Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

10 Interview Questions to Assess Emotional Intelligence

By Charles Trivett | Jul 11, 2016 | Assessing Applicants

loads of different emoticons with colourful backgroundsEmotional intelligence; you’ve probably heard the term being bandied around quite a lot over the last few years.

But what does it mean?

Why should you worry about it?

And how can you go about hiring people who do have it?

Check out the rest of this blog to find out…

What is emotional intelligence?

The concept, popularised by Daniel Goldman’s book in 1995, basically describes a set of five positive qualities which supposedly help people to become more successful…

  • Self-Awareness. Recognising one’s own emotions.
  • Self-Regulation. Knowing how to control one’s emotions.
  • Motivation. Knowing how to motivate oneself.
  • Empathy. Understanding other people’s emotions.
  • Social Skills. Knowing how to act appropriately in relation to people’s emotions.

An employee who possesses emotional intelligence will excel at social interaction because they can predict and understand human behaviour and adapt to please others.

Of course, it’s not all that easy to assess whether someone is ‘emotionally intelligent’ and a lot of it comes down to gut instincts, but there are some targeted interview questions that can definitely help…

10 Interview Questions to Assess Emotional Intelligence

1. Who inspires you? And why?

This is a great little ice-breaker and reveals a little bit more about your candidate’s personality, showing you the kind of character they (probably) try to emulate themselves.


  • What values inspire your candidate? Are they positive and do they fit your culture?
  • Does their choice reveal something about what they think is acceptable behaviour?
  • Do they show an ability to build strong relationships with family, friends & mentors?

Or are they not really inspired by anyone? Are they a lone wolf? Or a renegade?

NB: This isn’t necessarily a negative, but you might want to dig a little deeper to ensure that they can actually work well with other people to some extent!

2. Will you keep in touch with your current co-workers?

two work friends huggingTranslation: are you capable of building strong, lasting working relationships with co-workers. And if not, why not?

Most savvy candidates will say “yes, I hope so” – there’s no reason for them to openly admit that they’re either not bothered about or actively dislike their current co-workers.

But occasionally, the question will trip people up.

If candidates are openly negative about co-workers, it could reveal that they’re a bit of a trouble-maker and/or perhaps don’t play nicely with others.

If they’re openly apathetic, it may show that they’re a little lazy with social interaction and aren’t interested in bonding, which is fine in certain companies, but in others, not so much!

(Did you know that people who have work friends are often MORE proactive! Click here to find out why.)

3. What makes you angry at work?

This doozy of a question will reveal some real insight into what makes the candidate tick.

It’ll show you what they consider as a negative behaviour/habit/attitude and will reveal any possible clashes that might occur within your team.

Of course, it should also show you how the candidate copes with these pet peeves.

Candidates with emotional intelligence will admit to little frustrations but will show their ability to accept others for who they are and to deal with more serious matters sensitively and professionally.

It’s ok to get angry or frustrated with (annoying) co-workers at work – most people do – it’s how we react to those feelings that defines our emotional intelligence.

4. What has been your proudest professional moment?

businessman working as a team"s success. A candidate with high emotional intelligence might regale you with a story about how their team completed a project against all the odds (or similar) awarding equal credit to everyone involved.

Another candidate might talk about a solo project they successfully completed or you might find them saying ‘I, my, mine’ quite a lot.

Neither answer is right or wrong, but in terms of emotional intelligence, the first answer reveals a lot about that person. They think in terms of other people, the team and the ‘we.’

5. When did you last embarrass yourself?

I’ve got to admit… this one’s a little bit mean! We all embarrass ourselves from time-to-time and reliving those moments can be awful!

So why ask it then?

You could gain valuable insight into how resilient they are, how they recover from these awkward moments and exactly what they consider an embarrassing/ wrong/inappropriate way to act in the first place.

Of course, you might get a short and amusing answer like ‘I fell over on my way up the stairs’ – in which case you won’t really learn that much (except that they might be a bit clumsy)!

But they might go a bit deeper, revealing a time they misunderstood a situation, said the wrong thing or made a terrible decision that backfired.

