Spotting Emotional Intelligence in Interviews

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Sanela Osmic By Sanela Osmic

While expertise in a particular profession, along with the right academic qualifications is usually recognized as the holy grail by prospective employers, there is a silent ability that can truly separate the ordinary from the extraordinary in any job interview.
It’s called Emotional Intelligence or EI. 
When IQ and technical skills are in relative parity, EI accounts for 90 percent of the driving force behind an employee’s climb up the corporate ladder. (Harvard, 2015). 
Furthermore, EI also has a major impact on job performance, contributing to a 58 percent sway in a worker’s overall conduct.
It’s a skill that doesn’t manifest in degrees or certificates, yet its impact can be seen and felt in every professional interaction.
But how do potential employers decipher if a candidate possesses this invaluable trait?
Through the intricate process of job interviews, employers have devised ways to measure this intangible quality, ensuring they bring aboard individuals who are not just qualified but emotionally astute. 
So how do you as an employee convey this intangible, yet critical skill to potential employers, especially during a job interview?

Exploring the Facets of Emotional Intelligence

EI is defined as: ‘The ability to engage in sophisticated information processing about their own and others’ emotions, and the ability to use this information as a guide in their thinking and behavior. Individuals high in emotional intelligence pay attention to using, understanding, and managing emotions; these skills serve adaptive functions that potentially benefit themselves and others.’ (Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso,2008).
While some might perceive this as manipulation, it’s more about self-awareness and introspection. EI, which profoundly influences workplace dynamics, comprises five crucial dimensions:

Self-awareness: Recognizing personal emotions, strengths, and weaknesses and their effect on behavior.

Self-regulation: Controlling emotions, particularly in challenging situations, allowing for rational decision-making.

Motivation: The internal drive pushing individuals towards goal achievement and excellence.

Social skills: Covering effective communication, conflict resolution, and collaboration, essential for forging strong professional ties.

Empathy: Grasping and sharing others’ emotions enhances leadership and teamwork.

Employers often use surveys or targeted interview questions to assess these five dimensions.

Why Does Emotional Intelligence Matter for Your Career?

Interpersonal abilities, guided by your EI, are just as important for career success as technical expertise. Most importantly, they modify your interactions with co-workers.
Empathy and self-awareness are directly linked to enhanced teamwork, conflict resolution, and resilience under duress.
For example, if you and your co-workers are engaged in discussing a problem and your colleague proposes a solution you don’t believe will work, yet you believe yours will – your job is to convey both of these points delicately, recommending your option without coming across as condescending or bossy towards your co-worker. 
You need to consider the potential reactions of everyone around you, as you decide how to proceed in this precarious circumstance. 
If you want to advance to a leadership role where your choices and actions will have a greater impact on the team’s dynamic, developing your EI is essential.

Always Stay Present & Genuine

What most people forget to do in a job interview is actually quite simple, if you remain aware. Engage with your interviewer by maintaining eye contact and actively listening. Respond thoughtfully to what they’ve said or the question they’ve posed. Remember, the subtleties of social interaction can speak volumes, so always seize the chance to engage warmly at the interview’s beginning and closing. 

Be Vocal About Your Emotions

Let your sentiments shine, both through your words and how you express them. A few examples:

  • “I’m genuinely thrilled to discuss a potential role at X. Hiking’s a passion of mine, and I’ve been a loyal customer for years.”
  • “The unexpected layoff during the pandemic’s peak was a real setback. I felt a void without my daily routine and colleagues. But, embracing change, I immersed myself in online courses and uncovered my newfound love for coding.”
  • “That’s a challenging question; I’ll need a moment to reflect.”

Embrace Vulnerability: Discuss Mistakes and Weaknesses

Yes, discussing failures might seem daunting, but, showcasing lessons learned from past mistakes can actually enhance the interviewer’s trust in you. Most probably, one question will try to gauge when you have encountered a challenge or when something went wrong (and quite honestly, we have all been there at some point). Interviewers seek genuine insights into your areas of growth. If you choose to share a weakness, accompany it with your proactive efforts to overcome it.

Dive Deep into Active Listening

Although quickly responding to questions might be tempting, take a moment. Focus on the essence of the question. For clarity, rephrase it in your own words. If in doubt, seek confirmation. Remember, interviewers appreciate thoughtfulness over rehearsed immediacy.

Dive into Company Culture & Values

End your interview on a high note. When offered the chance to ask questions, delve into the company’s culture and values. Relating personal experiences with the brand or its people can be a nice touch. It not only demonstrates your due diligence but also your genuine interest in ensuring a mutual fit.

Acknowledging Team Contributions Speaks Volumes

When candidates exude high EI, their success tales often resonate with collaboration. They’re keenly aware that triumphs are rarely solo endeavors. By weaving in the roles and contributions of teammates, you not only display a sense of humility but also highlight your understanding of team dynamics. This behavior mirrors both your confidence in their capabilities and a genuine appreciation for others

What Questions Should You Prepare for Your Interview

Questions assessing a candidate’s EI will often be open-ended, so prepare yourself with answers to the following: “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” and “How.” They require you to give more consideration to your answers and often lead to a more in-depth conversation than a straightforward “yes” or “no” inquiry.

  1. Discuss a Failed Project: Describe a time when a task didn’t go as planned. Were you able to own up to your part in the failure?
  2. Work Conflict Scenario: Describe a frustrating conflict at work. Can you articulate your emotions during this event and how you resolved it?
  3. Inspirational Figures: Who do you look up to, and why? What attributes of theirs do you admire and have tried to emulate?
  4. Handling Negative Feedback: Share an instance when you received criticism. How did it make you feel, and how did you respond?
  5. Skills Gap: What skill or expertise do you believe you lack?
  6. Teaching a Concept: Teach me something unfamiliar. Does your explanation consider my lack of knowledge?
  7. Colleague’s Perspective: How would peers describe the benefits and challenges of working with you?
  8. Seeking Assistance: Discuss a time you asked for help. How did you approach the situation, and what motivated you to seek assistance?

Bottom Line

All the things you do for yourself and others make up your EI.
Having the ability to retain your cool under pressure is an essential skill in the business. 
Give yourself plenty of time to prepare, and then put your best foot forward in the interview using the techniques you have learned to ace the EI barrier. 

About the author: Sanela Osmic GAICD is the Founder and Managing Director of Ethical Governance. She has around 20 years of experience in governance and working with boards in various capacities. Sanela has helped corporations, non-profits, governments, and other organizations build effective boards, improve ethical governance practices, and maximize their impact. She has just published her book Leading with Emotional Intelligence: A guide for board directors, available on Amazon. This is an opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this publication.

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