Interviewing for Emotional Intelligence: Eight Questions to Help You Assess a Candidate's Self-Awareness and Social Competency

best interviewing practices communication improvement initiatives communication skills communication strategies effective listening empathetic communication eq at work eq leadership hr interpersonal communication interviewing interviewing for emotional intelligence negotiation skills Aug 28, 2023

I was speaking with a Biotech CEO who told me he often shared with new hires how they were hired for their competency but their career trajectory would be based not only on their performance but also on their emotional intelligence (EQ) and ability to work with others. I asked him if they did any assessment of EQ in the interview process and he said they didn’t and that it would be helpful to have something like that. He said it would be an although a training on this would be ideal I wanted to put together a shortlist of questions to ask and responses to look for that might help.

For our purposes, when we use the common phrase “emotional intelligence” we are referring to that person’s self awareness and social competency. Do they understand themselves and take responsibility for their impact and do they have the social capacity to navigate the relationships in a team environment.

In the ever-evolving landscape of recruitment and talent acquisition, organizations have long prioritized hiring individuals based on their technical competence and skill sets. A candidate's qualifications, expertise, and professional achievements have traditionally taken the forefront during the selection process. Yet, in an increasingly interconnected and collaborative world, the significance of emotional intelligence in shaping successful teams and fostering a harmonious work environment cannot be overstated.

We often find out far too late the answers to questions like:

  • Does this person get overly defensive when responding to negative feedback?
  • Has this person learned communication and conflict skills that affect a work environment?
  • How collaborative vs competitive is this person?
  • Does this person understand how they impact others?


That’s just the start.

It has been widely observed that while individuals are often hired for their competence, they are more frequently separated from their roles due to challenges surrounding relational intelligence and their ability to effectively collaborate with others. Some brilliant people exhaust their teams and damage productivity due to their inability to navigate relational complexity. This is why Netflix has a “no brilliant jerks” policy.  As organizations place a growing emphasis on teamwork, communication, adaptability, and empathy, the importance of evaluating self awareness and social competency during the interview process has become paramount.

*Of course consult any rules and regulations regarding possible legal issues involving equality, cultural values, ethical standards, etc. This is about awareness but we are not making judgement calls about a candidates being right or wrong for a role. It should also be noted that our company primarily works with Director level and above in our training and coaching.*

Let’s delve into the essential aspects of interviewing for emotional intelligence. We want to give you options of questions you might ask in an interview process and what to look for in the response. This way you can better uncover a candidate's self awareness and social competency.

By recognizing the powerful influence of emotional intelligence on individual and team performance, and by adopting comprehensive approaches to assess this crucial skill, organizations can pave the way for a more cohesive, productive, and thriving work environment. As we embark on this journey to unveil emotional intelligence in the context of interviewing, let us lay the foundation for building stronger, more resilient, and socially competent teams.


1. Question: Can you describe a challenging relational situation you faced at work?

What to Look For: Look for candidates who demonstrate self-awareness by recognizing their personal experience and emotions, self-regulation by effectively managing their emotions, and a proactive approach to handling difficulties. You could ask a follow up question about how they navigated it.

2. Question: Have you ever experienced burnout in your work or school life?

What to Look For: Assess the candidate's ability to set boundaries, manage their time effectively, and make choices that align with their values. Look for their capacity to handle stress and avoid burnout.

3. Question: Is there anyone in your career who both inspired you, brought the best out of you, or challenged you? 

What to Look For: A candidate who has learned EQ skills can often point to someone who demonstrated helping them navigate and enhance their own learning path. These are often stories where candidates exhibit openness to feedback, a willingness to learn and improve, and the ability to reflect on their own behavior and actions.

4. Question: Describe a situation in which you had to collaborate with a difficult coworker or team member. 

What to Look For: Look for ways the candidate navigated personal issues to keep the end work goal at the forefront. Keep an eye out for skills like empathy, active listening, conflict resolution, and the ability to build positive working relationships. You could include asking, "How did you approach the interaction, and what strategies did you use to navigate any challenges?"

5. Question: What helps you through a stressful business season or project?

What to Look For: Assess the candidate's stress management abilities, their capacity to stay composed under pressure, and their commitment to delivering high-quality results even in challenging situations.

6. Question: What is one of the more complicated work situations you’ve experienced? 

What to Look For: A candidate who demonstrates higher self-mastery and social awareness will provide nuanced narratives about their experiences. They will take responsibility and openly discuss what they have learned, aspects they handled well, areas they could have improved, and insights gained from each situation. This kind of self-reflection indicates a balanced understanding of their actions and emotions, as well as a willingness to learn and grow from their experiences. A follow up question could be, "How did you navigate it from a relational and performance perspective?"

On the other hand, if a candidate consistently positions themselves as the hero, always right, or solely as a victim in their stories, it could suggest lower self-mastery and emotional intelligence. This one-sided perspective may indicate a lack of self-awareness and an inability to acknowledge their role in various outcomes.

7. Question: Have you ever experienced training in communication and conflict, or have you ever been trained in a psychometric tool like Enneagram, Myers Briggs, Insights, etc?

What to Look For: This is just assessing if the candidate has had previous experience with tools that allowed them to better understand themselves. You will also notice if they are resistant or open to growth based tools. 

8. Question: Can you share a specific instance from your career where you looked up to someone as a source of inspiration or guidance?

What to Look For: If they can’t think of anyone or only have negative things to say about previous work relationships that is a big red flag or if they only have positive things to say, they may be the type to avoid conflict or negativity. Anyone they can speak about in a genuine positive way and they can name specific things they gleaned from that person is a good answer. 



In the future we may provide a workshop to delve deep into developing the skill of what to look for when interviewing but for now, implementing a couple questions in the process is a simple way to start experimenting and seeing what you learn from the process. We hope this helps and feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions!

Want to work with us? Find out more HERE. 

The Art of Growth Team

Written by Jim Zartman and Joel Hubbard

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