Soft skills: how to showcase EQ in an interview

Oct 13, 2022

4 mins

Soft skills: how to showcase EQ in an interview
Lauren Dunmore

Content specialist passionate about storytelling

In 1990, researchers John Mayer and Peter Salovey coined the term emotional intelligence—which rapidly gained popularity as organizations began to ask themselves if IQ was really the best predictor of success. Especially considering that people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70% of the time.

Think ousted Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. He helped turn an anonymous ride-hailing app into a multi-billion dollar tech giant—but simultaneously created an aggressive, toxic culture that customers despised. When the company did some digging to understand what people hated so much about the Uber brand, they got a two-word answer: Travis Kalanick. He was perceived as a bully, a bro, a complicit actor in the sexist, discriminatory workplace Uber had transformed into. Put simply, his lack of emotional intelligence almost sunk a pretty sturdy ship. Clearly, intellect wasn’t the issue here. Kalanick was by all accounts a brilliant business mind and helped build one of the most successful tech companies in the world. But he lacked a pivotal piece of the leadership puzzle— EQ.

In a recent CareerBuilder survey, 71% of employers said that they value EQ (Emotional Quotient) or EI (Emotional Intelligence) over IQ, because employees with a high EQ are more likely to keep cool under pressure, know how to resolve conflict, and are more empathetic toward their team.

What is emotional intelligence?

Linda Shaffer, a California-based Chief People Officer (CPO) at Checkr, explains that emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others.”Someone who possesses a high degree of EI is in a better position to regulate their own feelings and respond empathetically to the world around them. They make strong leaders, convincing mentors, and capable crisis managers.

Unsurprisingly, recruiters want to ensure that the people they hire possess these traits. According to Shaffer, when interviewers assess EQ, they are looking for you to demonstrate competency in four key areas:

  • Self-awareness: the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions
  • Self-management: the ability to regulate your emotions and respond appropriately to other’s emotions
  • Social skills: the ability to communicate and develop strong relationships
  • Empathy: the ability to understand other’s emotions

Not only are these skills important to maintaining strong relationships outside of work, but they have been shown to be predictive of success in the workplace.

Why is emotional intelligence important?

Having a high EQ is essential to building strong relationships and thriving in a collaborative work environment. Jennifer Hartman, an HR expert at New York-based Fit Small Business says that emotionally intelligent people are better problem solvers, decision-makers, and team players. “When it comes to job performance, EQ is just as important as IQ. In fact, EQ has been shown to have a direct impact on job performance,” she explains.

Shaffer agrees that EQ is a strong predictor of job performance, especially at leadership levels where people need to be prepared to manage difficult situations and relationships while keeping their own emotions in check. According to Shaffer, recruiters will often question candidates to better understand this. “In an interview, evidence of high EQ can help you stand out from other candidates and demonstrate your potential to be successful in the role.”

Common EQ check questions

With the growing focus on EQ, candidates should be prepared to speak to their own emotional intelligence. Recruiters will likely want to understand how you deal with emotionally charged situations. They want to test your communication skills and ability to self-reflect. They’re also looking for assurance that you’re competent in the four key areas of EQ: self-awareness, self-management, social skills, and empathy.

Shaffer shares some common questions that may be used to test EQ in an interview including:

  • Can you give me an example of a time when you had to deal with a difficult situation?
  • Can you describe how you handled a situation where there was conflict within your team?
  • Can you give me an example of a time when you had to give feedback to someone?
  • Can you describe a time when you had to manage a difficult customer interaction?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you had to deal with a challenging work situation?

When answering these questions, be specific. Explain how you dealt with the situation, what the impact was, and what you learned from the experience. Reflect on how you might re-approach the situation today. For example, if you had a difficult customer interaction, perhaps there’s something you could have done to avoid the confrontation, and you realized that in retrospect. Maybe that difficult conversation with your co-worker could have been resolved more quickly if you better understood their communication style.

Remember that emotional intelligence is rooted in being observant, reflecting upon the world around you, and making adjustments to your behavior when the situation warrants it. Showcase these qualities in your interview and, according to Shaffer, you’ll have a serious competitive advantage over other candidates.

How to develop your EQ

In his book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, author Travis Bradberry claims that only around 36% of people have a high EQ. In contrast, 90% of top performers have high emotional intelligence. If the latter doesn’t apply to you and emotional intelligence is not something you’re exceedingly competent in, there is still hope. Like a muscle, EQ is something that you can strengthen with practice and the right technique.

Hartmann shares three rules areas to focus on to develop your emotional intelligence:

  1. Be self-aware: Know your triggers and how to manage your emotions.
  2. Communicate clearly: Learn how to communicate with others, even when you don’t agree with them.
  3. Be resilient: Don’t let setbacks get you down—find ways to bounce back quickly and keep moving forward.

Although difficult to measure and seemingly intangible, emotional intelligence is something that your coworkers, managers, and friends are aware of. It dictates the way you treat them, respond to their emotions, and handle conflict.

The benefits of developing your emotional intelligence are invaluable as not just a way to get ahead at work, but also to improve your interpersonal relationships—and as an added bonus will make you an overall more pleasant person to be around.

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