Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hiring for emotional intelligence

Making a hire can be a hit-or-miss affair. A promising candidate can turn out to be a disaster, leaving frustrated colleagues and tattered client relationships in his wake. To increase their chances of making good hiring decisions, many companies subject candidates to an extended battery of interviews. But, according to Adele B. Lynn, author of The EQ Interview: Finding Employees with High Emotional Intelligence and founder of the Adele Lynn Leadership Group (Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania), conducting more interviews is not really the answer. What’s needed are interviews that take a measure of candidates’ emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence—EQ for short—“accounts for anywhere from 24 percent to 69 percent of performance success,” says Lynn. For managers it is crucial, as it is for anyone who needs to be adept at the give-and-take of working as part of a creative, dynamic team.

There are multiple aspects to emotional intelligence, but homing in on these three in the interview process will go a long way toward identifying candidates with high EQ:

1. SELF-AWARENESS AND SELF-REGULATION. Anyone working in an organization needs to recognize his moods, his emotions, and the deeper emotional needs that drive him and how they shape his behavior.

An emotionally intelligent person is able to regulate her moods. When anxious or fearful, she is self-aware enough to recognize that she tends to broadcast these emotions nonverbally, allowing her to put extra effort into projecting calm optimism. When angry, she has the self-control not to rage at her colleagues or direct reports.

To assess a candidate’s self-awareness and ability to self-regulate, ask these questions, which, like the other questions in this article, are adapted from Lynn’s book:
  • Can you tell me about a time when your mood affected your performance, either negatively or positively?
  • Tell me about a conflict you had with a peer, direct report or boss—how did it start and how did it get resolved?
  • A manager has to maintain a productive, positive tone even when she’s anxious about a business threat. How have you been able to do this in previous positions?
2. READING OTHERS AND RECOGNIZING THE IMPACT OF HIS BEHAVIOR ON THEM. Because so much of a manager’s work is accomplished with and through others, the ability to read other people’s emotions and discern their opinions can spell the difference between success and failure. High-EQ individuals are deft persuaders and motivators because they can read others’ cues and adjust their own words and behaviors accordingly.

To assess a candidate’s skill level in this aspect of emotional intelligence, ask questions such as:
  • Tell me about a time when you did or said something that had a negative impact on a customer, peer or direct report. How did you know the impact was negative?
  • Have you ever been in a business situation where you thought you needed to adjust your behavior? How did you know and what did you do?
In one interview Lynn participated in, “the candidate gave a few examples of when he had a negative impact on someone, but in each case, he said someone called him aside and told him where he fell short—he didn’t seem able to recognize these things on his own.” In contrast, says Lynn, “another candidate for the same position pointed to very specific examples of when he was able to read another’s body language and behavior that indicated that something was wrong.” The second candidate landed the job.

3. THE ABILITY TO LEARN FROM MISTAKES. Missteps and outright failure offer opportunities for growth and high-EQ individuals are able to learn from them. Here again, look for positive patterns in candidates’ past experiences:
  • Have you ever been in a situation where you felt you needed to modify or change your behavior? How did you know?
  • Tell me about a situation when you discovered that you were on the wrong course. How did you know? What did you do? What, if anything, did you learn from the experience?
Lynn was part of an interview team for an information technology position. When asked to describe her work on a project that faltered, the first candidate spoke of a systems overhaul that missed key deadlines and required several course corrections. The candidate said that she should have documented expectations at the outset and communicated more precisely and consistently with users. She concluded by saying that she had thought a lot about what went right and wrong and how she could be more effective the next time she was called on to contribute to such a project.

Contrast the self-awareness in her answer with the defensiveness and rigidity in another candidate’s response. When asked about conflicts she had experienced, she ticked off several examples: a schedule delay, a customer dispute, a delayed product launch. In each instance, she portrayed herself as a victim of incompetent colleagues, unreasonable customers and unlucky circumstances.

Her ability to learn and progress was about zero—an ominous sign for her future performance.


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