Want to Hire People Who are Emotionally Intelligent? Do These Five Things

25 April 2018 Karthik Balakrishnan


Hiring decisions are among the most important you can make at work, because the costs associated with a bad hire are astronomical. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) predicts that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, the costs associated are six to nine months of that individual’s salary.

These are just the hard costs. A poor hire can have a devastating effect on the morale and productivity of others. Selecting a “bad seed” can have a profoundly toxic impact upon your organization’s culture.

Mark Zuckerberg describes his hiring process as follows:

“I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work directly for that person.”

Zuckerberg’s comment illustrates a fundamental, yet overlooked, truth about hiring—people can’t perform their best unless they are working alongside someone they want to work with every day.

Great hiring managers pay special attention to not just what candidates say, but what candidates do—both inside and outside of the interview. This process, including the steps outlined below, can help ensure you select candidates who have high emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ is a critical skill that explains 58% of an individual’s job performance. It’s no wonder that 90% of top performers have high EQs. 

Don’t let your next hiring decision be one that you’ll regret. The strategies that follow will help ensure you make a great hire.

Learn to read body language

UCLA research has shown that only 7% of communication is based on the actual words we say. As for the rest, 38% comes from tone of voice and the remaining 55% comes from body language. Learning how to interpret body language gives you a leg up when you hire. Many tells, like raised eyebrows or a clenched jaw, reveal discomfort (even when words say otherwise), or what the candidate is really passionate about (i.e., mirrored body language and length of eye contact). These tells help you better understand whether your candidate is suited for the role. Learning to recognize candidates’ subtle mannerisms can give you an extra edge in evaluating who you should hire.

Spot evidence of high and low EQ behaviors.

 Once you learn to spot behaviors indicative of the four emotional intelligence skills: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management skills, you’re a big step ahead. For example, a candidate who repeats a question back to you to confirm he/she understood it correctly is demonstrating good relationship management. While that’s just one small behavior, piecing many together over the course of an interview paints a clear picture of who you should hire. If you have a number of candidates with the same level of technical skills, then these EQ skills are the deciding factor that will rule someone in and out.

Interview OUTSIDE of the interview. 

Pay special attention to how candidates behave before, during, and after the interview. How do they treat your staff? Seemingly small behaviors provide valuable information on how a candidate will fit in with your employees, as well as how they’ll treat your customers. 

Ask probing questions. 

Many interviewers have the same question bank they use for all candidate interviews—with some job-specific questions sprinkled in. You already have the candidate’s resume in front of you, and the interview is your opportunity to probe deeper and get beyond technical skills and background. Asking layers of probing questions will help you understand how the candidate adapts to change and challenges. The key to probing deeper during an interview is to go beyond candidates’ canned responses to your questions. When a candidate answers a question by providing an example or a story, ask them things like why they chose to do it that way and how they would do it differently next time. Their answers will show you how self-aware they are, how they influence others around them, and how they seek to improve over time.

Pool feedback. 

Recognize that your current employees are going to have to work with the new hire every single day, so ask them for feedback. You should glean information from everyone who had contact with the candidate throughout the hiring process. After all, you’re looking for someone who will complement the team holistically, rather than just filling a skills gap. Show your current employees that you value their opinions and happiness at work.

Bringing It All Together

Emotional intelligence is just one piece in the hiring puzzle, but it’s an important one. When you use it to nail the right hire, you minimize the risk of absorbing toxicity, poor performance, and turnover. Moreover, bringing in high-EQ individuals elevates the performance of existing employees and helps build the culture that you want for your company.