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Hiring an employee based solely on their intelligence level and work experience isn’t enough anymore. These days, business relationships (not just transactions) are what make or break a business.

Whether it’s between executives and managers, among office team members, or with customers and clients, having emotional intelligence is what will give those relationships support, understanding, cooperation, and chemistry.

When you have all of those attributes going for your company, that’s when the magic happens:  

  • Fewer problematic (and expensive) HR Resources issues come up
  • Team performance standards are increased
  • Occupational stress is decreased
  • Decision-making abilities are improved
  • There is a significant reduction in employee turnover
  • Managers turn into leaders
  • Everyone enjoys a better level of personal well-being

If you want to experience these perks in your company, here are seven emotional intelligence indicators you should be on the lookout for when it comes time to interview potential employees.

1. They Relate to Others’ Emotions

Sorrow, frustration, and exhaustion are often thought of as weak emotions. The fact is, they are perfectly legit human responses that everyone experiences often. The same is true of positive emotions.

But, if someone refuses to acknowledge their own feelings and is incapable of relating to basic emotions expressed by others, that is a true sign of an emotionally immature person.

Recognize this EI trait in an interview by expressing some of your own emotions and observing the response.

Does your applicant laugh in discomfort or shift in their seat silently or do they nod their head in understanding and as an act of solidarity? Do they seem to hit an emotional wall or do they reciprocate with an honest, vulnerable response?

2. They Acknowledge Weaknesses Without Self-Deprecating

There is a big difference between taking personal responsibility, admitting fault, and being sincerely sorry about making a mistake versus losing focus on the issue, getting worked up about all your faults, and turning to self-pity.

The first response is a positive and healthy way to handle a mistake while the second response shows immaturity and selfishness (since you’re only thinking about how bad you feel).

Recognize this EI trait in an interview by asking the applicant to talk about a time they failed at their job. What did they do to remedy the problem while keeping their shortcomings in perspective?  

Listen for a reply that acknowledges personal responsibility without becoming defensive and making excuses or without calling themselves derogatory names. You shouldn’t hear too much negativity toward others or toward themselves. Watch out for cowardly or anxiety-ridden body language.

3. They Are Forgiving of Others

Forgiveness is high on the emotional intelligence scale because it takes a good amount of empathy to be able to express it. Empathy allows you to relate to others by recognizing what they are going through (and have gone through in the past) professionally and personally.

You understand that each past and present event affects personality and moods. You also tend to give others the benefit of the doubt.

Recognize this EI trait in an interview by asking the applicant to describe their most challenging supervisor. Why was that person so difficult? How did the applicant manage the professional relationship?

Listen for empathetic responses explaining why the supervisor was difficult, such as work pressures or background differences. If the applicant explains that they had a successful working relationship despite the difficulties, that’s a good sign.

4. They Know How to Be Flexible

Many people brag about being a perfectionist or someone who likes to maintain control of any situation. The truth is, however, being flexible is a more emotionally mature trait to possess.

Being able to change course quickly while maintaining focus, or having the ability to reassess and reestablish a new focus mid-plan, is necessary in modern business.

Recognize this EI trait in an interview by asking how the applicant handles surprises. Ask them to give an instance of a time when everything went wrong and how they kept going anyway.

You’re looking for responses that prove they maintained their composure, confidence, and maybe even their sense of humor until they found an alternative way to reach their goal.

How To Live a Successful Life

5. They Live a Balanced Life

While you want an employee who is extremely motivated and capable, you still want someone who is self-aware enough to naturally know the importance of living a healthy, happy life.

If they take care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually on top of their work life, you’ve got someone who is well-adjusted and won’t risk burnout.

Recognize this EI trait in an interview by asking how the applicant defines success (both at work and outside of it) and how they will know if they ever reach it. Are their answers based solely on salary or job labels? Do they mention anything in regards to their family life or personal hobbies and goals?  

6. They Listen to and Consider Other Perspectives

Emotionally intelligent beings are naturally curious and love to explore different possibilities. They do this by reading and watching various genres, traveling, asking a lot of questions, listening to others’ perspectives, and considering alternative solutions to problems.

Being able to listen and consider various perspectives are coaching skills that can be effective in team and leadership roles.

Recognize this EI trait in an interview by asking the applicant to describe something they don’t understand, but want to, and how they’d go about figuring it out. Then, share something yourself and try to gauge if they are actually listening to you (without interrupting or zoning out).

7. They Look Beyond Just Solving the Immediate Problem

An emotionally immature person isn’t very good at predicting problems that may arise. Nor are they good at learning from problems of the past. Instead, they find themselves constantly putting out fires and having no idea why they keep igniting.

Recognize this EI trait in an interview by walking the applicant through a scenario such as a dissatisfied client complaining about unmet expectations. Ask them what red flags could have been waving before the client spoke up. Also, how would they prevent similar situations from happening in the future?


The thing with emotional intelligence is that you won’t recognize it, or know if someone else has it, if you don’t possess it yourself. Even if you do think have it, continually fine-tuning your own emotional intelligence is a life-long endeavor, not one that stops once you find it.

An interviewee could easily give you the “correct” answers to any of your EI questions, but if you are emotionally intelligent you will be able to catch disingenuous, canned responses immediately. When you do happen to find a truly emotionally intelligent applicant, you will feel a human connection that can’t be faked. This is when you know you’ve found the right candidate for the job. 

Written By
Annabelle Smyth is a freelance writer who covers everything from HR to technology and team building. Her most recent work involves partnership marketing with CMOE where she has had the opportunity to learn about the relationship between leadership and successful businesses.

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