Whether you’re a hiring manager that wants to assess the emotional intelligence of a potential employee, a regular person evaluating his or her correspondent or you’re doing a self-evaluation, you’ll surely need some help distinguishing EQ from IQ.

While there are a lot of tests that help you determine IQ, it’s a bit harder to asses EQ since the terms are somewhat codependent.

Emotional intelligence is at least as subtle as any other type of intelligence (since there are many types of it).

There are many traits of emotional intelligence that you should be wary of. Self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, motivation and social skills are all trademarks of an emotionally intelligent person, but all of these traits are sometimes elusive and come in many different forms.

Having said that, it’s important to note that EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) may matter even more than IQ or formal education, depending on the type of job the employee will be doing of course.

If you’re looking for someone who does well in a team, you’re going to need a higher than average EQ and if you’re hunting for lone wolves (for whatever reason you may have), IQ may be more important.

The overall capability of a candidate is thus determined by both EQ and IQ and to help you catch a glimpse of your candidate’s EQ capacities, we’ve listed some of the best questions to help you test people for emotional intelligence:

1. WHAT IS YOUR GOAL IN LIFE? WHAT ARE YOU AIMING FOR?

This is the first ice breaker and a huge one! By asking this you’ll be able to determine whether the person you’re talking to is striving for something spiritual and unique or towards something material and generic.

We’re not talking religion here and we’re not stigmatizing matter either. We’re talking about whatever lights someone up!

If it’s material goods then you know that the person you’re talking to hasn’t figured things out because what all of us really want is that sweet release of serotonin.

Money and wealth are simply means to an end and if someone mistakes one for the other, you just know that he/she lacks self-awareness.

You know that story when John Lennon answers a test question by saying he wants to be happy and they tell him he didn’t understand the assignment?

Well, how emotionally intelligent are you from 0 to John Lennon? Few things scream “Emotional Intelligence” like art and artists.

Now, we don’t all need to be artistic or spiritual, each one of us gets sparked up by different things, but to be in touch with your self (aka self-aware), you need a certain depth… unless you’re a shallow person and only a few people admit to being shallow. You’re not one of them, are you?

2. WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY? WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR YOURSELF?

Just to specify the former question, if a person mentions wealth – let them define or describe wealth for you.

This is one of the hardest and at the same time one of the simplest questions out there.

By asking this one, you’ll understand the nature of the candidate’s motivation.

How much we’re motivated depends on what we’re motivated by.

Many people want money and “success” without really defining what “success” means for them. You can’t be self-aware without specifying your goals and preferences in life.

If you don’t know what drives you, how are you gonna get it? If you don’t get it, you don’t get emotionally fulfilled, and being emotionally dull is not really a sign of a high EQ, right?

Ask this question to see how well defined your interviewee’s goals are and how thorough he/she is in quest for his/her (career) passion.

3. HOW DO YOU (REALLY) FEEL?

This one may sound plain, but it’s anything but. It’s not a matter of courtesy and make sure that the interviewee gets it too.

The point of this question is to test the interviewee’s ability to recognize, understand and verbally articulate his/her emotions. That’s one of the most important aspects of emotional intelligence.

Describing the current emotional state with some precision is the first step towards managing emotions and that is what emotional intelligence is all about. It’s its practical purpose – to regulate your own and other people’s emotions.

Don’t let the interviewee answer plainly. Make him/her tell the whole story.

The more they speak the more they say about their emotional intelligence.

4. CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT YOU EVER HAD ON SOMEONE?

Ask this to determine whether the interviewee has leadership potential. Emotional intelligence is a key trait for successful leadership. Judging by the answer, you’ll see if the interviewee is a team player or not and how influential he/she really is.

You’re looking for someone who inspires others and who knows how to motivate people to be the best version of themselves and to always excel in what they’re doing.

This question can also help in determining whether a person is prone to helping, coaching and mentoring others.

All of these are important aspects of leadership and leadership is what emotionally intelligent people are talented for.

The difference between a boss and a leader is that the latter one has a high EQ. Bosses boss people around or in other words they make them do things they don’t want to.

Leaders inspire people to want to do things that they didn’t even know they were capable of.

5. WHAT’S THE MOST NEGATIVE IMPACT YOU EVER HAD ON SOMEONE?

By asking this, you will assess whether the interviewee is influential or not.

Some people will give plain and generic answers for one of two possible reasons. Either they’re diplomatic and they’re hiding something or they’re plain and ordinary.

If they’re diplomats, they might not be too sincere and open. There are people with traits of emotional intelligence who lack empathy.

They understand how the whole emotional mechanism works except for their own which seems to not work at all. These people are called narcissists. Watch out for those.

If they’re avoiding the answer, they are too closed off which means that they view others as threats instead of potential teammates.

Such people are afraid and potentially aggressive as they misinterpret other people’s behavior for offensive and then they defend by attacking.

