hiring emotional intelligence1. Put the candidate at their ease

Job interviews have traditionally excelled at assessing one aspect of emotional intelligence: self-management. Many candidates find interviews somewhat stressful, and there is a whole battery of ‘Stress Interview’ tactics that you could use if you want to make sure that applicants are up to the challenge of a stressful role.

The rationale behind ‘stress interview’ questioning is that you want to see the true person behind the polished and prepared interview façade. The reality is that if you pile on the pressure from the start, you are only seeing how that person is in a stressful or crisis situation, and you will miss out on information about their true capabilities.

In emotional intelligence terms, you will gain an idea of how good they are at self-management, but you will deny yourself a chance to assess their self-awareness, social awareness and relationship management competences. When people are stressed they become more careful about what they say and what they reveal of themselves, trying to cover themselves and present the best possible image.

Additionally, you run the risk of alienating emotionally intelligent candidates if they perceive that you are acting in an emotionally unintelligent way. As well as being your opportunity to assess the candidate’s suitability for the role, interviews are the candidate’s chance to assess the suitability of the role and the organisation’s culture for them. If you are deliberately assuming an aggressive or overly provocative persona as the interviewer, there is the risk that it may taint the candidate’s view of your organization so that he or she decides that this is not a place they want to work. This danger increases the more highly qualified and in demand the candidate is.

Instead, at least at the start of the interview, make an effort to put candidates at their ease. That way, you help them loosen up and drop their defenses, so they reveal more of the real person. You can always drop in some provocative questions to assess their self-management capabilities later in the interview.

Your emotional state will make a difference to how you feel about candidates, so make sure that you are in a good state yourself when you are interviewing. Ensure that you have had enough rest and that you are not hungry while interviewing.

2. Unconscious Biases, Fairness, and Diversity

We think that we make decisions, including hiring decisions, on rational grounds. But there are a variety of unconscious and emotional biases that influence our hiring decisions without us being aware of them.

Research has found that interviewers tend to hire candidates who remind them of themselves, and candidates they feel excited and enthusiastic about because the candidate shares some passion of theirs. There is also some internalized gender bias, in that both male and female managers favour men over equally qualified women when making decisions about hiring, performance evaluation, promotion and compensation.

3. How To Combat Unconscious Bias

If you have a diverse interview panel, that should reduce the tendency to hire people who remind interviewers of themselves or share an interest with them. You could also have different people conducting first and second interviews.

To ensure fairness, use structured interviews and make sure all candidates are asked the same top-level questions so they all have a chance to evidence the emotional intelligence competences you are looking for. In a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of selection methods going back over 85 years of studies, structured interviews were found to add an extra 24% in validity as a predictor of job performance when added to a General Mental Ability (GMA) scores, three times as much as the 8% that unstructured interviews added to GMA scores.

Scorecards will be helpful in keeping the interview structured and reducing bias. Scorecards typically mark each competency against a five-point scale. The organisation should agree beforehand on the kinds of responses for each question on the list that would qualify for each point on the scale. The scorecard makes it easy to compare candidates on the basis of quantifiable records of their interviews.

Also, if you have a ‘bad feeling’ about a particular candidate, it’s worth asking yourself if they remind you of anyone that you have had trouble with in the past. The amygdala (the part of the brain that constantly scans our environment for trouble) works on pattern matching rather than logic. If the physical appearance or even voice tone of a candidate triggers a partial pattern match for someone in your history that you’ve had significant difficulty (for example, a bully at school, or a feared authority figure in your childhood) that might be enough to trigger ‘alarm bells’ about that person without you being consciously aware of why.

Questions to consider:

  • How do you make sure that you are in a good physical and emotional state to conduct the interview?
  • What are you doing to reduce unconscious bias in your interviews?
  • What are you doing to reduce ‘groupthink’ in interview decisions?

Missed Part 1 of this series? Here it is:
How To Hire For Emotional Intelligence (1): What Is Emotional Intelligence And Why Is It Important To Hire For It?

How To Hire For Emotional Intelligence (2): How You Need To Be As An Interviewer
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