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How to spot emotional intelligence in candidates

Emotional intelligence is a critical soft skill in high demand by recruiters, but what does this look like in prospective job candidates?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to differentiate between a variety of feelings and having the capability to label them appropriately.

High emotional intelligence allows colleagues to connect with one another in a meaningful and authentic way.

While the resume may offer you little clues, the interview will be the prime arena to assess a candidate’s level of emotional intelligence.

There are several cues you can look for during the interview.

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'What is your greatest weakness?' is by far one of the most popular interview questions. A candidate with high emotional intelligence will not try to manipulate this question into a strength.

Examples of manipulation include: “I work too hard and forget to take time for myself” or, “I’m a perfectionist to a fault.”

Someone who is emotionally intelligent will respond with a genuine weakness and give examples as to how they are improving. For example, they might say: “I tend to take feedback and criticism personally, but I have been working to extract the constructive elements of feedback and apply them when improving my skills.”

Try asking candidates about a time when they have been criticised at work, how they responded, and what they learnt.

If they respond with generic answers that don’t reveal much like: “I had a conflict with my manager, but we sat down and resolved it,” it can be a sign that they lack emotional intelligence. Another red flag is if they are quick to criticise others without reflecting on their own behaviour.


Reflective body language

It’s completely normal for candidates to be nervous during a job interview – it is a natural part of experiencing such a loaded interaction. However, you will want to see what your candidate says with their body language.

Positive things to look for are a relaxed yet confident posture, a firm handshake and consistent eye contact. Someone with high emotional intelligence will have a good awareness of their own body language.


Thoughtful questions

Nearly every job interview offers space at the end for the applicant to ask questions. Candidates who choose not to ask a question may appear disinterested. However, a candidate who comes prepared with thoughtful questions is clearly someone with high emotional intelligence.

Such questions to keep an eye out for include: 'What do you think is the biggest challenge someone will face in this role?' or 'what do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of this job?'

You’re looking for questions that are not focused on the self (the candidate), but rather demonstrate an awareness of others.

Note, there is nothing wrong with asking questions pertaining to the specific role or prospective job outlook, but at least one question should be targeted toward the interviewer and his or her unique experience.

Overall, you’re really looking for a candidate who has a sharp self-awareness, is growth-minded, and thoughtful. By hiring more candidates with high emotional intelligence, you will strengthen the bedrock of your organisation and position the business well for the future.


Salman Raza is founder and CEO of training and development consultancy Razalution Bureau