Three Questions to Gauge Emotional Intelligence

The importance of hiring employees skilled in emotional intelligence may be difficult to overestimate.

Reading Time: 4 min 


Research suggests that as artificial intelligence and machine learning overtake more of the tasks traditionally carried out by people, emotional intelligence (EI), sometimes referred to as emotional quotient (EQ), will play an important role in those jobs with staying power. Other research points to how emotional intelligence bolsters hard skills. And those who argue over just how important EI is don’t write it off as entirely irrelevant.

But hiring managers often have a difficult time gauging the emotional intelligence of candidates.

As a vice president at Salesforce, part of my job was to find a way to achieve this. After all, “high-EQ sales cultures win more business.” Between that experience and running my own company, Cerebral Selling, I’ve developed job interview questions that deliver key insights — not just for sales teams, but for any kind of business.

To make these questions work, you first need to understand what makes up EI. Daniel Goleman, author of the book Emotional Intelligence, breaks down the concept into “emotional competencies” that include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

The goal for hiring managers is to come up with questions that provide insights into all four arenas of potential talent’s emotional competencies.

Question 1: How do you establish trust?

For work teams to succeed, your employees need to trust one another. It’s been found that high-trust environments promote higher worker engagement, with the research finding that on the opposite end, when trust is compromised, people “become withdrawn and disengaged.”

In sales, trust is especially make-or-break. One survey found that more than 90% of buyers at businesses report they will buy only from companies they trust — and that trust comes in large part through rapport with sales representatives.

Building trust requires multiple emotional intelligence competencies. It means understanding what the other person is expressing, sensing what they’re feeling, being conscious of your own behavior, and altering your behaviors with each individual. I’ve found this interview question is a great opportunity to probe how much thought a candidate gives to all these elements.

I was particularly impressed by a candidate who told me that although he goes into meetings with lists of questions to ask, he doesn’t expect all of them will be answered. After all, no customer enjoys being politely interrogated.


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Comment (1)
Keith Collins
Another way to explore EI is through the use of role-play simulation. It is difficult to do well on an ad hoc basis but may be of use when assessing a small group. I have found it works best if a professional actor/simulator is used.