Does Emotional Intelligence Matter When Hiring?

October 24, 2016 Pete Jansons

A resume tells a great deal about a candidate’s qualifications and background, but it fails to reveal much about emotional intelligence (EI). To find applicants skilled in this area, a small business leader must dig deeper.

What makes such effort worth a small business leader’s valuable time? In a workplace where staff members rely greatly on one another, oftentimes must do more with less, and need to be ready to take on unforeseen challenges, emotionally intelligent employees can be a godsend. The qualities they bring to the table include:

  • Emotional control – they remain calm under pressure, help others focus on results rather than drama, and think before they act.
  • Ability to pick up on the cues of others – they notice when a colleague needs help or could use a break.
  • Savviness at managing relationships – they work well with others and resolve conflicts effectively.
  • Self-motivation – they do not need constant supervision to remain on task and pursue excellence.
  • Self-awareness – they have a good handle on their strengths and weakness and know when to ask for help.


If you think these attributes sound beneficial to a small business, you’re not alone. In fact, 71 percent of hiring managers in a CareerBuilder survey said they value emotional intelligence in an employee more than IQ. The challenge becomes how to judge an applicant’s EI level. Here are some helpful strategies:

Ask appropriate interview questions

Though you should be searching for insight about emotional intelligence throughout the interview, asking a few pointed questions can be useful. For instance, “How would you go about informing a co-worker about an error she made?” provides clues on the applicant’s tact and consideration of others’ feelings. A thoughtful response when asked to “tell me about a mistake you made during your career and what you learned from it” demonstrates self-awareness and motivation to improve.

Set up a scenario

Practical applications give candidates a chance to demonstrate their skills and thought processes and you the opportunity to look for evidence of emotional intelligence. You might present a real-life situation, such as a client moving a deadline up a day, and ask the candidate to take you through how she would handle the request. Look for evidence of thinking the situation through, calmly reorganizing priorities, and dealing with reactions from colleagues.

A similar evaluation exercise is asking a prospective hire to teach you something new, as if you’d never heard of it before. Is he or she patient and willing to restate information in different ways? Does the candidate ask empathetic questions along the way (e.g. “Does this make sense?” or “Am I going too fast?”). Can he or she judge your understanding based on facial cues and body language?

Seek employee referrals

Is your small business fortunate to already have emotionally intelligent people on staff? Pick their brains for people in their network who might make good additions to your team. When describing the type of candidates you seek, put as much emphasis on emotional intelligence as on hard skills. Your emotionally intelligent workers will pick up on your comments and do what they can to help you discover a great new hire.

Want more advice and resources for building your small business? Learn about the essential elements of a standout recruitment strategy


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