Beyond the resume: How to screen job candidates for emotional intelligence

Certain questions can help you find the right leaders for your team

Using behavioral-based interviewing can help ensure you make the right hires, Annie McKee writes for Harvard Business Review.

Emotionally intelligent leaders are crucial to a high-functioning team. They can read coworkers' emotions, manage conflict, and inspire others. But many managers don't have these skills, says McKee, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of the Teleos Leadership Institute.

"They don't recognize the impact of their own feelings and moods," she writes. "They are less adaptable than they need to be in today's fast-paced world. And they don't demonstrate basic empathy for others."

That's because many companies don't screen people for emotional intelligence in the hiring process, McKee argues. "We look for where someone went to school, high grades and test scores, technical skills, and certifications, not whether they build great teams or get along with others," she writes.

The hidden costs of bad hires and how to avoid them

To avoid the classic pitfalls and find the right fits for your team, McKee outlines what to do—and what to avoid—to spot emotionally intelligent people in the hiring process.

Don't rely on personality tests. Hiring managers shouldn't gauge a person's emotional intelligence based on a personality test, McKee argues, as such tests aren't reliable barometers of characteristics such as empathy or self-awareness. Don't use a self-reported test, either, since people often don't assess themselves correctly—and may fudge the truth to get the job, McKee says.

Feedback tools such as the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory can be helpful, McKee adds, but should only be used to develop current employees, not evaluate perspective ones.

How to spot emotionally intelligent people in an interview

Gauge emotional intelligence during the interview. Use behavioral-based interviewing to gauge a potential employee's emotional intelligence and ensure the candidate is not presenting an "idealized notion of themselves and what they'd like to be," McKee writes.

Ask the candidate to explain difficult situations in which they were successful and unsuccessful, and push for details about how they interacted with others.

"This interview technique allows you to ask for and hear details about how the candidate thinks in situations that involve stress, challenges, and other people," McKee says.

Don't take the candidate's word for it. McKee recommends asking for references—and calling them up. Ask references specific questions about candidates' emotional intelligence, how they handle conflict, and what they do to motivate employees. "Specifically, ask for examples of how your candidate treats other people," McKee says (McKee, Harvard Business Review, 2/5).


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