Employers bemoan the lack of “emotional intelligence” or soft skills among job candidates. What is the importance of conveying emotional intelligence in interviews and how can you put your best foot forward in this area during the hiring process? Here, some hiring and recruitment experts share their tips and best practices for effectively demonstrating soft skills in interviews.
Emotional Intelligence in Interviews
Generally, when companies are interviewing employees for open positions they’ve already gone through a process of evaluating hard skills, background and competencies based on the resumes they’ve received. They know the field of candidates they’ve selected are qualified; what they don’t know is how well these candidates will fit the company’s culture, or how well they will get along with others—coworkers, manager, vendors and clients. That’s why the ability to evaluate emotional intelligence or other soft skills during the interview process is so important, and increasingly a focus of interviews.
According to a 2011 Career Builder Survey of more than 2600 hiring managers and human resource professionals, 71% said that they valued emotional intelligence, over IQ, in employees, Harvey Deutschendorf, an emotional intelligence expert, author and speaker, points out. “The World Economic Forum, in its Future of Job Report, has indicated that Emotional Intelligence will be number six of the top ten job skills required by 2020,” he says. “Awareness of this in organizations has greatly increased interest in hiring people with high emotional intelligence as well as boosting emotional intelligence amongst existing staff.”
The reliability of these studies is borne out in practice. Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com, says: “It has been proven by studies that employees possessing emotional intelligence, or EQ, are able to better motivate, inspire, and express empathy for their colleagues, regardless of gender or skill sets. Asking candidates to tell about a time when they had to deal with a setback emotionally, is a good way for interviewers to assess emotional intelligence, Sweeney suggests. “Candidates might be initially taken aback by the question, but they will be able to answer in a way that conveys their self-awareness and self-management—which are two key aspects to emotional intelligence.”
Bruce Mendel is director of communications for the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services and is currently in a “quiet job search,” seeking a senior-level digital marketing and communications position. “At the level I’m applying, potential employers assume—indeed, they ensure—the exclusive group of applicants they interview possess the necessary and relevant technical knowledge, skills and experience for the position,” says Mendel. Because of this, he says: “Where I seek to distinguish myself is in the intangibles such as active listening, empathy, reflecting body position and language of the people with whom I am speaking and responding succinctly to questions using the CAR Formula—what was the Circumstance, what Action did I take, and what was the Result of my action.” Mendel’s goal is to “convey an authentic portrait of my behaviors as a potential employee,” he says.
Recruiters Watching for Other Soft Skills in Interviews
When you’re involved in the recruitment process you are always on display and always being watched and observed, whether you realize it or not. But, despite the fact that you’re obviously attempting to convey a very good impression, Laura Handrick, career and workplace analyst with FitSmallBusiness.com, says: “The best practice is to be yourself. Faking it during an interview is like pretending on a first date. It will only result in disappointment later.” After all, if you get the job, your true self will be immediately on display.
But, Handrick, suggests, there are still important things that candidates should consider to help them convey to recruiters that they have emotional intelligence and possess the soft skills that employers are increasingly looking for. “Being aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, and knowing whether the company culture is a good fit for you are important pre-interview activities you can control,” she says. “Then, during the interview, tame your nerves. Interrupting will be seen as arrogance, fidgeting will be seen as insecurity, while silence may be seen as a lack of intelligence. If you fail to make eye contact, you may be perceived as dishonest.” Use basic interpersonal skills, suggests Handrick: “Smile, greet the interviewers, be friendly to all staff.”
Interviewers don’t expect job candidates to be perfect, says Handrick, but they do expect them to be self-aware, willing to learn and grow and open to others’ opinions. Recruiters closely watch body language during an interview to see if potential employees demonstrate openness or appear to be know-it-alls and inflexible, she says. “You can tell a lot about a person’s worksite behavior by observing their facial expressions and body language during an interview—even if it’s done via video conference.
In fact, says Handrick, one of the most important aspects of interviews is not determining if the candidate is a good fit based on skills, “but rather to screen out ones who won’t fit with the team and determine whether they possess the core skills of self-awareness, teamwork, and likeability.”