fail to ask strong follow-up questions.

And if you ask a candidate directly about their emotional intelligence, they’ll generally respond with an idealised notion of themselves rather than how they actually behave.

The best way to overcome this? Use structured, behavioural interviews, inviting candidates to describe how they responded to specific past situations.

Start by making the candidate as comfortable as possible, establishing an air of warmth and informality. After asking a few traditional interview questions about the person’s background and experience, launch into the behavioural questions.

First, ask questions about a positive situation that involved interacting with colleagues, like “Tell us about a time you successfully dealt with conflict in a previous role” or “Tell us about a time when you showed initiative and took the lead?” Probe repeatedly into the examples offered by the candidate by asking for specific details – what did the candidate think at the time? What did they do, and how did they feel?

Next, invite the candidate to share a less positive situation – one which seemed like a failure. Repeat the process with this example – probing to find out the details of how they thought and felt.

Behavioural interviewing allows you to gain an insight into how the candidate thinks and feels in response to stresses and challenges. If done well, it should tell you if they’re in touch with their feelings, how they manage them, and how much they’re aware of their impact on others.

Behavioural interviewing is a skill though, and like all skills, requires practice to get it right. If you’re able to take the time to do it regularly, it should become a core part of every interview your NFP does.

This post is based on an article originally published by Harvard Business Review.

Do you consider emotional intelligence when hiring? How do you assess it? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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