Lots of excellent business people out there are smart, but according to experts what really sets high performers apart from B-players generally isn't IQ. It's EQ.

"Most successful professionals thrive in their respective fields due to their EQ -- not IQ," argues my Inc.com colleague Steve Goldstein. "When you have the IQ to make good intellectual decisions and the EQ to build relationships with those around you, the sky is the limit," concurs strategy consultant Victor Cheng.

Given this truth, it makes sense to hire those with high emotional intelligence, but how do you gauge EQ in an interview? After all, there is no equivalent of an IQ test for social skills, and resumes don't have a section about being a sensitive, empathetic person.

Ex-Salesforce exec-turned-entrepreneur David Priemer thinks he's cracked this problem. On the MIT Sloan Management Review website recently he shared three questions he uses to suss out of the EQ of any job candidate.

1. How do you establish trust?

Priemer has a background in sales so this question was created specifically with salespeople in mind, but trust is just as important for functions from leadership to PR and marketing.

What should you listen for when you ask about trust? Giving a coherent answer requires a candidate to understand fundamental aspects of EQ, like listening, empathizing, and tailoring their behavior to the preferences of others.

"I was particularly impressed by a candidate who told me that although he goes into meetings with lists of questions to ask, he doesn't expect all of them will be answered," Priemer relates. Instead, "he stays attuned to what the other person wants to talk about and finds creative ways to get at the key insights he is seeking." 

2. If you worked for your top competitor, how would you beat yourself?

It's easy to imagine this curve ball flummoxing plenty of candidates, which is the point. Those with exceptional EQ know not only their strengths, but also their weaknesses. If someone can answer this smoothly you can bet they're fairly exceptional in the self-awareness department.

"I've found that this question gives candidates a chance to show their ability to put the good of the organization ahead of their own pride," Priemer adds.

3. Can you use a belief statement to explain the value of what we offer?

If you're not sure what exactly a "belief statement" is in this context, don't worry. Priemer links to a helpful explainer. Nor is it necessarily a red flag if a candidate isn't sure of how to express your mission in this way (though they should have done their research and be able to articulate it in more general terms).

"If your company has a purpose, a candidate who has prepared for the interview will likely know it. But asking them to recite a line they read somewhere on your corporate website won't tell you much," Priemer says. "That's why I ask people to use a belief statement that gets at the heart of what an organization or team offers. Use this as an opportunity to see how the candidate thinks through the concept. And, if you offer guidance, see how they react to being coached through it. (Curiosity and a willingness to learn are good signs of emotional intelligence)."

Do you have any more interview questions you'd add to this list?

Published on: Apr 3, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.