A Question of Empathy: How to Interview for Emotional Intelligence

A Question of Empathy: How to Interview for Emotional Intelligence

A concept made popular in the mid-90s, Emotional Intelligence (EI) describes the ability to properly perceive, understand and influence one’s own and other’s feelings. It is now rated as a decisive personal success factor, with a bigger influence than purely cognitive and academic capabilities. The role of EI in successful collaboration between executives and their teams is deemed increasingly important. But how can employee emotional intelligence be determined, if possible even during application process? In addition to elaborate, empirically recognized tests, here are strategies to elicit meaningful information on the social skills of your (future) team members during interviews …

The American psychologist Edward Thorndike described “social intelligence” as long ago as the 1930s, when he saw that it had more influence on the success of foremen in the construction industry than their professional competence. In 1975, the discovery of “multiple intelligences” by Gardner followed, while the term “emotional intelligence” initially showed up in a doctoral thesis in the mid 1980s. In the mid-1990s, journalist Daniel Goleman’s accessible bestselling book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ meant an international breakthrough for the concept.
Emotional Intelligence in Business
Since then, the term has gained massive importance, especially in the field of personnel development and corporate management. Emotionally intelligent employees and executives interact more successfully with customers, are better team players and cope with stress more easily. But how can these social skills be measured for the individual, ideally during their interview process? Relevant tests such as the ESCI have since been empirically confirmed, but these also take time and money. However, you can also get a valuable indication of the EI of a potential employee with a few targeted interview questions. Based on the four main areas of emotional intelligence, we have some tips for effective questions that can help you choose your perfect team wisely.

  1. Self Awareness

Recognizing one’s own strengths and weaknesses is one of the most important qualities of emotional intelligence, as it speaks for a healthy self-esteem and the ability to properly assess oneself and your impact on others.
To determine this skill, it’s recommended to ask questions about a difficult professional situation in the past, or give an example of your own and ask for similar experiences in the candidate’s life. How did they behave in the situation? What do they think was the heart of the problem? It tells you whether candidates reflect on themselves and their own role and that of other stakeholders, and act accordingly, or whether they seek to blame others while defending their own position.

  1. Social Skill

Social skills are the ability to empathize and intuitively capture undercurrents or conflicts within the team or in customer communication.
When it comes to empathy and organizational awareness, ask questions about dynamics in the candidate’s former team or their interaction with “difficult” colleagues. Are they able to perceive unspoken conflicts? How quickly can candidates step out of their own perspective and grasp what’s going on for others? Are they trying to find a solution by working together or are they stuck to their own perspective? Their answers give good insights into your candidate’s team and communication skills.

  1. Self Management

How well can your own emotions not only be recognized but also controlled? Emotionally intelligent people act efficiently, with integrity and dependability, even when in a bad mood or under stress, or they communicate their current state well to those around them.
Again, questions about real life examples from the past are your best strategy. Have candidates ever had to deal with emotionally difficult and delicate situations? Have they managed to continue working effectively? Which strategies did they find useful? Even dealing with complex tasks or a large workload says a lot about the ability to self-manage. How do they deal with a long to-do list? Are they overpowered by the sheer amount of work or do they start prioritizing and work through their list step by step?

  1. Relationship Management

These skills include clear communication, good conflict management and quickly establishing healthy relations.
Openly meeting new people and establishing good relationships with them is an important success factor for employees and, above all, executives. How do candidates behave in new environments that are alien to them? Are they looking to make contact quickly or do they prefer to observe? Which qualities do they particularly value in their professional as well as personal life? Are they okay asking colleagues for help instead of drowning in a sea of pride and stress? Keep asking for specific examples, referring to their CV. It makes it easier to recognize if an answer is authentic and helps you assess the emotional intelligence of your candidate pretty quickly.

Marmind Top Tips: Interviewing for Emotional Intelligence
Ask for personal examples – experiences from the candidate’s earlier positions are usually more meaningful and authentic.
Encourage by opening up yourself – being open about your own career makes it easier for candidates to relax and be “themselves”.
Pay attention to details – off-hand remarks or judgements based on past experiences are often the key to the candidate’s true personality. Listen well and ask more.

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