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by Aubrey Wursten

You may be hoping for a candidate to score a 10 in every category, you will be sorely disappointed if your interview pool consists solely of mere mortals. Instead, you need to concentrate on the specific competency (or competencies) that are most applicable to the position being filled, then analyze the potential employee accordingly. Are you faced with a painfully reserved interviewee, who can only silently cower across the desk from you? She is probably not going to be an effective public relations specialist. (Come to think of it, she may not even be here to interview for the job; she might just have been too shy to tell your receptionist she was only here to deliver office supplies.) But most cases will not be so obvious, and will require more than some rudimentary body language analysis. They will demand questions.


A clear understanding of emotional intelligence (EQ) enables employers to better assess job candidates. Because the success of your business depends on your employees’ productive harnessing of their emotional abilities, you need to hire people with the skills to do so. One key way in which to “sniff out” these ideal candidates is to ask the right questions in the interviews and when checking references. If you wait until after the hiring process to evaluate EQ traits, you may find yourself with a new customer service manager who boasts the people skills of Attila the Hun.


In a piece featured in Harvard Business Review, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz offers some tips on incorporating EQ knowledge into hiring practices. Research firm Egon Zehnder’s senior adviser, he explains that a hiring manager should be seeking not just a candidate with positive emotional traits, but one who regularly uses those traits in guiding behavior. His company has identified 6 of these EQ-related “competencies,” drawing on the ideas of Daniel Goleman, that indicate leadership ability: results orientation, customer impact, collaboration and influencing, developing organizational capability, team leadership, and change leadership.


First, ask your candidate how he or she has handled specific difficult situations in the past that might present themselves in this new position. Do not rely on generalities in your queries, as it is easy for a potential hire to bluff a good answer to a vague question. Ed Dunkelblau, Ph.D., Director of the Institute for Emotionally Intelligent Learning, gives some good sample questions for The Charmm’d Foundation. By tailoring them to your needs, you can glean some relevant information from your chat.


If the interview goes well, you should pose similar questions to the references, but make certain to ask the relevant references. All employers know that a glowing report from your candidate’s mother holds little weight. (She obviously wants him to get this job so he will move out, and she won’t have to pick up any more of his dirty socks.)


If you are hiring a manager, ask former subordinates whether this candidate led or dictated. Is your open position for a team member? Call former peers. If you are hiring an entry-level employee, call previous superiors to see if this person followed directions well. Do you need to find a reticent bookkeeper who will not be distracted by office chit-chat? Hire the lady bringing the office supplies. You just might help her to find her EQ niche.


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