6 questions to measure emotional intelligence in an interview

EQ is twice as important than IQ. Learn 6 good questions to help you identify a potential employee who has strong emotional intelligence. EQ is also trainable

James Godwin

6 minute read

6 questions to measure emotional intelligence in an interview

Jobs such as those in sales and customer service in which emotional competencies obviously make a big difference, we already intuitively know. What surprised me was the work done at Google with their ‘Search Inside Yourself’ course. They reported that this is true even for individual contributors in the tech sector, namely engineers whom you would expect to succeed purely on intellectual prowess. The top six competencies that distinguish star performers from average performers in the tech sector are:

  1. Strong achievement drive and high achievement standards [EQ]
  2. Ability to influence [EQ]
  3. Conceptual thinking [IQ]
  4. Analytical ability [IQ]
  5. Initiative in taking on challenges [EQ]
  6. Self-confidence [EQ]

Of the top six, only two (conceptual thinking and analytical ability) are purely intellectual competencies. The other four, including the top two, are emotional competencies. We’ve also built a course at JUMO to sharpen and enhance EQ skills. The course is called ‘Just Being’ and follows a mindfulness approach which progressively builds the skills necessary to optimise emotional intelligence. One starts with attention training, the foundation. Then onto emotional intelligence which involves self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

So how does one go about interviewing for EQ skills? Organisations are placing a high priority on emotional intelligence and traditional interview methods are needing to be retooled to test for it. Smart interview candidates have figured out how to look more emotionally intelligent. I think an interviewer needs have strong EQ skills themselves and potentially one should be training the interviewer to strengthen and optimise their emotional competencies. I personally need to be face to face with a potential candidate and be in a neutral environment like a coffee shop to level the playing field. Get the candidate off guard a bit. Then ask these questions.

1. WHAT ARE YOU MOST LEAST PROUD OF? WORK OR PERSONAL. Some who are eager and have not quite listened to the question will start to rap off what they are proud of. A little reminder ‘LEAST PROUD’ creates a pause and a nervous hesitation. I like to steer a candidate towards a more personal experience. This potentially opens up an emotional side to the individual which you can see how they dealt with or processed the experience. The followup is to ask what they have learnt and how they monitor themselves. This points directly to self-awareness and self-regulation.

2. HOW DO YOU RELY ON OTHERS TO MAKE YOU BETTER? The idea here is to explore social skills and to explore how the candidate handles potential negative feedback. Someone with strong EQ would value feedback without letting it impact their ego. Also allows you to explore if they purposely do this within their lives as it points to someone on a journey of improving. Powerful awareness towards self-regulation.

3. WHAT IMPORTANT TRUTH DO VERY FEW PEOLE AGREE WITH YOU ON? I love this one. Stole is directly out of ‘Zero to One’ by Peter Thiel. This question has sometimes gone totally wrong and I’ve had to add, “And reminder religion and politics not advisable in an interview”. I highlight there is no right or wrong answer. The question enables me to explore authenticity within an individual. Some answers can be very deep and some emotionally shallow. I find it exposes a candidate to see if I can trust them. It also displays a level of awareness that a candidate has found in themselves.

These first three questions generally give me a strong sense and view of their emotional intelligence.

4. WHAT DOES THE WORD EMPATHY MEAN? Empathy is often confused with something called “psychologising.” Speculating in psychological terms or on psychological motivations, often in an uninformed way. Empathy also does not necessarily mean agreeing. It is possible to understand another person at both an intellectual and a visceral level with kindness, and still disagree. Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Disagreeing with empathy is a lot like that. It is the mark of a developed mind to be able to understand and accept another’s feeling without agreeing to it. The best way to make tough decisions is with kindness and empathy.

5. IF YOU RAN YOUR OWN COMPANY, WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE WOULD YOU HIRE AND WHY? This highlights what your candidate values in others and teams. What sort of people they prefer to work with. Are they focusing on people or the outcomes? What skills and styles do they highlight in relating and managing others in order to accomplish shared goals. Try to determine how closely they would work with people. This question can also be directed towards compassion. Switching from “I” to “We” is the most important process of becoming an authentic leader. The purpose is to delve into the candidates ambitions and personal humility.

6. WHAT INSPIRES YOU AND WHY? The final emotional competency you want to explore is motivation. Generally a candidate will talk about what they are being hired for as what inspires them. Boring! You need to steer the feedback to try and explore what truly motivates. You want to discover a depth of their emotional intelligence. This questions indicates a level of EQ maturity a candidate has. Candidates will show many different levels due to their experiences but what’s key for me is how they are potentially pushing themselves to level up!

The more you can get away from the traditional interview model, which is mostly geared to probing a candidate’s past experience, the better insight you can gain into their emotional intelligence. This means being creative—ask hypothetical questions and don’t hesitate to share your own views and experiences. Being open and authentic yourself creates a foundation of trust that will allow you to explore a potential candidate far more effectively.


I was fortunate enough to have started Tai Chi a moving meditation at a very early age. Practising Tai Chi for over 25 years has allowed me to build a solid foundation to support the most important aspect of EQ development, which is attention training.

If you are interested in supporting yourself or helping the teams you manage, the links below can help you learn more about EQ training.

  1. What is EQ?
  2. Emotional Intelligence Training Course
  3. Learn to meditate with the Just6 App
  4. Meditation and the Science
  5. 7 reasons that emotional intelligence is quickly becoming one of the top sought job skills
  6. The secret to a high salary Emotional intelligence
  7. How to bring mindfulness into your employee wellness program
  8. Google ’Search Inside Yourself’