12 Emotional Intelligence Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

Hiring manager conducting an interview at his desk while taking notes

When interviewing candidates to hire, employers always ask regular interview questions, like their strengths and weaknesses or why they want to work for the company. However, candidates are used to hearing these questions in every interview that they attend. You end up getting cliche answers that don’t tell you much about the candidate at all. As an interviewer, you want to discover how the candidate thinks and whether their actions and reactions will align with the role’s expectations. To do this, you must ask emotional intelligence interview questions.

Emotional intelligence can show how well the candidate will excel at social interaction working in teams and how motivated they will be once hired. Ultimately, emotional intelligence could be the most important factor when hiring a candidate that will last. So, how do you weed out the wrong candidates and find those who are emotionally intelligent? Let’s discuss. 

What is Emotional Intelligence?

In the last few years, emotional intelligence has gained much attention. Emotional intelligence was first talked about in 1995 in a book by Daniel Goleman. Emotional intelligence is an overarching term used to describe how much a person excels at:

  1. Self-awareness: A reflective understanding of how we feel and why we feel that way
  2. Motivation: Our personal commitment to self-improvement and achievement
  3. Empathy: Our ability to discern and internalize how other people feel
  4. Self-regulation: Our ability to manage our thoughts, feelings and actions to achieve the desired outcome
  5. Social skills: The skills required to connect, interact, and work with others

Together, these concepts summarize how well a person is able to recognize and control their own emotions, react to the emotions of others, and use this intelligence to inform their interactions with other people.  

Why is Emotional Intelligence Important for Hiring?

You hire people based on their experience and education or their intelligence. But, even if you aren’t aware of it, you’re hiring people based on their emotional intelligence. When emotionally intelligent people interact well with others, are comfortable working in a team environment, and can understand others. Those with high emotional intelligence are better employees and work well with customers.

This is especially important for industries that work in a social setting. Whether it’s customer service or sales, you need emotionally intelligent people. They can de-escalate customers who are upset, relate to those who are frustrated, and come up with an answer that will appeal to these customers. And for sales, those with high emotional intelligence will close deals quicker without pushy sales tactics. 

But even for those industries that work away from customers, emotional intelligence is still vital for hiring. For those in marketing, for example, they may not interact with customers but must understand them. Those in IT may not work with customers, but they will work with other team members. A team of people who get along and work together will benefit your company in the long run.

Related: Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

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How is Emotional Intelligence Measured?

Emotional intelligence is often self-reported, and you can usually tell whether someone is emotionally intelligent or not based on the answers to the questions we’ll discuss below. However, there is also an emotional intelligence test called the Bar-On EQ-i. This test has over 100 questions that each person answers to assess how emotionally intelligent they are.

Emotional Intelligence Interview Questions

Though you probably won’t give every candidate a 100+ question test on emotional intelligence, you should look out for it when hiring someone new. Thankfully, there are emotional intelligence interview questions you can ask to get you out of your interview rut and hear new answers that let you see which candidates are best for your company.

1. What makes you angry at work?

Everyone gets annoyed about some things while working on the job. So, asking candidates what makes them angry is a great indicator of whether they’ll fit in your current work environment. Maybe they hate when people don’t set hard deadlines, and your company is pretty laid back. That will show you that this candidate probably isn’t compatible with the rest of your team. Those with high emotional intelligence will tell you what frustrates them, but they’ll also go above and beyond that answer to show how they accept these minor frustrations with sensitivity. 

2. What has been the proudest moment in your career?

This question shows you something good that the candidate has done, and how they phrase their answer will tell you a lot about their emotional intelligence. Those with high emotional intelligence often tell you of a moment when their team (themselves included) succeeded. Those with lower levels of emotional intelligence will focus on themselves, going away from “we” and more towards “I.” And while there’s nothing wrong with focusing on yourself in an interview, know that this answer shows less emotional intelligence.

