Hiring for Emotional Intelligence

The questions asked when hiring professionals can make or break your organization. A great hire can help a company grow. A bad hire, well, that’s another story. The cost of a bad hire can vary widely and the U.S. Department of Labor estimates the average cost of a bad hire can equal 30% of the employee’s first-year potential earnings. Emotional intelligence plays a key role in hiring employees who are competent and achieve success in their roles.

An emotionally intelligent individual has a high regard for social and emotional skills, works well with others, is effective in business or social settings, and tends to accomplish organizational goals. Why not make a couple of simple changes to the interview to increase your chances of making a great hire?

There are multiple aspects to emotional intelligence but honing in on these five traits in the interview process will go a long way in identifying candidates with high emotional intelligence.


This refers to how a person understands their own feelings, behaviors, and motivation. Self-perception or self-awareness opens the door to examining one’s own shortcomings and strengths. The person is tuned in to how others perceive them. There is a recognition of how their feelings affect their job performance and the job performance of others.

Example questions to ask:

  • Describe a time when you felt you were unfairly criticized and how you handled it.
  • Has there ever been a time where your job performance was affected by your mood? Please describe.


Empathy is the person’s awareness of the feelings and emotions of others and being able to respond in an appropriate way. Empathetic people can step into another’s shoes to understand their feelings and perspectives. Why might you want empathetic people in your organization? They look for commonalities during differences and tend to be good listeners.

Example questions to ask:

  • Describe a time when you had to deliver difficult news.
  • Describe a time when understanding someone else’s perspective helped you understand them better.


How one handles various levels of stress coming from various sources might indicate how composed and unflappable a person might be. To remain competitive business needs to change frequently which causes employees stress. People that do not fly off the handle, are positive, and are able to think and speak clearly in emotionally charged situations will provide calm in the storm of change.

Example questions to ask:

  • When do you feel most under pressure? Tell me the last time that happened and what you did?
  • Tell me about a time when you were proud of how you handled a stressful situation.


The ability to handle changing circumstances and expectations without disruption speaks to a person’s adaptability or flexibility. Why might you want flexible people in your organization? They tend to be open-minded to new ideas, anticipates changing needs, and adjusts to change.

Example questions to ask:

  • Tell me about a time you had to act when there was no formal policy or procedure to do so.
  • Describe a situation when you had to adjust to changes over which you had no control.


This is the ability to manage impulses and not say or do anything inappropriate when the urge is present. These people demonstrate the ability to think before acting, deals with ambiguity, and manages feelings constructively.

Example questions to ask:

  • Tell me about a time you had to ‘bite your tongue’ even though you really didn’t want to.
  • Describe a situation when you had to exercise a significant amount of self-control.