Organizations looking for an edge in hiring high performers with emotional intelligence should take note of a recent report called "Emotional Intelligence at Work," published by OfficeTeam, a leading staffing company.

The findings came from a survey they conducted with more than 600 HR managers and over 800 office workers, further adding proof that emotional intelligence (EQ) is critically important in work settings where professionals interact with a wide range of people.

Before we get into the hiring and interviewing piece, here's a snapshot of the overall study's findings:

  • Nearly all of the more than 600 human resources managers (95 percent) and 800 workers (99 percent) surveyed said they think it's important for employees to have emotional intelligence.
  • More than one in five employees (21 percent) believe EQ is more valuable in the workplace than IQ. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) said the two are equally important.
  • Most workers (92 percent) think they have strong emotional intelligence; slightly fewer (74 percent) believe their bosses do.
  • Three in 10 HR managers (30 percent) feel most employers put too little emphasis on emotional intelligence during the hiring process.
  • HR managers identified increased motivation and morale (43 percent) as the greatest benefit of having emotionally intelligent staff.
  • Eighty-six percent of workers said when a colleague doesn't control his or her emotions, it affects their perception of that person's level of professionalism.

Hiring for Emotional Intelligence

Thirty percent of HR managers in this study said they feel like most employers don't put enough emphasis on EQ during the hiring process.

"When organizations take EQ into consideration when hiring and also help existing staff improve in this area, the result is more adaptable, collaborative and empathetic employees," said Brandi Britton, a district president for OfficeTeam.

In fact, employees with a high EQ, states the report, can more efficiently deal with workplace changes, challenging situations and difficult colleagues -- and they make
great leaders.

What to Look for In the Job Interview

If you're in a management or HR role, and you'd like to evaluate whether your potential new hires have the EQ you need for top performance, the study points to specific indicators that suggest a candidate might have a high EQ.

For example, the language applicants use to describe their goals and accomplishments often holds clues to their emotional intelligence. For example, pay careful attention to these clues during a personal interview:

  • If an applicant talks about a failure, does the comment suggest an awareness of some personal responsibility for the episode, or does he or she simply blame others?
  • When it comes to handling criticism, is the person able to acknowledge any shortcomings and keep things in perspective rather than becoming defensive and making excuses?
  • What about teamwork? Can candidates describe how they have confronted simmering issues and helped to solve them with a team, or are the answers slanted more individually? Similarly, when talking about successes, do they acknowledge the contributions of others, or take all the credit?
  • How does the applicant interact with you, the hiring manager? Does he or she engage in small talk, or steer clear of it?
  • Do candidates seem genuinely interested in the job and the people they'll be working with? Or do you sense indifference?
  • Do applicants communicate in terms that are easily understandable and show concessions to others, or do the answers suggest they may be tuned out emotionally and blind to needs and preferences that aren't their own?
  • What about their body language? Does it indicate they're listening attentively -- or distracted?

The report states, "If any answers tend toward the latter in any of these questions, it may be a red flag for a low emotional quotient."

Ask These 7 Interview Questions

The report stresses the importance of hiring managers being prepared to ask (and interviewees being prepared to answer) the following types of questions to help determine capacity for emotional intelligence:

  • If you've previously reported to multiple supervisors at the same time, how did you get to know each person's preferences and juggle conflicting priorities?
  • Tell me about a workplace conflict you were involved in, either with your peers or someone else in the company. How did you manage that conflict, and were you able to resolve it?
  • Describe the most challenging supervisor you've ever worked with. What was the most difficult thing about that relationship from your perspective, and how did you manage it?
  • What would a previous boss say is the area that you need to work on most? Have you taken steps to improve in this area, and if so, what have you tried to change?
  • Tell me about a day when everything went wrong. How did you handle it?
  • What type of working environment brings out your best performance? Your worst?
  • If business priorities change, describe how you would help your team understand and carry out the shifted goals.

Reference Checking Is Key

Surprisingly, reference checks (70 percent) were cited by HR managers as the most common way companies gauge job applicants' EQ, followed by behavioral-based interview questions (55 percent). In practical terms, once the job candidate interview stage is over, the best approach is for hiring managers to ask professional references the same types of questions posed during the interview to get an even better reading on the candidate's EQ. Specifically, ask them to comment on how well the job candidate does the following:

  • Handles criticism
  • Resolves conflict
  • Listens to others
  • Motivates other team members

Finally, as the report states, this is a process that will require a substantial shift for organizations being introduced to the idea of an emotionally-intelligent driven work culture. That means expect a learning curve. As more organizations adopt and embed the approach to hire and grow employees with EQ, the upside over the long-term will ultimately result in better team members, better leaders, and better performance.