No need for testing. You CAN interview for emotional intelligence

Last week I was facilitating a People and Business Management workshop with managers from all over the U.S. and a question came up about whether personality instruments might be useful in the hiring process.

As luck would have it, I read an article in the Harvard Business Review that addresses this very issue. Here’s the author’s answer:


  • Use personality tests as a proxy for EI. Most of these tests attempt to measure what they say they do: personality. They do not measure specific competencies of emotional intelligence such as self-awareness, positive outlook, achievement orientation, empathy, or inspirational leadership.

  • Use a self-report test. There are two reasons these don’t work. First, if a person is not self-aware, how can he possibly assess his own emotional intelligence? And if he is self-aware, and knows what he’s missing, is he really going to tell the truth when trying to get a job?

  • Use a 360-degree feedback instrument, even if it is valid and even if it measures EI competencies, like the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI) does. A tool like 360-degree feedback ought to be used for development, not evaluation. When these instruments are used to evaluate, people game them by carefully selecting the respondents, and even prepping them on how to score.

Interviewing with IBM

Passion and preparation please.

 What are you looking for in a candidate?
We want smart people who exude passion, who are willing to take risks and challenge conventional thinking, and who aspire to make a real difference in the company. When somebody walks in the door to interview at IBM, he has to be up to speed on our company and industry. If someone comes in and he is not well informed, he signals that he is not really that interested in the position.

What can a candidate do to impress you?
Clearly, we would expect people to have strong academic achievement. But it’s your delivery and the way that you talk about your aspirations that really make a difference and leave an impression with the interviewer. A candidate who impresses me is someone well spoken, who has a clear idea of what he wants to do. If someone comes in and says, “I want to do interesting, challenging work in this specific area,” it gives me an indication that he or she really is goal-oriented. I also like to hear folks who talk about the fact that they like to collaborate and continuously learn.

What is the biggest mistake MBA applicants make during the job search and how can they avoid that?
A little bit of arrogance or a lack of preparation would be a pretty significant faux pas on the part of an applicant. A person who comes to an interview with a bit of an attitude such as, “I know it all, and I expect to be the CEO in five years,” is making a mistake. The best way for people to leave a good impression is to be well prepared. (BW)

A little comic relief as you prepare for your interview: Monty Python job interview