How Do You Test for "Emotional Intelligence"?
Pointed questions, intuition, and references are still the best ways to evaluate job candidates
Q: I am six months into a startup a public-relations consultancy. I want to
minimize hiring failures. How can a small service business hire for "emotional
A: You are probably referring to a psychological concept, popularized
recently in books on brain research, that seeks to broaden the definition of
intelligence beyond I.Q. into self-awareness, altruism, and
personal motivation. According to the theory, people with high "emotional intelligence
quotients" are successful and make the best employees because they are most able to
adapt to and flourish in any surroundings.
One way of identifying job candidates with the traits you desire is to ask applicants
to take standard personality or behavior-assessment tests. Employers can purchase tests
that screen for certain personality types or job suitability. Experts say that while most
such tests are based on solid research, it's hard to apply the results to real-world
hiring decisions. "Most lay people have a hard time using those things
effectively. They wind up giving quick-and-dirty personality tests that may
or may not tell them which candidates best fit into their company's corporate
culture," says John Musser, president of Enhanced Sales Potential, a San
Francisco-based consultancy that helps small businesses hire and develop sales and
While Musser does use a written "performance profile" to help assess
candidates' leadership abilities, he advises his clients to rely more on interviews than
on personality tests and not to discount their intuition. "How do you feel about this
person? Is this someone you would get along with?" he asks. Let potential workmates
interview a serious candidate or sit in on interviews, he recommends. Then take your
employees' input seriously. If they don't think they can get along with the person, he
or she may not be a good fit for your company.
Experts say interviews should be as in-depth and practical as possible. Ask your
candidates specific questions about difficult scenarios that the person who had the job
previously faced. Ask them to describe what they would do rather than how they would
feel and insist on detailed answers. Don't let them get away with vague
responses that don't really tell you anything. "How would you handle it if
you didn't get along with a co-manager?" or "What if a subordinate didn't
warm up to you after several months?" are the kinds of questions that put
some stress on a candidate and allow you to see how they react under pressure which
can be quite different from the way they answer when the questions are easy.
Try to elicit specifics about past jobs, including things they feel they didn't do
well before and how they would do them differently. Listen carefully. If someone describes
reactions or decisions that seem extreme or inappropriate, that should be a
red flag. Unsuitable candidates will often drop out voluntarily after a thorough
evaluation because they sense they won't measure up to your standards.
Always check references, and try to elicit as much information from previous
employers as possible. Additional resources can be found at the Web site of the Society
for Human Resource Management, www.shrm.org. The group, based in Alexandria, Va., holds
conferences, hosts discussion groups, and publishes several journals targeted at human
resources personnel. For more information on the concept of "emotional intelligence," and
how it fits into the workplace, look for Working With Emotional Intelligence, by
Daniel P. Goleman, published by Bantam Books.
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