An experiment at Yale University took groups of managers and infiltrated them with an actor. When the actor showed a high emotional intelligence (EQ), the group was cooperative, fair and performed well. When the actor showed a low EQ, the group performed badly. This showed how one person’s EQ, good or bad, was able to infect the emotions of the whole group for better or worse. 

That’s why a Career Builder survey of 2,600 employers showed that 71% value EQ more than IQ, and 59% said they would not hire a very bright person if they had a low EQ. And that’s why you need to show your EQ in an interview – with body language, listening skills or perhaps humour at your own expense.

Jon Denton, consultant at Randstad Technologies, knows this from what he has seen in hundreds of interview processes. “EQ is everything,” he says. “Very seldom is the candidate whose CV stands out the same candidate who impresses face to face. You could have hundreds of skills, but you need the emotional intelligence to align those skills to the needs of the role you are interviewing for.”

EQ measures how well you recognise emotions in yourself and others, and manage your own. Opinions differ on whether you are born with it or learn it, but everyone agrees that without EQ you’ll find it hard to get on – with your colleagues and in your career.

There are many methods of describing and assessing EQ, and in his Harvard Business Review article What Makes a Leader, Daniel Goldman describes the five components he has broken it down into:

• Self-awareness (self-confidence, realistic self-assessment, self-deprecating sense of humour)
• Self-regulation (trustworthiness and integrity, ability to live with ambiguity, openness to change)
• Motivation (strong drive to achieve, optimism even in the face of failure, organisational commitment)
• Empathy (expertise in building and retaining talent, cross-cultural sensitivity, service to clients and customers)
• Social skill (effectiveness in leading change, persuasiveness, expertise in building and leading teams)

He’s describing people who can reduce stress in themselves and others, recognise their emotions and manage them, give the right message with their body language, use humour to deal with challenges, and resolve conflicts positively.

When you prepare for your interview, find examples of these behaviours in your own career:

• Stress management (when you handled stress well and shielded your team from its negative effects)
• Listening skills (when you involved people with poor communication skills to accommodate their needs )
• Team building (when you took a team of very different characters and got them working together and a unit)

These examples can be turned into short anecdotes that show you have a high EQ, and you should practice relating them clearly and concisely. 

These gem-like career stories will also be a big help in performance-based interviews, when your answer to a very general question (eg: “Tell us about a time when you disagreed with your boss.”) leads to a detailed answer that is scored. If your answer shows you responded with annoyance and anger, that’s a negative. Using humour to defuse the situation, that’s a positive. An awareness of EQ makes such questions easier to answer well.

And don’t forget your EQ should also be helping you out in the interview process itself. When you answer a question, try to show you understand why they asked it. Use your body language to connect with the people on the panel in a respectful and engaging way – smiling, listening well, and leaning forward slightly when you are paying extra attention. And manage the stress of the situation with confidence and good humour.

Do all that, and you’ll be marking yourself out as an extremely strong candidate.

For more reading:

Daniel Goldman in the Harvard Business Review
The Bar-On model of EQ
Raising your EQ