The EQ Interview

Finding Employees with High Emotional Intelligence

The EQ Interview

Author: Adele B. Lynn
Pub Date: June 2008
Print Edition: $16.00
Print ISBN: 9780814409411
Page Count: 192
Format: Paper or Softback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814410899

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Fundamental emotional intelligence (EQ) competencies lie beneath great performance for nearly every job tackled by today’s workforce. For a hiring manager or interviewer, including these competencies as part of the interview process begs consideration. We’re not suggesting that technical skills and abilities be taken for granted. Skills and technical competence must always serve a prominent role in the assessment process. However, a growing body of evidence points to the fact that when technical competencies are equal, EQ competencies account for job success in many different positions. In fact, for some positions, EQ competencies account for a larger portion of job success than technical competencies. Leadership IQ, a training and research center that teaches executive and management best practices, conducted a study of more than twenty thousand employees that tracked the success and failure of new hires. After interviewing 5,247 managers, the study’s researchers concluded that only 11 percent of employees failed because they lacked the technical competence to do the job. The remaining reasons new hires failed were issues such as alienating coworkers, being unable to accept feedback, lack of ability to manage emotions, lack of motivation or drive, and poor interpersonal skills.1 These results provide a good indication that including comprehensive EQ competencies as part of the interview process gives hiring managers and interviewers access to new and critical information to predict a candidate’s effectiveness.

As baby boomers become eligible for retirement and begin to exit the workforce, employers grapple with how to hire and train enough workers to fill the void. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,

20 percent of the workforce will be over age fifty-five by 2010. In 2004, the number of people age forty and older in the workforce is over 56 percent.2 Companies face large numbers of new hires who will view the organization much differently than do the employees who are leaving. Commitment and retention will be a challenge because these new hires will have little invested in a company. As a result, they will have little incentive to stay for the long term if they receive a more lucrative offer from another firm. If the hiring company doesn’t meet the new hire’s expectations, that new hire will leave—causing an endless hiring-resignation cycle and a resultant gap in the skills and abilities needed for the company to compete. And this cycle will prove costly. Turnover costs range from 120 to 200 percent of annual salary, and new employee performance takes thirteen months to reach maximum efficiency. These statistics offer another compelling reason to screen for emotional intelligence competencies. Organizational commitment and retention are closely linked to emotional intelligence.3 Few would argue that commitment and retention are not useful traits. Retention links directly to job satisfaction. Job satisfaction is related to self-esteem, emotional stability, and conscientiousness.4 The emotional intelligence model in this book takes all of these elements into consideration.

To address and plan for future manpower needs, organizations perform skills audits that take into account the technical skills that will be needed once the baby boomers exit. Granted, hiring and training people for technical skills begins to fill the technical void or brain drain, but since various studies estimate that emotional intelligence competencies account for anywhere from 24 to 69 percent of performance success, companies waste their recruitment efforts if they don’t consider screening methods aimed at a candidate’s emotional intelligence.5 In addition to auditing the technical gap, companies must begin to audit and map the skills and competencies beyond technical excellence that drive the organization’s success. What defines a company’s outstanding service orientation? What makes a company nimble enough to act on market-driven changes? What inspires the innovation and creativity that keep a company competitive? What forces drive the integrity of and trust in a brand? These are not technical competencies by nature. Although technical excellence is a competitive factor that can’t be ignored, the competencies that drive these intangible market advantages are propelled by the very core, or fundamental, competencies that define how a company does things.

The organization’s objective becomes hiring people who can deliver the how consistent with the company’s success. The interview process gives the hiring manager and interviewer a unique opportunity to determine how people accomplish results, not just what they accomplish. This insight into how people accomplish results allows the hiring manager and interviewer to assess whether or not the person will fit within the organization. They can assess whether the potential new hire will contribute in a way that aligns with the organization’s values and behave in a way that is consistent with the company’s competitive advantage—or whether the candidate’s behavior will collide with the organization’s goals. Poor fit is one of the three most likely causes of employee turnover.6 Research suggests that fit, not skill or education, is the most common reason people fail. Fit also plays a significant role in turnover due to job dissatisfaction.

