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How to Spot Emotional Intelligence in Job Candidates

What’s more important: book smarts or street smarts? The answer is both. Sure, job candidates with impressive résumés will rise to the top of the pile. But don’t underestimate the resilience and interpersonal relationship skills that give candidates an edge in the workplace. Those skills exhibit elevated emotional intelligence, which is important to employers, according to “The Future of Jobs Report 2018.”

It simply makes sense. It’s hard to collaborate without emotional intelligence, and it’s hard to grow, thrive, or innovate without collaboration. In fact, we often selfishly eschew collaboration because we aren’t great at perspective taking, which is considering another person’s viewpoint. It’s different from empathy, which is understanding another person’s feelings. Perspective taking is especially tough if you’re part of a team whose members put themselves first. Fixing this takes discipline — team members must set aside their egos and put the needs of the team first.

Teams that do collaborate well perform better than teams that don’t, even if other teams have members with higher IQs. That’s because teamwork bolsters innovative solutions, raising the intelligence of the group. Members of these groups support one another by sharing and really considering one another’s viewpoints. That supportive environment is crucial because it encourages team members to go beyond their roles and help the group succeed. Understanding that emotional intelligence hinges on this positive environment helps us see how important emotional intelligence is.

And 90% of top workplace performers sport high emotional intelligence, according to Workforce, and more than half of employee performance is linked to emotional intelligence. The numbers say it all: Someone who has mastered empathy and can channel emotion effectively is a keeper.

However, you won’t find emotional intelligence listed on a résumé. There’s no degree program or special certificate for it. So how do you spot it? Here are a few strategies to consider:

1. Ask about failures. Instead of simply digging for job candidates’ strengths, ask about their failures. Someone with high emotional intelligence will talk about past mistakes and shortcomings through the mindset of growth and might reference how he or she has discovered a solution or gained a new perspective. Although the answers are important, employers should pay close attention to candidates’ emotional response. If they can confidently talk about a challenging time in their career, they’re highly emotionally intelligent.

Related: 15 Interview Questions to Ensure Candidate Quality

2. Talk about teamwork. Another sign of high emotional intelligence is a candidate’s ability to admit he or she can’t go it alone. For many people, teamwork doesn’t come naturally. That doesn’t make them villains, though. It just makes them human. Science now tells us that our individual interests and competitive instincts sometimes override our human need to belong. Translation: Teamwork is tough.

As a recruiter, if you find a candidate who thrives on collaboration (even when it’s not with the people they’d knock back beers with after work), you have someone with good leadership potential on your hands. Keep your eyes open for how job candidates acknowledge people they’ve worked with in the past and the role they played in any success. The ability to dole out credit where it’s due is a good sign.

3. Listen for the right attitude. Don’t mistake someone’s positive attitude toward a key performance indicator with the ability to achieve it. The right attitude is more than smiling during the interview and just saying yes. You need someone who says yes and then visualizes a goal and the required steps to achieve it. General positivity is great, but it’s even better when coupled with the ability to create an action plan and set it in motion. That requires strong emotional intelligence. Consider asking questions like “How would you go about achieving X?”

Related: How To Conduct a Behavioral Interview

After the interview, employers should weigh a candidate’s answers on different emotional intelligence scales, such as self-awareness and collaboration. They should also assess whether the answers the candidate provided had enough depth.

Candidates who consistently follow up after the interview show signs of resilience and an obvious interest in the company and the job. However, it’s hard to assess emotional intelligence from the follow-up because generations handle it differently. So employers should not put too much emphasis on the follow-up as it relates to EQ.

As a recruiter, you want to check the box on traditional job skills, but pay close attention to someone who shows signs of high emotional intelligence. It often translates to a highly efficient, high-functioning employee. What more could you ask for in a candidate?

For more information about boosting your emotional intelligence, check out “The Non-Obvious Guide to Emotional Intelligence.”

Kerry Goyette is the president of Aperio Consulting Group, a corporate consulting firm that utilizes workplace analytics and implements research-based strategies to build high-performance cultures. She is a certified professional behavior analyst and certified forensic interviewer with postgraduate studies in psychometrics and neuroscience. Kerry is an international speaker and gave the popular TEDx Talk “Stop Trying to Motivate Your Employees.” She has consulted clients across the globe, including Shell Oil, the Houston Texans, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, on scientific strategies to optimize performance.