Five Questions to Screen for Emotional Intelligence

job interview

Many clients and readers have asked me for a simple list of questions to use while screening for emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence has been shown by research to be the secret sauce for selecting executives, first level managers, and customer facing employees who will succeed – it’s even more important than high IQ. (For more on the research, see my recent blog post What is better than intelligence for job performance?)

The answer is to create a structured interview that includes emotional intelligence questions.

Following are some sample questions that can help determine if the job candidate understands themselves, and understands their emotions, and how to effectively use them.

  1. Tell me about your development areas and what you are doing to improve them?
  2. What was the biggest failure of your career, and what did you learn from it?
  3. Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a peer and what you did to resolve it.
  4. Tell me about a time when you received criticism from a boss, peer, or client and how it made you feel. How did you handle it? What was the outcome?
  5. What was the biggest challenge you had getting co-workers or clients to support this new product (or initiative or change) and what did you do to overcome their hesitation or doubt?

While you listen to the answers to these questions, be sure to listen for the emotions from the job candidate and not just the rational list of development areas, their learning, and the description of how they handled criticism. Listen for their tone of voice and watch their eye contact and body motions. Do they seem angry or hurt about the incidents? Or have they incorporated the feedback, learned, and moved on?

People who are low on emotional intelligence will have a hard time discussing their faults. They may be defensive and blame others for the criticism. They may even struggle to answer the questions or give you boilerplate answers like, “I am too much of a driver and want to succeed at all costs,” or “I am too much of a perfectionist when it comes to work,” or “I have a low tolerance for failure.”

You don’t want boilerplate answers or vague answers that do not have detail. Someone who is high in emotional intelligence will be thoughtful about their answers and will take the time to articulate them in a detailed way. They will tell you about the outcome and how it made them and others feel. They will talk about improving relationships.

While emotional intelligence will improve your ability to select the best candidates for leadership roles, great selection processes should include other selection procedures, such as structured interviews based on job competencies, job knowledge, work sampling, and validated assessments to improve the probability of success.

Are you using structured interviews or assessments to measure emotional intelligence? 

Contact me to learn more about emotional intelligence and watch for my new book, Hack Recruiting, to be released soon.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults and provides hands-on support to improve recruiting and retention, cultures of innovation, and train agile leaders and teams. Overcome your obstacles to these issues by subscribing to his weekly blogs. Go to to subscribe

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