How to Hire For Emotional Intelligence

2 Dec 2020

In recent discussions with a number of clients, we touched on the topic of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and the increasing importance this plays in roles of leadership. We agreed that the technical skills that often secure first promotions might not be enough to take you to the next level. It has been shown that EQ accounts for nearly ninety percent of what sets high performers apart from their peers with similar technical skills and knowledge.  Conversely, eighty percent of low performers have a low EQ.

The following short article considers the definition of EQ, what components are a predictor of performance, how to develop EQ and how to interview for these important traits.

What is EQ?

EQ is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as the ability to recognise and influence the emotions of those around you. The term was first coined in 1990 by researchers John Mayer and Peter Salovey and was later popularised by psychologist Daniel Goleman.

EQ has evolved into a must-have skill and is the strongest predictor of performance in managers. The four components include:

  1. Self-awareness: this is your ability to understand your strengths and weaknesses but also your emotions and the effect they have on your team’s performance.
  2. Self-management: to manage your emotions, particularly in stressful situations, and maintain a positive outlook.
  3. Social awareness: this is your ability to recognise others’ emotions and the dynamics in play within your team and the organisation.
  4. Relationship management: your ability to influence, coach, and mentor others, and resolve conflict effectively.

How to Develop EQ 

  • Turn self-deception into self-awareness: EQ is composed of two parts: identity, (how we see ourselves), and reputation, (how others see us). There is often a disparity between the two. Turning self-deception into self-awareness can only happen from data-based assessments and 360-degree feedback surveys.
  • Turn self-focus into other-focus: You need to develop an ‘other-centric approach’ by having frequent discussions with team members, understanding how to motivate and influence them. Such conversations should inspire ways to create opportunities for collaboration, teamwork, and external networking.
  • Be more rewarding to deal with: Be more cooperative, friendly, trusting and unselfish. Focus on becoming a stronger communicator in the workplace. People with high EQ tend to utilise specific words to help communicate deficiencies and then work to address them.
  • Control your temper: Do not have too much emotional transparency but reflect on which situations tend to trigger anger or frustration and recognise how to manage and control them.
  • Display humility: Come across as humble and strike a balance between assertiveness and modesty. If necessary, fake humility.
  • Manage adversity: We all encounter challenges in work. It is how you react which will help set you up for success. Have an optimistic approach to adversity.

How to Interview for EQ 

As senior leaders are promoted, their ability to productively relate to others and influence their organisations will be tested. Self-awareness, listening skills, empathy, influence and concern are all important EQ traits. So, how do you screen for these important characteristics?


  • Use personality tests as a proxy for EQ: These tests do not measure specific competencies of EQ such as self-awareness, positive outlook, empathy or inspirational leadership.
  • Use a self-report test: These do not work if the person is not self-aware.
  • Use a 360-degree feedback instrument: A tool like the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory should be used for development, not evaluation.


  • Get references and talk to them: Ask specific and pointed questions about how the candidate demonstrated various EQ competencies. Get lots of examples, with lots of detail. Specifically, ask for examples of how your candidate treats other people.
  • Interview for EQ: Use behavioural event interviewing to learn about people’s EQ competencies. Ask about a situation that included a difficult challenge which they had to solve. Ask the candidate to pick a situation where they were the protagonist and a situation which was successful. Ask very specific questions about what they thought, felt, and did throughout. Now ask for a story about an unsuccessful situation and what it felt like to fail. Get lots of detail.


EQ can evolve over time as long as you have the desire and motivation to develop it.

Stepping into a leadership role brings many challenges in both upward management but also in managing your team. Putting time aside to work on the softer issues of management may seem unimportant but it does go a long way to improving your connection with the stakeholders important to your position but also the company you represent.  Having a high level of EQ emotional intelligence will serve you well in the workplace and in all areas of your life.


Laundry, L. Harvard Business Review, 3 April 2019, Why Emotional Intelligence is important in leadership.

Cavallo, K. Corporate Consulting Group and Brienza, Johnson & Johnson, Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, 2001.

Stahl, A. 5 Ways To Develop Your Emotional Intelligence, May 29 2018.