Emotional intelligence is the ability to sense, correctly interpret, and effectively use emotional signals or clues in a social situation. For sales professionals, one of the most important traits that they should develop is emotional intelligence. For example, sensing when a pitch is working, identifying a truly interested customer, or intuiting a better approach to inspire a potential client about a product.
Without going down a scientific literature rabbit hole, the body of available research shows that emotional intelligence predicts job performance, job success and it does so even when you are measuring cognitive ability and personality.
This relationship between performance and emotional intelligence is critical in roles, like sales, which require the employee to understand and respond correctly to emotional and social cues. They must do this in order to convince customers to purchase a product or service.
Assessing Emotional Intelligence
This relationship between performance and emotional intelligence is crucial in roles, like sales or customer support. Therefore, being able to determine whether a candidate, for a sales role, will bring with them the sales-related emotional intelligence you are looking for, is important and there are several methods to do so:
- Psychometric Inventories: You can use traditional psychometric methods such as asking applicants to self-rate their own emotional intelligence in pre-hire inventories.
- Situational Judgment Tests: You can ask candidates to determine the emotions felt by people using pictures, scenario-based assessment centers, etc.
- Structured Interview Questions: You can use off-the-shelf or custom interview questions to challenge the candidate into expressing their own competence in emotional intelligence by using real-life, past examples or to describe how they would deal with potential situations.
While each of these methods has many strengths, each also has (at least) one significant disadvantage you should consider when building a selection process:
- Psychometric inventories: Cheap to use and easy to understand. However, psychometric inventories are easy to lie on or cheat as they rely on a candidate's honesty and/or uncertainty about why they are being asked to fill the inventory out.
- Situational judgment tests: Are excellent ways to test actual skills and intuition because they provide a solid context and situation to challenge candidates. However, they are often resource-intensive to develop and maintain in terms of time and cost to build and update.
- Structured Interview Questions: Off-the-shelf questions are often built to apply to many different circumstances. This can make it more difficult for a candidate to answer the questions applying to very specific scenarios (e.g. sales). Custom questions are often made up on the spot or created by people who have no training or formal experience building interview questions. This can mean that the questions aren’t actually very useful, valid, and may even be biased.
So, what should you do? Well, I have always been a big fan of combining multiple approaches to triangulate the exact level of emotional intelligence a candidate has. Specifically, I would try and account for the disadvantages of assessment approaches by using multiple pieces of information to bolster their shortcomings. So, if I was building emotional intelligence assessments for a sales role in your organization, here is what I would do:
- Use both an off-the-shelf psychometric test and an off-the-shelf structured interview question database on emotional intelligence.
- Modify the off-the-shelf structured interview questions to better fit a sales role. See this example:
- Build a scorecard for these new, modified emotional intelligence interview questions to help interviewers assess the candidate’s emotional intelligence in a standardized fashion.
- Take both of the candidate’s self-rated emotional intelligence scores from the psychometric test and the emotional intelligence scorecard from the candidate’s interview into account when assessing candidates.
I would primarily focus on the candidate’s interview answers, and I would compare those with the candidate’s self-ratings to see how well they compare. If they don’t, that suggests that a candidate might under-estimate or overestimate their ability. Both of these can tell the recruiting team and the sales manager something about that candidate (and whether or not they have been misrepresenting themselves in other ways during the hiring process).
Emotional intelligence matters for job performance, especially for jobs in sales or customer support. Adding emotional intelligence to the list of competencies you hire for, can help you hire effectively. While hiring for emotional intelligence is challenging, using a multi-method approach will give you greater confidence that your new sales hires have the instincts and understanding needed to succeed.
Are you looking for some example interview questions you can use to add structure to your hiring process? Click here.
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