7 Questions You Should Ask To Check A Candidate’s Emotional Intelligence

If you want to build an ‘emotionally intelligent’ organisation, it helps to hire emotionally intelligent people!


But determining the EQ level for any individual is complex. Unlike IQ, there is no definitive test to take, with a score that you can put on it at the end.

Certain tests are designed to measure emotional intelligence, like the TIE, MSCEIT, and the MEIS tests. But you probably won’t want to include these in an initial interview process.

It helps to know which questions to ask in interviews to uncover traits of emotional intelligence. This can be a useful first step when screening candidates and hiring the right ‘fit’ of person.

Developing an organisational culture that attracts candidates is hugely important. The right calibre of employee is therefore important not only in terms of professional ability but in their personality, attitude, and behaviour.

High emotional intelligence is regularly cited as a big indicator of workplace and interpersonal success. In fact, some sources identify it one of the most common reasons why new hires fail.

So the trick here is to elicit responses from your questions that point to high self-awareness, the ability to manage emotions in behaviour towards others, good social awareness, and relationship-building prowess.

These are four clear traits of people with high EQ – and you need to be smart with your questioning to assess them in others.
Many candidates are smart clever with their answers and have rehearsed responses to the most common questions (“Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?”).

These questions will help get to the bottom of things…

1. Who inspires you? Why?

What values does the candidate admire in others? What do they aspire to? This is very revealing as it is an indication of their own values, ambition, and motivations.

Is the candidate able to make positive connections with others and to recognise the best qualities in them?

Superstar actors, sports heroes, or pop singers are probably not ‘suitable’ answers unless they are backed up with observations about the person’s qualities – rather than simply their star status.

2. Can you tell me about something you failed at?

Emotionally intelligent people are resilient, positive, and don’t give up easy. They are also good at bouncing back from adversity and take responsibility for their actions because they are confident enough to know that people make mistakes.

So, asking a candidate this question helps to uncover how they will react when things don’t go quite as planned.
Could you rely on them in a crisis are they accountable for their actions? Or do they fall to pieces, get frustrated, and blame others?

3. In your last job, when you received negative feedback, how did it make you feel?

Emotionally intelligent people are comfortable with receiving feedback. They invite open and honest feedback and are confident enough in who they are to know that they are not perfect.

Negative criticism doesn’t leave such people feeling negative themselves. They handle it in their stride, are able to take the lesson on board, and move on.

What was the feedback and how did they process it? Did they have the depth of understanding to absorb the comments and actually benefit from the criticism?

In their answer, watch for people who are able to express their emotions clearly and confidently – even if they were initially upset by the feedback.

4. What can you teach me right now (it can be anything)?

This is where you crank the pressure up a little. The candidate probably won’t be expecting this question.
What you’re looking for here is calmness and coolness under pressure, with clear and confident communication.
It doesn’t actually matter what they teach you, of course; it matters how they respond. If they become agitated, nervous, or stressed, they may not be the candidate you’re looking for.

5. What would colleagues say is the best and worst things about working with you?

Candidates may be expecting this question – but in a different format.
Here you’re trying to gauge how they view themselves. What level of self-awareness do they have to be able to communicate their strengths and weaknesses?

Do they have the confidence to acknowledge their strongest personality traits and the humility to acknowledge their weakest ones? Emotionally intelligent people are comfortable talking about themselves like this because they have already reflected on their own qualities at length.

6. Do you keep in touch with ex-colleagues and friends from school?

The basic ‘translation’ of this question is: How good are you at building lasting relationships with people?
Emotionally intelligent people place a high value on relationships and seek to invest time in them. They would not present a series of negative reasons why they’ve failed to maintain contact with others they were previously close to.

7. Did you ever get angry at work? If the same situation cropped up here, what would you do?

Emotional intelligence is not about hiding emotions. It’s about recognising them and how they affect your behaviour – then mastering the control of that behaviour for better outcomes.

So with this question, it’s OK for the candidate to acknowledge anger in a past situation. What you’re really looking for is what they learnt from it and how they have developed since then.

This question will also provide good insight as to what the candidate thinks is acceptable behaviour in the workplace and whether they are prepared to accept different opinions and ways of working.

These seven are a great set of questions to ask if you’re looking to raise the level of EQ in your workplace by hiring emotionally intelligent candidates.

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