Just about every firm uses resumes and interviews to screen potential new hires, but just about every firm also realizes these tools have some pretty serious limitations. Professional help can make mediocrity appear like career gold on a CV, and interviewing is a coachable skill. Gut instincts are not as reliable as we wish they were.

The result: something like half of new hires fail within 18 months, costing companies boatloads of wasted time and money.

There has to be a better way. Is it EQ tests, asks a recent, in-depth Knowledge@Wharton article? More and more firms are screening for emotional skills, the article reports, with almost 20 percent of companies now using the technique.

The theory behind the idea is sound. Personality trumps skills in hiring for most roles, studies have found, and those with high EQ are more likely to evolve into leaders. "They take initiative, and their peers notice them and view them as someone whom they can follow and trust," notes Jeremy Yip, a lecturer at Wharton. An increased interest in cultural fit is also pushing companies to take a harder look at candidates' soft skills

Do EQ Tests Actually Work?

But the importance of EQ is only one factor in the decision of whether to incorporate EQ tests into hiring decisions. It's also important to know if the tests actually work. That depends on which test you use, according to the article, which claims "the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test, known as the MSCEIT, is one of the best-regarded assessments." On the other hand, Myers-Briggs, while popular, is said to be "notoriously unreliable."

Another concern is how easily the tests can be gamed by wily candidates. Fears that candidates will simply offer the answers they expect the company wants to hear discourage some firms from administering the tests. Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0. says many companies therefore opt for behavioural interviews instead. "The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior," he claims.

The Bottom Line

With these concerns in mind, what conclusion does the article come to? In essence, that EQ tests are a nice supplement to traditional evaluation techniques to consider but not a replacement for them.

"EQ tests are not a substitute for interviews," says the piece, but it goes on to say that they can be "useful in helping companies round out a candidate's profile--particularly when there is little else to go on," such as when hiring recent grads without much work experience. In addition, "they add structure to the hiring process and make it more systematic. They also provide a justification for hiring decisions."

Have you had any success with using EQ test for hiring?