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It’s a hiring tale as old as time: A candidate knocked it out of the park in their interview and had the most impressive credentials only to become a source of stress and frustration within months of being hired. Now, instead of fostering a productive workplace, damage control takes priority.

As an HR professional or recruiter, you’re trying to find the best person for the job — but that ideal candidate might not be the applicant with the most hands-on experience or the highest GPA. Rather, you should be looking at the one with the highest emotional intelligence (EI).

EI refers to an individual’s ability to assess their own emotions and those of others. People with a high EI understand how their moods affect their environment, and they’re motivated by personal goals rather than external rewards. Being in tune with their own internal thought processes allows them to better relate to others around them.

Exercising EI is useful in any area of life, but it’s essential in the workplace. For example, an employee’s IQ could be off the charts, but if they can’t manage their emotions and work as part of a team, the whole office’s morale is in jeopardy.

Because high-EI individuals are adept at understanding and regulating emotions, they can consider a variety of perspectives during times of conflict. Whether they receive a passive-aggressive email from a team member or a rival coworker is rewarded with a raise, disappointed employees with EI strengths can evaluate all sides of the situation instead of reacting impulsively.

In turn, these employees can regulate destructive thought patterns before they spiral out of control. Additionally, they maintain growth mindsets that allow them to view these challenges as opportunities rather than insurmountable obstacles.

It sounds simple, but EI can go a long way. One of the most successful CEOs I’ve worked with has an average IQ. He might not be Steve Jobs, but his high EI gives him leadership skills that even the greats tend to lack. He understands that intelligence alone isn’t enough, and he hires people who can supplement the knowledge he lacks. Most importantly, he uses his social skills to collaborate with his staff members in order to mold them into successful leaders themselves.

As humans, we’re emotional creatures. We often act on intuition rather than logic, which is why hiring employees with high EI should be a top priority.

The High-EI Checklist

You have to dig deeper than usual to find employees with high EI. It’s more challenging than assessing technical qualifications, and given that two-thirds of employees say low EI work environments result in poor performance, you’d hate to hire someone who will be toxic to the work culture. To keep your workplace as emotionally stable as possible, look for candidates who:

1. View Failure as a Growth Opportunity

Instead of dwelling on the accomplishments section of a candidate’s resume, consider how they handle failure. High-EI individuals take responsibility for slip-ups, but rather than beat themselves up about it, they use their growth mindsets to find solutions. On the other hand, low-EI employees may be less prone to failure if they have higher IQs, but they’re more likely to shift blame and avoid problems when failures inevitably occur.

During interviews, directly ask candidates about their work-related failures and gauge their emotional responses. Then, ask the candidate’s references similar questions to verify the candidate’s story. If the potential hire has a high EI, they are more likely to bring creative solutions to the table and accelerate overall innovation for the company.

2. Focus on Teamwork

Obviously, the ideal candidate has to play well with others. Most important, however, is whether a candidate can collaborate effectively across a variety of teams.

Employees with an average EI contribute good ideas within their own silos, and they’re empathetic with their team members whenever a conflict arises. However, when the entire workplace needs to come together, these employees are quick to judge other departments and cast blame simply because they’re outside of the inner circle. While science suggests our instincts can prevent us from working successfully together, employees with a high EI can often overcome those obstacles.

Your task as a recruiter is to identify candidates who collaborate with the right people, not just with the people they like. Ask candidates about the professional organizations in which they are involved and the types of successes they have had within those organizations. Listen for how much the candidate attributes the success to themselves instead of acknowledging help received from others in their network.

You could even ask a hypothetical question like: “If you were to enlist a group of friends to accomplish an unidentified task, who would they be?” The ability to admit when they need help is a good sign that a candidate has high EI.

3. Balance Optimism With Risk

Another attribute to look for is a can-do attitude. Thinking positively is easier said than done, and it can be tricky to tell when a candidate is just putting on a positive act for the interview. Keep an eye out for candidates who know how to set goals and establish steps to accomplish those goals.

Candidates who can properly set and achieve goals typically use the EI-driven strategy of mental contrasting, a visualization technique in which they compare the current present to the desired future to determine what changes they need to make now to arrive at said future. Individuals who adeptly perform mental contrasting are on the right track to finding a healthy balance between optimism and risk in the workplace.

To determine whether candidates have mental contrasting strengths, ask about their long-term goals. Have they identified the steps required to reach their goals? If so, what are they? What stands in the way of their goals? Probe further to find out how a candidate’s identified steps would specifically steer them in the best direction. Then, address how such actions might differ from what they’re currently doing. Strong candidates should have feasible goals and be able to articulate clearly the obstacles that stand in their way.

Identifying a candidate’s EI compensates for what resumes and cover letters can’t tell us. Organizations regret 20 percent of their hiring decisions. That may not seem like much, but the costs add up over time, with an average price tag of $15,000 for each bad hire. Investing in applicants with high EI is key to minimizing those regrets and finding the best team members for your company in the long run.

Kerry Goyette is the president of Aperio Consulting Group. She gave the popular TEDx Talk “Stop Trying to Motivate Your Employees.”



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