Interview Questions You Can Ask To Gauge A Candidate’s Emotional Intelligence

Hiring manager conducting an interview at his desk while taking notes

When interviewing candidates to hire, there are the regular interview questions that you ask, like what their strengths and weaknesses are. But, candidates are used to hearing these questions in every interview that they attend. As an interviewer, you end up getting cliche answers that don’t tell you much about the candidate at all. In addition, you should implement interview questions that address a candidate’s emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence can show you how well the candidate will excel at social interaction, working in teams, and how motivated they will be once hired. In the end, emotional intelligence could be the most important factor when it comes to hiring a candidate that will last. So, how do you weed out the bad candidates and find those who are emotionally intelligent? Let’s discuss. 

What is Emotional Intelligence?

In the last few years, emotional intelligence has gained a lot of attention. Emotional intelligence was first talked about in 1995 in a book¹ by Daniel Goldman. Emotional intelligence shows how much a person excels at self-awareness, motivation, empathy, self-regulation, and social skills. This includes recognizing their own emotions, controlling their emotions, recognizing others’ emotions, motivating themselves, and how to interact with other people using their emotions.

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 also hiring people based on their emotional intelligence. When someone is emotionally intelligent, they interact well with others, are comfortable working in a team environment, and can understand others. Those with high emotional intelligence are better employees overall, and they 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 people who are emotionally intelligent. 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 important for hiring. For those in marketing, for example, they may not interact with customers, but they have to understand them. For those in IT, they may not work with customers, but they will work with other team members. Having a team of people who get along and work together well will benefit your company in the long run.

Related: Hire Calling Episode 5: Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

How is Emotional Intelligence Measured?

Emotional intelligence is often something that is self-reported, and you can usually tell whether someone is emotionally intelligent or not based on the answers to the questions we’ll talk about below. However, there is also an emotional intelligence test² called the Bar-On EQ-i. This test has over 100 questions that each person answers to assess how emotionally intelligent they are.

Interview Questions That Assess Emotional Intelligence

Though you probably won’t be giving every candidate a 100+ question test on emotional intelligence, it’s still something you should look out for when hiring someone new. Thankfully, there are questions you can ask that will assess emotional intelligence, 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 as to whether they’ll fit in your current work environment. Maybe they hate when people don’t set hard deadlines and your company is fairly 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 small frustrations with sensitivity. 

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

Not only does this question show you something good that the candidate has done, but how they phrase their answer will tell you a lot about their emotional intelligence. For those with high emotional intelligence, they’ll 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 would matter much if a candidate is close with their current coworkers, but in reality, it says a lot about their emotional intelligence. If they aren’t close with their coworkers, it may show that they can’t form strong relationships. 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 might seem pretty surface level, but it can also tell you a lot about a candidate. If they have a hard time 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 they’re inspired by these people. It can show you a lot about their character and what they value most in life.

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 view of the team. This could be as simple as them realizing they needed to treat the shy coworker with more understanding and less of their boisterous personality. Having emotional intelligence is understanding others’ feelings and viewpoints, and oftentimes, that leads 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, and that means the majority of us have made a negative impact on someone’s life because of our choices. Being able to reflect and learn from your mistakes is what makes someone emotionally intelligent. Sometimes, we hurt people by accident, and other times on purpose, but either experience is valid for 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. For those who are very emotionally intelligent, this answer will be the easiest of them all. They’ll have plenty of experiences where they’ve had a positive impact on 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 actually one of the best ones out there for showing emotional intelligence. Being self-aware is important, and choosing a strength of theirs to talk about is a good way to see their character. It shows you what they perceive as important in their life, and it allows you to decide whether this attribute would be useful on your team. Going slightly beyond the cliche question and asking how they used the strength 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 emotional intelligent people will often talk about how they used the 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 ask 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 not want to talk too long about, it can teach you a lot about the person. If they are highly emotionally intelligent, chances are, they’ve had a conflict with a coworker. How they resolve it will show their empathy and conflict resolution.

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

Related: Best & Worst Interview Questions To Ask Candidates

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Resources and Sources:

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete is a seventh-generation Floridian whose career in technical recruiting began immediately following his graduation from Florida State University. After serving in leadership roles for two Fortune 500 companies, he founded 4 Corner Resources in 2005 to pursue a dream of building a business that prioritizes people over processes. In the years since, 4CR, the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida, has won numerous awards; most recently Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete and his team recently launched zengig, with the goal of offering the most comprehensive advice, tools, and resources for every career journey. He’s the host of two podcasts; Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology.