Should you be hiring for emotional intelligence?

By Robert Half on 3rd December 2018

Automation is directly impacting the roles of tomorrow. In reaction, more organisations are looking at hiring for soft skills, but does the focus need to shift further?

According to research by Robert Half, 60% of businesses agree that emotional intelligence (EQ) is an important trait for employees to have. Those with a high EQ will typically have excellent emotional awareness, will be able to harness their emotions for creative tasks and problem solving, and can manage their emotions in a mature, constructive way.  

Irrespective of the obvious benefits of hiring for emotional intelligence, one in four firms admit to undervaluing it when assessing a candidate for a role. Now that the 4th industrial revolution looms on the horizon, employees will need an entirely different set of skills to help take the business forward effectively. With this in mind, is a change of focus needed to prepare businesses for the future? 

The world of work is changing

Digital transformation is taking the world of work by storm. In order to remain competitive, scalable and efficient, organisations have found that they need to overhaul infrastructure, and implement AI and automation. 

The impact on hiring has been drastic. A rise in demand for professionals with the necessary digital skills has caused an industry-wide skills shortage which threatens innovation plans and business growth. 

Matt Weston, managing director for Robert Half was quoted in Forbes saying “identifying skills gaps and securing the right talent is crucial for long-term success in today’s competitive recruitment environment. Businesses must prioritize the skills and qualities they expect from potential candidates. In the current war for talent, employers must find the right balance between skills and personality – evaluating what characteristics are required within the team and what skills can be taught.”

So, could hiring for emotional intelligence and then teaching digital skills be the answer?

Is emotional intelligence key to the future of the workplace?

Hiring for softer skills is already becoming a main focus for UK organisations. CFOs have stated that workplace automation will require employees who are open to new ideas and are receptive to change. Not only this—findings by the World Economic Forum predict that, by 2020, emotional intelligence will be the sixth most sought after skill for employees.

According to the World Economic Forum study, emotional intelligence comes with added benefits, such as better team collaboration (37%), better leadership (45%) and higher morale (46%). 

These EQ benefits corroborate the benefits that business leaders believe AI and automation will bring to their teams. Research for the Robert Half 2019 Salary Guide found that 66% of CFOs believe automation has improved collaboration, 57% say it has improved communication and 63% feel it has enhanced team spirit.

How to assess the emotional intelligence of a candidate

You can begin to assess the emotional intelligence of a candidate at the CV stage of the hiring process. Make full use of the references your candidate has given you and contact them. Be sure to ask specific questions about how the candidate treated other members of staff, how they conducted themselves in stressful situations and the maturity of their emotional responses.

You can also gauge the emotional intelligence of a candidate during the interview stage by asking pointed questions about times during their career when they felt stressed, challenged or proud. After they’ve recounted the incident, ask more probing questions, designed to dredge up more detail. This encourages the candidate to drop all interview pretences and reveal more accurate emotional reactions. 

You can mix these questions in with other, more traditional interview questions, so that you get the technical information you need, while making the candidate feel more at home and testing their EQ.

There are specific questions the interviewer can ask of themselves while listening to the responses provided by the applicant to assess their emotional intelligence. These include:

  • If an applicant talks about a failure, does the comment suggest an awareness of some personal responsibility for the episode, or does he or she simply blame others?
  • When it comes to handling criticism, is the person able to acknowledge any shortcomings and keep things in perspective rather than becoming defensive and making excuses?
  • What about teamwork? Can candidates describe how they have confronted simmering issues and helped to solve them with a team, or are the answers slanted more individually? Similarly, do they credit team members for successes?
  • Do candidates seem genuinely interested in the job and the people they’ll be working with? Or do you sense indifference?

If any of the answers tend toward the latter, it may be an indicator the interviewee has a low emotional quotient.

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