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SMART ANSWERS
By Karen E. Klein

11.11.99  
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 intelligence"?

—S.C., Toronto

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 management staff.

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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