You could hire someone for their résumé. You could hire them for their Ivy League degree. You could hire them for what they know, or who they know. But there’s one trait, one soft skill that trumps all of that: emotional intelligence.
In the interview, listen to how the candidate answers each question. Do they take time to digest the questions in order to deliver a descriptive response? Are they active listeners? Do they seem honest? Can they openly admit their foibles? Do they ask a lot of follow-up questions? If asked about a tough decision they had to make, or about a project they worked on, do they answer the question and stop, or do they explain why they did it and how it affected the company?
Why does emotional intelligence at work matter so much? Because highly emotionally intelligent people:
1. Have great potential.
People with emotional intelligence are great to have in the pipeline of future leaders because they possess the qualities that good leaders have: They are smart, empathetic, good decision-makers, humble and self-aware. They are curious and want to continuously learn and improve, asking how and why, not what. They want to understand the bigger picture and be able to connect their tasks to how it’s helping the company progress.
2. Do good business.
Emotionally intelligent people listen, digest and understand every situation before reacting. They process information to deliver the most effective, valuable advice, and they develop an emotional connection to every decision they make, considering how it will impact anyone involved. Emotionally intelligent people will do anything to make the client happy, and in today’s world of word-of-mouth referrals, a bad experience can spread quickly in a network. Exceptional customer service will not only retain existing clients but will turn first-time clients into repeats.
3. Attract other good hires.
People who have high emotional intelligence are typically invested in their careers and want to be great. They are curious and want to continue educating themselves on the industry or their role. People who want to be successful in their careers will associate themselves with those who are doing well; therefore, people with emotional intelligence will be a magnet for those who want to follow a similar career progression. This will create a more robust pipeline of future leaders because top talent typically associates with like-minded people.
4. Defuse situations.
People with emotional intelligence are self-aware. They know exactly what pushes their buttons and what frustrates others. They are able to stop themselves from overreacting and can also empathize with others to defuse any irritations they may have. Whether it’s with an irate customer or co-worker, having defusers on any team helps resolve issues efficiently.
This article was published in August 2015 and has been updated. Photo by @galinkazhi/Twenty20
Adam Ochstein is the founder and CEO of StratEx, a Chicago-based firm that provides human resources software and services. StratEx helps companies manage the entire employee lifecycle online, from reviewing resumes and applications, to hiring and onboarding, time-off requests and payroll processing, terminations, resignations and exit interviews. StratEx helps companies manage HR processes so businesses can focus on employee relations.