Emotional IntelligenceRecruitment

How to interview with emotional intelligence

Everyone is recruiting for Emotional Intelligence these days. It’s not surprising given some of the persuasive evidence that high emotional intelligence is a strong indicator of potential. Type EI or EQ into google, and you will find plenty of  research demonstrating why someone’s emotional abilities has an impact on their behaviour at work. Few would argue that an employee who can lead, work effectively with others, deal with change, take criticism, and stay positive in the face of adversity is not an asset to their company. Everyone wants an employee like that.


How can we measure emotional intelligence?

But how do we assess emotional intelligence? There are a few options out there. You can use online self assessments as part of your recruitment process, and many do. But the jury is out as to whether they do more than measure what candidates say they will do, rather than predict what they will do.

Emotional intelligence is more that just a state of mind. It is a set of competencies. To measure them you need to see those behaviours in practice. And that requires some very subtle and enhanced skills from your recruitment team.

Infact, in order to recruit candidates with high EI, you need an EI based hiring team – skilled in recognising not just what candidates know, but how they use that knowledge. They need to interview for emotional intelligence by using theirs.


Characteristics of an emotionally intelligent Hiring Manager/Recruiter

If you work in an HR or Recruitment team or you have hiring responsibility, it’s likely that you’ll already have strong inter-personal skills. Or, frankly, you’re in the wrong job. But, even if you are the most sought after interviewer in your organisation, a master of the open ended question and the perfectly timed probe, there’s always room for improvement. As Daniel Goleman said, ‘ if you can improve your tennis swing, then you can also strengthen your emotional skills.’

Let’s look at some of the ways we can improve our emotional intelligence in the hiring process.


Active Listening

We listen with our ears, but also with our eyes. To do this we have to be fully present. That means focusing on the here and now, not what we are going to ask next, or keeping an eye on our phone. It’s actually a difficult skill to master. It depends on a two-way, moment to moment process. As the active listener you have to respond to not just to what the candidate says, but also their non-verbal communication. You must also ensure that you are ‘seen’ to be listening and convey your interest – both via attentive body language and verbal encouragement. Those verbal signifiers might include:

  • Remembering: Get the candidate’s name right! Make sure you recall details (make notes), not just about events described, but attitudes and feelings  expressed.
  • Effective questioning: We overestimate the need to question, sometimes focusing in on details that aren’t really relevant. Use questions to clarify what’s being said, rather than from ‘a what happened next’ perspective. Let your candidate speak – don’t step on their answer. And don’t forget, silence is ok, learn to cope with it.
  • Reflecting: By paraphrasing or repeating what a candidate has said we can demonstrate, not only our attentiveness, but our understanding. It also gives the speaker the chance to reflect on what they have expressed.
  • Clarifying: ‘Can I just check that?’ ‘Am I right in thinking…?’ Don’t make assumptions. Ask open questions, that way you can ensure that what you have understood from the candidate is what they meant. It gives the speaker the opportunity to expand on certain points as necessary.
  • Summarising: Taking the main points of the received message and reiterating them in a logical and clear way, giving the speaker a chance to correct if necessary.


Know Yourself.

No matter how self aware we are, we all bring psychological baggage with us into the interview room. We are making judgements all the time, based on a heady mixture of fact, feelings, connections, and bias. It isn’t realistic to think we can eradicate  all the factors that influence our judgement, but the more we’re aware of them, the more consciously we can separate the rational from the irrational. The deeper our understanding of our own motivations and behaviours the more likely we are to see how it impacts on our actions and decisions. Often it is our deeply held beliefs and assumptions about life and people, that prevent us from really listening. An inability to actively listen is the root of much conflict, lack of engagement, bad decision making and loss of talent.


So, what practices can we use to help us engage in a more self aware way with candidates?
  • Less Judgement: Sounds contradictory when the purpose of an interview is to decide which candidate is best for the role. But the more we seek to understand rather than judge, the more able we’ll be to collect better evidence to support an informed judgement at the end of the process.
  • Seek Feedback: Make yourself open to feedback on how other people experience you, both positive and negative. It doesn’t need to be formal. Record interviews – either role plays or the real thing (with permission). There is nothing like watching yourself to increase awareness of how we come across and our body language.
  • Identify feelings: Emotional awareness is the ability to recognize emotions you experience, understand the feelings associated with the emotion, and understand what you think and do as a result. Make a point of locating how you are feeling about a candidate at various points in the interview. The ability to identify an emotion gives us significant power in overcoming strong feelings thereby reducing the impact of emotional bias on our decision making.
  • Be reflective, daily: You don’t have to practice mindfulness to be able to reflect (although it’s useful). Taking the time to review events of the day give you the chance to apply some time and distance to your thoughts. In particular, think about times when you have felt defensive or angry in your dealings with people. Noticing the way we feel can help us manage our emotions  before they hijack us.
  • Feet – Seat-Breath: In any situation when you are engaging with another person this simple technique will help focus you. Consciously place your feet on the floor, where you’re sitting, becoming aware, from your feet up, of your body, posture and frame. Take one deep breath;  following its flow, in and out. Doing so brings you into the moment, sharpening your concentration and ability to communicate. Check out Mary Gelina’s TedTalk for how effective this technique is for aiding communication


How we interview matters

It can be a struggle to assess for emotional intelligence, or anything else if we have neither the tools or the training. The ability to interview well is critical to the recruitment process and a fundamental ingredient of accessing top talent. Yet, so often, there is little training or development in this skill.

Competency, or behavioural based interviewing remains one of the most effective ways of assessing candidates suitability for a specific role. Past behaviour – and the ability to reflect and learn from it, is a good predictor of a candidate’s future performance.  Rather than simply taking a candidate’s word for it that they have the skills and capabilities required for the role, this method of interviewing allows them to prove their worth. It’s a methodology that can be taught and developed. It reduces the possibility of bias and making poor decisions based on ‘similar to me’ effects or stereotypes. Results are more easily analysed and verified.

Using this technique, working on your own emotional intelligence and developing your skills will improve your results as a recruiter. It may also improve your life.