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Hiring for Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is the most critical driver for excellence in performance, with its importance increasing correspondingly with level of seniority.

That is the opinion of psychologist and author Daniel Goleman, who introduced the term Emotional Intelligence to the mainstream in 1995 in his book named for the trait.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to monitor your own emotions and empathize with others. It consists of five components; Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Motivation, Empathy and Social Skills.*

These are valuable components that organisations are increasingly looking for in their leaders at all levels.

Just four years ago one of my clients, a global consulting firm, used psychometric testing to help assess EI in new hirings for Vice President-level and above. They have since increased the scope to include Assistant Vice President candidates due to their involvement in people management.

emotional intelligence definition

Many of the people management roles I have been hiring for recently place an emphasis on EI.

While not all clients directly use the term when discussing their desirable candidates for leadership positions, the traits and responsibilities they desire are typically found in people leaders with high EI.

I think it’s very important for leaders to understand their team, be able to view a situation from their employees’ perspective and overcome challenges together. This builds trust and helps forge stronger relationships within the team, making empathy and social skills high on the wish list when searching for a leader.

Conversely, a manager low in EI may not be able to handle change well and have poor relationships with their team members - not exactly conducive to a winning work culture and environment.


During the initial phase of the hiring process as I screen and interview candidates, I gain an understanding of a candidate’s level of EI.

How a candidate conducts themselves throughout the interview process reflects greatly on their EI, and behavioural questions are also revealing.

Behavioural questions are a standard part of our interview process at Kelly Executive, but for leadership roles the emphasis on questions that reflect upon EI, such as open-ended situational questions, is higher. For example:

“If your organisation was to go through a structural change, how would you help your team understand and remain focused?”

A candidate with higher EI would be more likely to respond with empathy for their team members and the difficulties they may face but would motivate them to adjust to the changes.

Asking how their past manager or co-workers would describe them can also give insight into their relationship building skills and self-awareness.

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Last year I was working with a long-term client who was hiring a Director and they had narrowed in on their preferred two candidates.

Both candidates were excellent and had strong responses displaying empathy and high social skills when queried on their people and relationship management skills. As the two were on fairly level pegging in that respect, I believed Candidate A may have the edge due to superior experience.

Following psychometric testing designed to assess EI however, Candidate B leaped ahead and was offered the role instead. The testing had revealed this candidate had the traits and attitude better suited to people and client management as desired by the client.

Pairing situational questions with psychometric testing will ensure you cover all bases to assess EI as accurately as possible in your hiring process.

EI ultimately decided which candidate was offered that role. Its significance cannot be underestimated.

If you have any thoughts on the subject, or you would like to know more about how you can incorporate assessment of Emotional Intelligence into your hiring process, please connect with me.


*HBR.org: What Makes a Leader  

Sweta Khandelwal headshot Kelly Executive 2017.jpg Author: Sweta Khandelwal is a Senior Consultant with Kelly Executive. 

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