Workplaces are microcosms of society. They are often the dignified version of the annual reality TV show, Bigg Boss. People from diverse backgrounds and conditionings come together, not just to work towards shared goals but often, also to compete and come out winners. These are well-rounded adults with different opinions, perspectives, working styles and approaches to time - and people-management. Disagreements and conflicts are easy to find, solutions and finding middle grounds not so much.
Over the years, I have realized that emotional intelligence is perhaps one of the most crucial traits for any working professional. If you are going to be spending more than one-third of your life collaborating, interacting, and sometimes disagreeing with other adults, only emotional intelligence can help you stay objective and afloat. Emotional intelligence is also crucial in order to self-regulate and to manage stress and anxiety.
However, traditional job interview models are designed to test a candidate’s technical skills and proficiency. They allow you to dig deep into the candidate’s past experiences but not so much into their behavioural traits, their response to tough times, tough conversations, conflicts and disagreements. Job interviews often don’t allow you to test levels of self-awareness, self-regulation, and motivation. That means that behavioural traits are often left to subjective opinions of interviewers. While experienced, perceptive interviewers might do it right, it is still not quite right to leave such a crucial aspect of hiring to interviewers’ gut instinct alone.
In 2016, I had my first ever interview that really tested my EQ. But there is much more I learned in the interview. Some of the questions made me think long and hard about my responses, least of all because I was not used to just deep probing into my behavioural traits. I am happy to report that the employer and I both passed the interview with flying colours. Here is how it all went down.
First off, the interview was conducted in the office cafeteria, although the meeting rooms were free. It wasn’t a location I was prepared for, after years of interviewing in meeting rooms and quiet cafes. My guards were already down, and I am quite sure the interviewer could have easily evaluated my response to unfamiliarity. The questions too were very unfamiliar:
1. What stresses you out most about other people?
Instead of linking this question to a workplace scenario, the interviewer left it pretty open-ended. She did not want to hear about an anecdote, which can often be manufactured too. Instead, the question required me to articulate my perception about people in general and my response to minor irritants that form part of many adult interactions. I could have either made it a rant session of sorts or I could have told her specific behavioural traits and how I deal with them. I did the latter, and it worked.
2. When was the last time you received negative feedback? What did you do about it?
Let’s face it – nobody enjoys negative feedback. It is the response to this disappointment that differentiates emotionally intelligent professionals from the rest. Even when the feedback does not make sense at face value, an emotionally intelligent employee will introspect without getting bogged down and losing confidence. The real issue is being aware of a flaw and not doing anything about it or not being willing to introspect. The answer I’d look for is simply that nobody is perfect and negative feedback is not the end of the world and corrective measures the candidate took in the wake of the feedback. That kind of acceptance usually comes from well-rounded adults. I am not quite sure employers look for invincible, always-right employees. They just look for those who are committed to grow continuously.
3. If I asked your co-workers, what do you think they would say are the most rewarding and challenging things about working with you?
Instead of asking their own strengths and weaknesses, which often meet with clichéd template answers; I’d ask them about how their co-workers perceive them. An honest answer to this can show you whether or not the candidate is self-aware and humble. If the answer includes any sign of invalidating the colleague’s hypothetical criticism, it might be a deal breaker for me.
4. When was the last time you asked for help at work?
Emotionally sound individuals know what they don’t know. They understand that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. I’d like to understand how well they understand it and how easily and self-assuredly they ask for help.
5. How would you resolve a conflict between two colleagues?
This question is especially important when hiring for a people management role. Knowing when to mediate is important. As a manager, it is your job to encourage team spirit and a positive working environment. But you cannot forget that you are not the mother hen of a group of children. As long as the difference of opinion or conflict between two of your teammates is not affecting productivity or quality of work, it is not your place to butt in. But if it does, there is always a fair, right, and unbiased way to make the warring parties hear each other out and find a middle ground.
Moving away from the clichéd Q&A of traditional interviews can help you glean insights not just in terms of technical skills but also matters like chemistry, one’s approach to stress and issues, and general attitude towards life and work. Hiring “normal” or balanced people is one of the hardest jobs for a hiring manager. If your organization does not train them in interview techniques that help with this aspect of hiring, you need to start the process soon!