Face it: your good looks and book smarts aren’t going to get you hired. Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is what pays off in the job market. EQ is an intangible skillset that affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make decisions to achieve positive results. EQ is seen as the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence.  In fact, those with active/effective EQ reportedly earn an average of $29,000/year more than those with low EQ.

Here are 6 examples of ways interviewers assess EQ, the story behind the questions, and the best ways to respond.

1.) “Tell me about yourself.”

What they’re really asking: Why did you apply for this job? What can you do for us? Are you the right fit?

EQ connection: Anyone can go into a monologue about their experience, but fewer can articulate how their behavioral identity (such as a strong need to be liked or a commitment to stability and self-sufficiency) impacts people around them. Emotionally intelligent people are willing to talk about themselves in a candid, non-defensive manner. They also recognize how their feelings and behavior affect others, providing them control over potentially alienating behavior.

Best way to answer: Think of 2 or 3 accomplishments that directly relate to why you’re the best candidate for this position. If anxious, recognize that you may broadcast these feelings non-verbally. Use emotional and social “radar” to gauge how your words and actions influence your interviewer(s).


2.) “Why did you leave your last job?”

What they’re really asking: How self-aware are you? How do you handle your emotions at work? What lessons have you learned from your work history?

EQ connection: This can be a confusing question, as your instinct may be to be vague just to placate the interviewer. However, if you skirt the question, you run the risk of looking “guilty”, making the interviewer wonder what you’re hiding. An emotionally intelligent person will understand their emotions as they relate to the real reasons behind leaving their last job. They will also be able to regulate and control their behaviors associated with these emotions. We’ve all had instances at work that didn’t go as well as intended, but criticizing others or too much open disclosure can indicate a lack of self-regulation that never bodes well in an interview.

Best way to answer: No matter what your reason for leaving, the trick is to put a positive spin on your answer. Convey that the position you’re interviewing for is a better opportunity. Never mislead the interviewer or speak negatively of past employers.


3.) “How would you handle a difficult customer?”

What they’re really asking: How do you resolve conflict? Can we trust the reputation of our organization to you? Can we depend on you when we need to?
EQ connection: Emotionally intelligent people demonstrate a willingness to understand and empathize with customers and co-workers. They are intuitively able to grasp what others want and need. Similarly, they are excellent team-players with the ability to keep focus on a project while remaining aware of and responding to the emotional climate of the group.

Best way to answer: Provide a specific example (preparing a list beforehand will make it easier for you to recall these stories when asked). Demonstrate that you shifted the interaction with the difficult customer from potentially adversarial to collaborative and/or helpful. Assure the interviewer that you will provide excellent service without compromising the integrity of the organization.


4.) “Give me an example of a time when you had to analyze a situation and make a quick decision.”

What they’re really asking: What are your problem-solving skills? Are you capable of making sound decisions on the fly without becoming stressed?

EQ connection: Emotionally intelligent people are able to find solutions and deal realistically and calmly in stressful situations. Additionally, success in problem solving and stress management means you are able to demonstrate resilience and maintain a positive attitude. At work, this is vital if you’re facing tight deadlines, juggle multiple responsibilities, or work in an environment with constantly shifting priorities.

Best way to answer: The interviewer will be interested in the thought-process behind your actions. Make sure your answer tells a success story that demonstrates your understanding of the situation, how you dealt with pressure and/or navigated through competing priorities, and implemented a workable solution.


5.) “What are your weaknesses?”

What they’re really asking: How self-aware and confident are you? Do you learn from and reflect upon your mistakes? What are your lessons-learned?

EQ connection: While being open to feedback is never easy, emotionally intelligent people take it in, analyze it, and potentially make changes based upon the critique. They demonstrate emotional maturity, adaptability, and leadership potential.

Best way to answer: We all make mistakes, so refusing to answer this question is a sign you’re not willing to learn. Keep in mind also that any strength carried to the extreme can be a liability.


6.) “What do you know about our organization?”

What they’re really asking: Do you care enough about us to do your research?

EQ connection: This question partially relates to self-awareness (i.e. how clear are you about how your strengths will fit into the organization?), but is also relates to expression and decision-making. A lack of preparation can indicate either lack of interest in the position or an inability to stay flexible and tactfully communicate with the interviewer(s).

Best way to answer: Talk about a challenge the organization is facing and what you know about their plans to fix it, new products or features, or the organization’s business approach vs. their competition. With the internet at our disposal, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to research organizations (but be careful about the sources you use to research; not everything published online is true). Answering this question successfully isn’t a matter of reiterating what you read on the website, but how you translate that into what you can do for them.

If you want to boost your EQ, it’s important to be honest. It takes a lot of maturity to be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses, and many otherwise competent professionals lack this key element of EQ. This, along with the ability to pick up on other peoples’ emotions can spell the difference between success or failure on an interview.

Image courtesy of Entrepreneur Handbook