3. Are you close with your coworkers at your current position?

It may not seem like it matters much if a candidate is close with their current coworkers, but it says a lot about their emotional intelligence. It may show that they can’t form strong relationships if they aren’t close with their coworkers. The best candidates will be close with their coworkers. If they choose to say something negative about their coworkers instead, this shows low emotional intelligence. 

4. Who inspires you as a person?

This question may seem surface-level, but it can also tell a lot about a candidate. If they need help thinking of someone, they may not be the best person to work in a team environment. Otherwise, hearing their answers is a fun way to find out who they’re inspired by and why these people inspire them. It can show you much about their character and what they value most.

5. When did you have to adapt to your work environment?

Not only does this question use some good critical thinking skills, but it’s more than just a one-liner. The candidate will have to describe the situation at work that made them adapt and give up their views for the overall picture of the team. This could be as simple as realizing they needed to treat the shy coworker with more understanding and less of their boisterous personality. Emotional intelligence is understanding others’ feelings and viewpoints, often leading to adapting based on them. Those who haven’t adapted may not have the highest emotional intelligence.

6. Have you ever hurt someone because of your mistakes? How did you recover from that?

Though these questions are a bit heavy-hitting, they can show a lot about a person’s emotional intelligence. We all make mistakes, which means most of us have negatively impacted someone’s life because of our choices. Being able to reflect and learn from your mistakes makes someone emotionally intelligent. Sometimes, we hurt people by accident and other times on purpose, but either experience validates this question.

7. When did you have a positive impact on someone?

A more uplifting question to ask is when an individual had a positive impact on someone else. This answer will be the easiest for those who are very emotionally intelligent. They’ll have plenty of experiences where they’ve positively impacted someone else. If this question stumps your candidate, it’s probably pretty clear to see that they don’t have the highest emotional intelligence. 

8. What is your greatest strength, and how did you use it to your advantage?

This question is frequently asked in interviews, and it’s one of the best for showing emotional intelligence. Being self-aware is essential, and choosing a strength of theirs to talk about is an excellent way to see their character. It reveals what they perceive as necessary in their life and lets you decide whether this attribute would apply to your team. Going slightly beyond the cliche question and asking how they used their strengths to their advantage is a great way to see whether they talk about themselves or their team. If they brag about themselves only and how they fixed the problem, it could be a sign of low emotional intelligence. Highly emotionally intelligent people will often talk about how they used their strength to their advantage and helped their team.

9. How would you handle a coworker who wasn’t doing their job?

Even if you aren’t hiring for a management position, this is a great question to assess an employee’s emotional intelligence. This will show you how they react to conflict and what they do to handle it before it becomes a problem.

10. Have you argued with a coworker? How did you resolve it?

Conflicts happen, and so do arguments with coworkers. While this is a negative question that the candidate may want to talk only a little bit about, it can teach you a lot about the person. They might have conflicted with a coworker if they were highly emotionally intelligent. How they resolve it will show their empathy and conflict resolution.

These questions can help you assess a candidate’s emotional intelligence but are still interview questions. Ultimately, get a good idea of each candidate and choose the best person for the job.

11. How do you recover after a failure?

While failure isn’t something most of us enjoy, it’s an experience we all deal with and one necessary for growth. Asking a candidate about failure will allow you to see their perspective on it, like whether they have an emotional response after not achieving their goals or if they can separate their emotions and come away from defeat with practical takeaways. 

When asking candidates this emotional intelligence interview question about failure, look for a response demonstrating an action-oriented mindset. This indicates a person who won’t waste time wallowing after a failure but instead will establish the next steps and move ahead armed with new information. 

12. How do you deal with difficult people?

Difficult people are seemingly everywhere, from the customer who can’t be reasoned with to the vendor who refuses to acknowledge a costly mistake. Dealing with these individuals is rarely a matter of following a playbook; instead, it requires the emotional intelligence to understand the other person’s mindset and use it to find common ground to move the situation forward. 

A candidate should be able to describe a time when they’ve successfully navigated an interaction with a challenging personality, explaining their thought process, rationalizing their judgment call, and sharing the tools they used to turn a negative conversation in a positive direction. 

Related: Best & Worst Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

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Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn