How & Why to Hire for EI

Has your organization ever hired the wrong employee? Perhaps you hired someone who couldn’t get along with their coworkers, handle stress, respond to constructive criticism, positively influence others, or manage their emotions. Maybe you employed a person who was negative, frequently complained, or constantly blamed others for their mistakes.

The costs of hiring someone who lacks emotional intelligence competence are high, as you may have learned. You must spend valuable time and resources on emotional intelligence coaching, training, performance counseling, and other strategies to motivate behavior change. Eventually, you might need to terminate the individual and re-hire. Collaboration, teamwork, interpersonal relationships, and your culture can also suffer.

In an effort to avoid hiring a poor fit, more companies are evaluating emotional intelligence in the hiring process. Emotional intelligence refers to how well an individual manages his or her emotions and their impact on others. Emotionally intelligent people can effectively read cues and modify their attitudes and behavior to build good relationships, work effectively with their teammates, and influence others positively.

Reasons to Hire Based on Emotional Intelligence

Most organizations want to hire top performing employees, managers, and leaders. Emotionally intelligent people tend to be high performers, so by evaluating emotional intelligence in the hiring process, you increase the likelihood of landing top talent.

Adele B. Lynn, author of The EQ Interview: Finding Employees with High Emotional Intelligence, says that emotional intelligence can account for between “24% to 69% of performance success, “depending on the position and how much work is accomplished among and through others in the article “Hiring for Emotional Intelligence”, published on the Harvard Business Review Blog.

In addition, emotionally intelligent people typically exhibit the following behaviors which are more likely to facilitate individual, team, and organizational success:

• Remain calm and graceful under pressure or stress

• Admit to and learn from their mistakes or failures

• Keep their emotions under control

• Maintain positivity and optimism

• Demonstrate adaptability to change

• Display solid interpersonal and influence skills

• Handle criticism and constructive feedback well

• Build strong networks and relationships in organizations

The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence cites a number of studies in which employees who were rated higher on emotional competencies (i.e. influence, self-awareness, self-confidence, and empathy) significantly outperformed employees who were rated lower on emotional competencies. Research has not only linked emotional intelligence to higher performance, but also promotability, likeability, and professional success.

Three Ways to Evaluate Emotional Intelligence

A candidate’s emotional intelligence can be evaluated through references, formal assessments, and interviewing during the hiring process. These hiring methods provide insights about an individual’s natural emotional behavioral patterns.

1. Personal and professional references can shed light on a candidate’s emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. Consider asking references questions regarding how the candidate worked with others and perceptions of their attitude.

2. Validated assessments that measure emotional intelligence or interpersonal style characteristics can reliably predict a candidate’s emotional intelligence. Assessments can measure just emotional intelligence or a combination of attributes.

3. Behavioral-based interview questions evaluate how candidates handled interpersonal situations, mistakes, or conflicts in the past, how self-aware and honest they are about their limitations and weaknesses, and how they collaborate and work with others.

Below are a few examples of common behavioral interview questions which measure aspects of emotional intelligence:

• Describe the most stressful situation you’ve encountered at work and how you handled it.

• Tell me about a time when you made a mistake at work. What happened, and what did you learn from the experience? How would you do it differently next time?

• Explain a situation in which you needed to influence others in order to accomplish a task.

• Describe how you have built networks and relationships at work.

• Tell me about a time when you disagreed or had a conflict with someone on your team. How was it resolved?

Beyond these methods, you can also gauge emotional intelligence informally during the hiring process by observing how the candidate creates rapport, engages in conversation, uses body language, and articulates their thoughts orally.


Choosing to evaluate emotional intelligence in your hiring process may be the difference between landing the right or wrong hire. Be sure to do your due diligence to assess a candidate’s emotional competence before you offer them the job to avoid potential costly consequences later.

May your work prosper for the good of all,

Kim Langley, M.Ed.

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