This book assists hiring managers and interviewers to assess EQ competencies. It gives hiring managers and interviewers a description of each of the EQ competencies, examples of the EQ competencies in the workplace in various types of jobs, interview questions for each of the EQ competencies, and analyses of responses to the suggested questions. With these tools, hiring managers and interviewers can evaluate and construct an interview plan that gives them a more complete picture of the candidates’ abilities to succeed.

Not all jobs require all the EQ competencies covered in this book. However, because emotional intelligence is so fundamental to our ability to interact with people, many jobs require at least some of these competencies. The hiring manager and interviewer must decide which competencies contribute to success in the position they are hiring for. Then the hiring manager or interviewer should select interview questions that represent these competencies. Some of the questions in this book are aimed at managers or leaders; however, most are acceptable for all job levels. We encourage the interviewer and hiring manager to record the questions asked as well as the responses. If multiple candidates are to be interviewed, a consistent approach and consistent questions produce the most unbiased results.

Behavior-based interviewing forms the fundamental theoretical base for the questions in this book. Behavior-based interviewing examines past behavior and how that behavior contributes to a person’s success. Behavior-based interviewing in a structured format has the highest validity of all interviewing tools, according to a study by Ryan and Tippins from Michigan State University.7 Unfortunately, some man-

agers rely solely on the tools of gut instinct and chemistry to predict a person’s effectiveness. We recommend behavior-based interviewing, following a defined structure, and noting and rating answers based on a Likert scale as the most useful methods for interviewing candidates. We believe that these methods give the interviewer important data to quantify gut instincts and overall impressions.

To gain an understanding of emotional intelligence, the interviewer will examine the very nature of the behaviors that led to successful results. We believe it is possible for a candidate to have very successful results while at the same time wreaking havoc on peers or others within the organization. The questions in this book examine the behavioral consequences or impact of the successful results, not just the results. For example, a line manager may have a great production record in his unit, but may have accomplished this goal by ignoring the needs of peers and may in fact be blind to the goals of the organization. Alternatively, long-term goals and results may be sacrificed for short-term numbers.

It is also possible for certain behaviors to create a successful outcome, yet not take into consideration the motives or intentions of the candidate. Therefore, on many of the questions, the effective interviewer or hiring manager will listen for the thought patterns that preceded and those that followed a particular behavior. This gives the interviewer insights into the intentions behind the behavior as expressed by the candidate. The interviewer won’t be in the position of making judgments about the candidate’s intentions, but instead will be directed to listen to the facts about the candidate’s intentions as reported in reflection by the candidate herself.

Candidates will also be directed to reflect on times when their outcomes or results didn’t meet their intentions. By asking candidates to reflect on their results, interviewers encourage candidates to reveal behavior patterns that can dramatically affect teamwork, service orientation, helpfulness, respectfulness, persistence, reaction to failure, resilience, and other important EQ competencies. This helps the interviewer and hiring manager understand how candidates use past experiences and integrate them into their current behavior.


1. “Leadership IQ Study: Why New Hires Fail,” PR Newswire, September 20, 2005, 1.

2. Ellen Galinsky, “The Changing Landscape of Work,” Generations (Spring 2007): 7.

3. Chi-Sum Wong and Kenneth S. Law, “The Effects of Leader and Follower Emotional Intelligence on Performance and Attitude: An Exploratory Study,” Leadership Quarterly (June 2002): 243.

4. “Job Performance Linked to Personality,” Industrial Engineer 39, 7 (July 2007): 11.

5. V.U. Druskat, F. Sala, and G. Mount, eds., Linking Emotional Intelligence and Performance at Work (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006).

6. Nancy Gardner, “Should I Stay or Should I Go? What Makes Employees Voluntarily Leave or Keep Their Jobs,” University of Washington Office of News and Information, July 26, 2007, http://uwnews.washington


7. Ann Marie Ryan and Nancy T. Tippins, “Attracting and Selecting: What Psychological Research Tells Us,” Human Resource Management 43, 4 (Winter 2004): 305.

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