6. What are your two greatest strengths?

superhero businessman cartoonAs we mentioned at the beginning of this post, self-awareness is a big part of emotional intelligence.

You need employees who understand their own emotions, motivations and values, so that they can keep themselves in check, without flying off the handle, giving up or breaking down.

This question will reveal a little bit about how they see themselves, what they think are their strengths and whether those strengths will be positive attributions to your team.

As far as you can, use your initiative to decide whether their perception of themselves is correct, for example, if they say they’re very confident, consider whether they actually come across that way.

This will give you an idea of how self-aware they are.

(This is somewhat of a cliche, I know, click here to discover some less predictable versions of it…)

7. Describe a time you had a positive impact on someone

I love this question because it’s really positive.

Candidates with high emotional intelligence will have a bank of answers to choose from, showing off their ability to see social cues and behavioural signs that someone might need help – and prove the ability and passion to actually do something about it.

They’ll be able to recognise that their action made a positive impact on another person’s life.

8. Have you ever had a negative impact on someone?

two men in a performance review with caption 'there's nothing about your performance you need to change, except everythingThis more negative version of the question can still yield some positive answers.

Everyone makes mistakes and sometimes we have to do things that negatively impact others; it’s a fact of life.

Whether through necessity, or by accident, an emotionally intelligent person will have realised when they negatively impacted someone, they’ll have had an idea of how to resolve the situation sensitively and they’ll have actually attempted to do just that.

This is a great question to ask potential managers as they’re the ones who are more likely to face negative situations like redundancies, sackings and disciplinary procedures.

9. Describe a time when you resolved a conflict at work

Of course, the ability to resolve conflict in the workplace is dead important and requires real emotional intelligence.

A great candidate will show understanding of why and how the issue occurred and how they resolved the situation fairly, sensitively and ensured that everyone involved was happy.

This question (or a variant of it) is a must in every interview as far as I’m concerned.

10. Describe a time when you had to adapt at work

A veiled chameleon businessman is calling an associate on his cell phone. He is holding a briefcase in one hand and a cell phone in the other. He has a tie on and looks to be on his way to work.Because emotionally intelligent people are good at understanding and empathising with others, they’re also usually very good at adapting their behaviours around different kinds of people to make them feel more comfortable/ happy.

This obviously makes them invaluable when it comes to customer service.

But it also means they’ll be able to work well with different teams and different managers across the company.

So be on the lookout for any answers that show off the candidate’s chameleon side!

Perhaps, their current job role requires them to work across a variety of teams or with a variety of different clients?  Maybe they recently had to work on a project with someone who they’d never met before?

Trust your instincts!

Of course, savvy candidates will be prepared to answer all of the above questions, quite confidently.

(Most people won’t openly admit to not getting on with or giving two hoots about other people!)

So, it’s dead important to use your instincts… does something about them seem fishy/ over-scripted?

Recruiter Pro Tip

Regardless of your candidate’s answers (which could be well-prepared) here are some warning signs to look out for that could reveal a lack of emotional intelligence…

  • Candidates who are critical about their colleagues/ boss.
  • Candidates with bad social skills.
  • Candidates who come across disrespectful and lazy.
  • Candidates who don’t mention teamwork/ other people at all in the interview.
  • Candidates who don’t have any interests outside of work.
  • Candidates who have suspicious body language.

If a candidate really is too scripted, you could always throw in some more curve-ball questions like these to put them off their game and yield some real, genuine answers.

If you’d like more recruitment advice and sample interview questions, click here to subscribe to our blog and we’ll send over a weekly update with our latest post!

Want more information?

Want to learn more about emotional intelligence and why it’s so important? Check out these great resources…

Good luck interviewing.


- Charles Trivett
Charles - blog author

Charles Trivett

Charles heads up Coburg Banks’ IT Division, and has worked in recruitment for nearly 20 years.  His knowledge of how to optimise and get the most from a recruitment campaign is second to none, and he now works with a select handful of clients in maximising their recruitment ROI.

> More blog posts by Charles Trivett

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