What matters more, IQ or emotional intelligence? And can we effectively measure them during an interview? Is it a realistic idea, to assess someone’s emotional intelligence with some test, or with a set of targeted questions that inquire about their reaction to certain situations?

Answers to these questions aren’t straightforward, to say the least. But one thing is certain: high emotional intelligence is an advantage in today’s workplace. And so employers try to figure things out while talking to you in an interview. Whether they arrive to the right conclusions is questionable. But they will at least try…

In this article we will look at some questions (and other means) employers use to estimate the level of emotional intelligence of job applicants. Enjoy!


Emotional Intelligence Test – A strategy that can easily backfire

Many companies rely on tests. They believe that emotional intelligence can be measured just like IQ, and they will let you complete a test (typically consisting of 30 to 120 simple questions) in your interview.

Speaking honestly, I would not advocate for this approach. IQ can be effectively measured with the help of the test, and I used such tests in many interviews. But emotional intelligence?

In fact, anyone with high IQ will know how to answer the questions in EI test to score good results. Let me show you an example, with a few typical questions from EI test.

EI test example

  1. I generally: A: try to inspire confidence in others; B: rely on others confidence.
  2. Generally, I: A: pursue goals beyond what is required or expected; B: pursue goals only as far as is required of me.
  3. The vision and mission are always: A: given to staff so they know where we are going; B: used to inspire groups and individuals.
  4. I always seek out relationships that A: are mutually beneficial; B: will help me achieve my end goal.

(* The questions were taken from the test from here: https://globalleadershipfoundation.com/geit/eitest.html).

Certainly, anyone with IQ 110 and above knows that A,A,B,A are the answers that will help them score better result in a test.

You can tell applicants to be honest, to not over-analyze the questions, but at the end of the day it’s a job interview and they are trying to succeed. So they will pick the answers they consider right, and not the answers that best describe the way they are in their daily life…

This can result in many false positives. Following the outcome of a test you may think you are hiring someone empathic who will empower their colleagues and bring harmony and understanding to the workplace, and end up with the complete opposite. 

If you are an employer, use these tests with caution (perhaps as a complimentary tool to verify your observations). And if you are a job seeker, I’ve just told you how to succeed in this test :)…

Special Tip: Check also other soft skills interview questions.

candidate is working on a written exam in an interview

Behavioral questions to test emotional intelligence of job applicants

Longer, scenario based questions, will typically provide a better idea of someone’s EI. Let’s have a look at some of them:

  • Tell us about the latest time you had a conflict with someone in work. Listen to their explanation. Do they rely only on facts, or do they talk also about the perspective of other conflict party, the emotions they experienced? Can they admit making a mistake and being wrong? Did they ensure that the conflict would not have a negative impact on the atmosphere in the workplace in the days and weeks that followed the conflict?
  • Talk about a situation when you had to deal with an angry client. An emotionally intelligent person will try to understand the emotions of the client. Instead of blankly trying to calm them down (or shouting on them, accepting their invitation to an argument), they will stay calm, show empathy, and won’t let the client to make them angry or offensive.
  • Describe the last goal you set for yourself in work. Listen whether they talk about goals employers set for them, or goals they set, from their own initiative, understanding the demands and the opportunities, goals that actually corresponded with the situation in the company and in their team. Did they take the initiative, or did they simply waited for others to tell them what they should do?
  • Can you describe your last boss? Observe whether they focus on positives or negatives. Do they talk about a bigger picture? Do they mention emotions and attitudes they experienced in the relationship with their last boss, or just some physical and performance-based characteristics (older, efficient, strict, very experienced, etc)?


Other ways of assessing someone’s emotional intelligence

Tests and questions are fine. But when you have a high emotional intelligence as an interviewer, you may not even need them. You can just use them just to verify your observations. Just think about it for the moment. You can observe a lot of things while talking to a candidate:

Do they look you in the eyes? Are they attentive to your questions and to things that happen in the office? Do they talk to the point? Do they remain calm when you put them under pressure with some tough questions? Do they try to connect with you on a rather personal level?

Your observations can help you a lot to assess someone’s level of emotional intelligence.


Group interview as an excellent way of measuring EI

When you really want to test emotional intelligence of job applicants, I suggest you to conduct group interview.

Invite all promising candidates, and split them to teams of four or five people. You can actually ask few of your HR employees to also join the interview, pretending to also apply for the job. Each will join one of the teams.

Once they are divided to groups, assign some task to each team. It can be solving some difficult problem, preparing a sales presentation, or even finishing the puzzle in the shortest possible time. Let them work and watch.

Who is leading the team? Who is trying to take the initiative? Do people cooperate together, and is there some harmony in the team, or does everyone try to impress and stand out?

When you purposely involve some of your HR colleagues in each team, you can even take things one step further and ask them to start a conflict, or an argument (you agreed about this upfront, and in fact that’s their role in the interviewing process). Then you can observe how other people react, how they try to solve the conflict, if they turn offensive (defensive), or try to understand the emotions of other conflict party, and so on.

Group interview is an underrated interviewing strategy. If you plan and execute a group interview properly, it can tell you a lot about each job candidate, not only in terms of their emotional intelligence…

a scene from a group interview, all applicants are very young

Be aware of possible misinterpretations

At the end of the day, job interview is stressful for most people. If they care, if they want to succeed, they will feel some anxiety. They will try to impress you, and may act strange in certain situations.

This is completely natural and human, but it can lead to some misinterpretations on your side.

For this reason it is important to not rely on a single question, or interviewing method, to assess someone’s soft skills or attitude to certain situations and things.

Try to combine more interviewing techniques, and do not hesitate to organize several rounds of interviews. Once you test their soft skills with some questions, group interview, test, and observe their reactions over several rounds of interviews, you will minimize the probability of misinterpretation and wrong hire.


Conclusion and next steps

Emotional intelligence is something that can’t be measured easily in the interviews. Intelligent people (with high IQ) know how to pretend, and can easily pick the right answers in the EI test.

That’s why it is crucial to put them under some pressure, and ask them to talk about situations from their past jobs (behavioral interview questions).

Organizing a group interview and letting candidates cooperate on certain tasks is often your best bet to realistically measure their emotional intelligence, and to understand whether they would fit into the existing team in the workplace

At the end of the day, you should not over-complicate things and rely solely on emotional intelligence of a candidate (or your judgement of it). Other things are also important, and something like a perfect job applicant doesn’t exist. Each of us has some strengths and weaknesses. Do not forget on it while conducting your interviews…

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Matthew Chulaw
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