How to spot emotional intelligence in the people you interview

‘Emotional intelligence’ is a phrase which has been bandied about a great deal over the last few years. But what is it? Why should you employ people with it? And, most importantly, how can you tell who has it?

We’re glad you asked; here is the GAGAGO guide to finding emotionally intelligent employees.

What is emotional intelligence, and why should I care about it?

Emotional Intelligence (often called EQ) is defined as the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of yourself and others.

It’s a strong predictor of professional success, often quoted as being twice as important as IQ.

No matter what industry you’re hiring in, it’s easy to see why it will always pay to have employees who are in touch with the emotions of themselves and others- they’ll be able to get more out of their colleagues/customers/clients, as well as themselves.

EQ is commonly split into these five traits:

Self-awareness the ability to understand your emotions, strengths, values and goals and their impact on others

Self-regulation the ability to control and where necessary, redirect your emotions and impulses, adapting to changing circumstances

Social skills – the ability to manage relationships

Empathy – the ability to understand and relate to the feelings of others

Motivational skills – the ability to push yourself towards a certain outcome or goal

While candidates’ behaviour and body language will allude to their social skills, without digging a little deeper, the four other EQ traits remain untested, which means you could be hiring employees who are lacking important skills.

How to identify emotional intelligence

There are lots of emotional intelligence psychometric-style tests out there. Their downfall is that these are often expensive (and so impractical for smaller businesses or those who aren’t hiring regularly) and/or are self-descriptive; i.e. candidates will be asked things like ‘how much do you enjoy interacting with others on a scale of 1-10’- meaning the test is open to bias (a candidate who wants to get the job isn’t going to score themselves as less than, say, a seven!)

Ask the right questions, but watch out for red flags

Asking insightful questions can be a good alternative to psychometric style tests and can help to draw out the aspects of emotional intelligence which may not be apparent from simply observing a candidate’s interview behaviour.

Below are some example questions. When assessing, compare candidates’ answers to the definitions of these different traits above- do the answers they give display these behaviours?

As well as asking specific questions to highlight EQ competencies, you need to keep an eye out for any red flags, which suggest an interviewee is lacking one of these traits. We’ve listed some common red flags under each of the five traits below:



Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses.

How would your colleagues or friends describe you? Would their perceptions be accurate?

How do you feel the interview has gone so far? Are there any questions you feel you’ve answered poorly?

RED FLAGS: Look out for any inconsistencies between how a candidate describes themselves and how they appear to you or to others. If a candidate portrays themselves as having fantastic persuasive skills, but talks about having problems bringing colleagues round to their way of thinking, or is struggling to convince you that they are the person for the job, they are probably lacking in the self-awareness department.



Tell me about the last time you got angry at work. What happened and how did you deal with it?

Can you tell me about a time when your mood affected your performance, either negatively or positively?

RED FLAGS: Speaking badly of former colleagues/bosses is a common interview faux pas and shows a lack of self-regulation- the candidate isn’t able to monitor their behaviour in front of you, a potential employer. Also keep an eye out for a candidate who alludes to letting their mood negatively affect their work, or appears visibly flustered by your trickier interview questions.

Social skills


Tell me about a time when you needed to influence someone. What did you do, and what was the outcome?

When you’ve started a new job in the past, how have you gone about building relationships with your new colleagues?

RED FLAGS: This is probably one of the easiest of the five EQ traits to identify; you can use the candidate’s behaviour towards yourself as a pretty good yardstick for their social skills. Red flags will probably be pretty obvious, and will include things like misplaced humour or sarcasm, arrogance, speaking too much or too little etc.



Describe a time when you had to deliver difficult news. How did you go about it?

What do you do when someone comes to you with a problem?

RED FLAGS: Watch out for candidates who blame their failures on others. Phrases like ‘there was nothing I could do’ or ‘If Steve had done his task on time, that wouldn’t have happened’ should start ringing the empathy alarm bells; your candidate has struggled to see things from other peoples’ point of view and understand others’ motivations.



Tell me about the least favourite task you have to do in your current job. How do you motivate yourself to get the job done?

Describe the last time you went above and beyond what was being asked of you.

RED FLAGS: A lack of interview prep is one of the clearest signs of a candidate who struggles to motivate themselves. Also be on the lookout for those who narrowly miss out on academic grades or work targets, or those who allude to struggling to propel themselves to achieving their goals when talking about their previous work experience.


Looking for emotionally intelligent graduates? We’ve got plenty! Let us know who you’re looking for here.

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