If, however, they tell you a story about having a negative impact on someone, they will explain why and how their impact took place. If they understand why and how they are already emotionally intelligent which makes them somewhat culpable.

It also might be the case that they’re feeling remorse. Watch out for their body language and facial expressions.

6. TELL ME SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR IMPERFECTIONS? WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE WEAKNESSES THAT YOU NEED TO WORK ON?

Ask this to see how self-critical and self-aware people are.

If they respond quickly, it means that they’ve already thought it trough which means they’re introspective and strive towards perfecting themselves.

It could also mean that they’ve prepared for the interview and anticipated your out-of-the-box questions. If they take some time to think that’s ok too.

Pay close attention to what they consider their weaknesses.

The heavier flaws they list the more open, sincere and self-aware they are, so that’s actually a good thing.

Notice the tone of their voice to evaluate how determined and motivated they are to improve.

If they sound determined, it’s a clear display of tendency towards self-management or self-regulation which is one of the most important traits of emotional intelligence.

7. TELL ME ABOUT YOUR WORST DAY AT WORK? HOW DID YOU HANDLE IT?

By asking this you’ll determine how an individual does under pressure.

The ability to manage affects and maintain composure is a crucial feature of emotional intelligence.

If they can’t keep their cool, they’re potentially hazardous for themselves and their environment aka your team.

If, however, they just felt depressed and suppressed their anger, bitterness, disappointment, discontent or general negativity, they’re still a liability.

Suppression is not self-management. Exerting force over yourself in order to adapt is not self-discipline.

Self-regulation is being assertive and proactive instead of passive and retroactive.

It means understanding the need for a certain manner of behavior and truly wishing to become something else instead of just making yourself be something that you’re not.

8. IF YOU HAD ALL THE MONEY AND POWER YOU WANTED, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

This question may help you discover what your interviewees are aiming for and how good their aim is.

If they explain only what they want for themselves then you know you’re dealing with someone self-centered. That could imply that the person in question is self-aware, but not necessarily.

If they forget to tell you that they want something for society as well and that they want to have a positive impact on their environment, then they aren’t taking others into consideration.

Now, that’s not really a trait of a team player and not being a team player is close to not being emotionally intelligent.

If the interviewee doesn’t have clear goals and all they can think of is some generic idea of fun like partying and buying a yacht, then you have a hedonist on your hands.

That’s not a good sign of emotional intelligence either because, paradoxically, hedonism doesn’t make you happier.

If your candidate answers by mentioning both individual goals and an impact he/she would have on society and environment then you’re dealing with a wholesome, emotionally intelligent character.

9. HOW DO YOUR TEAMMATES BENEFIT FROM WORKING WITH YOU? WHAT’S YOUR PERSONAL WORTH? HOW DO YOU THINK YOU CONTRIBUTE TO THE COMPANY AND THE SOCIETY FOR THAT MATTER?

Timing is of the essence here. The time they take to answer the question shows how much thought they’ve given the question before.

It’s also important what comes out of their mouths first. If they start with the numbers and mention making profit and revenue, you know what they’re aiming for.

If, however, they say that they could have a positive influence on the atmosphere and that they could motivate others to learn and improve, you might just have an emotionally intelligent person in your ranks.

Don’t get fooled, it’s not just about making people feel nice. Employees with high EQ tend to have higher income too.

10. WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST ASSET?

A short and simple question to determine how much they’ve pondered on what they’re worth and how much they can relate their worth to your expectations.

By the complexity of their answer, you’ll be able to determine if they are self-aware or not, because the shorter the answer is, the less they’ve examined themselves.

Of course, it can be vice versa. It may happen that they’ve already done their share of introspection and that they already have the answers in store.

Watch out for the answer’s depth and aim. Is it a psychological trait or a skill? Does it include something others can use or not?

11. CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN (EMOTIONALLY) HURT THE MOST IN YOUR LIFE?

This one’s a bit tricky. It’s not really something you should ask on a first date, but what the heck.

Interviewees might answer by putting the blame on others, which is not a trademark of emotionally intelligent people.

People with high EQ usually tend to accept full responsibility for everything that happened to them.

Other than that, they try to understand the process and their assailant’s motivation rather than put the blame on someone.

Pay attention to the level of their bitterness to assess how successful their negativity-management skills are.

If they underline the importance of learning a lesson and are actually thankful for the hurt they’ve been inflicted because they understand it’s purpose… then hire them right away!

Kidding, but nevertheless, it could mean that their EQ hits the roof.

Next, pay attention to what exactly hurt them? Is it a betrayal, disappointment of ideals or expectations or are their Egos sore.

By realizing that other people are just agents of emotional damage and that the reasons for it are ideas, expectations, etc., you may come to understand what exactly hurt them. That will point out who they really are.

12. ARE YOU AN EASYGOING PERSON?

Simple question. The more they make it complex, the less easygoing they are but watch out for the level of conformism they might exhibit while answering.

Being to prone to adaptation can be a sign of emotional intelligence, but it’s not necessarily so. It can just mean that someone lacks a backbone.

Not having a backbone can be a prerequisite for some occupations, but we’re assessing emotional intelligence here.

If they’re spineless, their EQ is either very low or they’re extremely cunning so watch it.

13. DO YOU THINK YOU’RE INTELLIGENT ENOUGH FOR THIS POSITION?

This might sound a bit offensive and even better if it does. You can explain the point of the question later if you want to be excused.

As for the purpose of the question, it’s devised to assess the level of someone’s ego and how much they value themselves.

If you think about it, people will admit to all kinds of flaws except that they lack intelligence. It’s the characteristic that our sense of personal worth is most associated with.

If someone admits to his/her lack of intelligence, it can only imply that they are modest and self-aware.
Stupid people are less likely to admit to being stupid.

By asking this, you may insult someone which will give you a chance to assess how they react when they’re assaulted. Watch out for their body language and the tone of their voice.

How diplomatic is their answer?

Are they defensive?

Did they take it as an insult?

If they manage their own emotions well and aren’t easy to disturb then they’re likely to have a high EQ.

People like that are more productive too.

14. IS THERE SOMETHING THAT YOU CAN TEACH ME?

Coaching talents and skills in mentorship are a big trademark of emotionally intelligent people.

If they answer positively, ask what and you may just learn something new.

15. YOU KNOW THOSE LITTLE THINGS THAT PEOPLE DO THAT ARE IRRITATING? WHAT IRRITATES YOU THE MOST? CAN YOU MAKE A LIST FOR ME?

This is a simple one. It’s usually some sort of recklessness and lack of manner that we despise in other people’s behavior.

It’s sometimes some stimuli that trigger our neurosis that we may recognize as irritating.

If your interviewee makes a list without ever mentioning that he/she sometimes does something similar, they’re projecting their own flaws on others which doesn’t really scream emotional intelligence.

If the list of things that irritate them is long then their emotional management skills are poor. They probably aren’t that good in managing conflict either.

16. TELL ME ABOUT THE 3 TIMES THAT YOU LOST YOUR COOL THE MOST?

When they answer, try to look for a pattern in what gets them on fire.

If they think too much, look at their faces. Are they thinking because they can’t remember when they lost their cool or because they can’t decide which time was the worst?

People who are generally calm take less time to remember the situations when they weren’t calm because it’s weird for them when they lose it.

If someone tells you that they don’t lose cool, it’s time for a red alert. Never losing it is like a superpower. How come they’re not evaluating you instead?

Pay attention to their explanations. Are they focusing on reasons for loosing cool, are they still surprised they acted the way they did or did they analyze the situation already and come up with the solutions?

Did they learn from the situation? Do they make excuses for the loss of control or do they regret losing it? How determined are they not to lose it again?

17. WHAT ARE THE 5 KEYS TO SUCCESS?

This one is a simple test. Just count the words “I” and “We” in their answers.

In other words, one of the keys they list should concern teamwork.

It’s an easy question to determine whether they’re team players or not and if they aren’t… well bye, bye EQ.

18. WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR FREE TIME? WHAT DO YOU DO FOR FUN?

How much are their leisure activities oriented towards nurturing their psyche? Do they take time for themselves or do they enjoy group activities?

There’s no right answer for this one. If they’re more introverted, they may have awesome analytical skills, but if they’re extroverted, they might have that subtle leadership magnetism that emotionally intelligent people often have.

Actually, the introvert and extrovert categories got old so an ambivert might be the best candidate for the emotionally intelligent interviewee.

Look for someone who values their alone time and knows how to listen and speak. Look for someone who knows how to lead and follow.

That way you’ll be sure that the person in question took their time to understand and analyze their own and other people’s emotions, motives, behavior, but that he/she also has people skills and field experience.

CONCLUSION

It’s not just what they say, but also how they say it that matters. Pay attention to the conjunctions such as: however, still, although, but, etc. These might imply detailed analysis and complexity of someone’s mind.

It’s all the nuances that they perceive (or that they fail to perceive) that give out their emotional intelligence.

Watch out for body language and signs of short temper or resignation. Listen to their tone of voice. Are they easily excited?

Don’t be too rash in conclusions or otherwise, you won’t turn out to be very emotionally intelligent. There are always more variables in human motivation and relationships than we can account for so keep your mind open for the possibilities you missed.

Someone may lack a trait of an emotionally intelligent person but still have a high EQ.

That’s why it’s important to go through all of these questions. Even then, do not rush. Try to understand rather than judge. It’s what emotionally intelligent people do after all.

P.S. If their answers are too perfect, they may have read this article as well.

7 Interview Questions That Determine Emotional Intelligence

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