How Emotional Intelligence improves the recruitment process

Emotional intelligence at work
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Emotional Intelligence (EI) provides a proven practical and powerful framework for individual, team and leadership development. But how can you use the benefits of EI within your recruitment process and how does it add value when assessing and selecting potential employees and leaders.

Occupational psychologists have been studying the science of effective recruitment and selection for decades.  It is well established through this research that general mental ability (GMA) is the best predictor of overall job performance across different occupations and levels.

GMA reflects an individual’s capacity to grasp complexity, solve problems and learn new information.  It is a cornerstone of effective selection – the more complex the job, the more important it becomes.

For many jobs, specific technical knowledge and skills are also going to be important.

Typically, assessing these elements will be a key part of the selection process too, apart from entry-level roles.  But what else should be considered when assessing candidates to ensure that the right person is brought in to the business? 

In practice, there are several distinct aspects to effective job performance.  Three major categories are:

  • Task performance: Activities relating to the technical delivery of an organisation’s outputs (i.e. goods or services) – typically, these will be formal job requirements.
  • Contextual performance: Behaviours that support the social and psychological functioning of an organisation – these are often discretionary.  For example, putting in extra effort and persisting with tasks with enthusiasm, volunteering for extra responsibility, supporting and cooperating with colleagues, and upholding organisation values and objectives.
  • Counterproductive performance: An individual’s voluntary behaviours that detract from an organisation’s goals and harm the wellbeing of employees or customers.  This includes being aggressive, bullying, blaming others, acts of sabotage or being intentionally unproductive.

Clearly, GMA and technical knowledge and skills are critical for task performance. However, when assessing contextual and counterproductive performance, other selection tools come into play. What is important for contextual and counterproductive performance is mindset and attitude: how we manage our personality to be personally and interpersonally effective. This is the essence of Emotional Intelligence.

Many organisations already use broad personality questionnaires to provide a source of data on a candidate’s potential for contextual and counterproductive performance.

Psychometric questionnaires that assess EI, such as the Emotional Intelligence Profile, do overlap with personality tools because they both relate to an individual’s self-perceptions. 

However, the key difference is that EI specifically concentrates on emotion-related characteristics (in terms of attitudes, feelings and behaviour) that are performance-related – how the person harnesses their temperament and innate resources to be personally and interpersonally effective.

EI questionnaires therefore provide a highly practical and focused way to assess potential for contextual and counterproductive performance, compared to broader personality measures. 

We know from meta-analyses (where the results from numerous research studies are combined together) that EI correlates with an individual’s job performance, work attitudes (organisational commitment and job satisfaction), and psychological and physical health

Research also suggests, as you would logically expect, that EI tends be more important in what are termed “high emotional labour” jobs – roles that require regular displays of positive emotions, such as customer service or sales roles for example.

In our own research, we’ve identified that specific aspects of an individual’s EI correlate with three different areas related to contextual performance (as rated by their manager):

  • Striving and adapting
  • Collaborating and supporting
  • Leading and influencing

Through our years of work applying EI into organisations, we have also found that leaders higher in certain aspects of EI create a more positive climate (as rated by their teams).  Insights from an EI questionnaire can therefore offer very useful information about candidate potential which can be explored further by recruiters in a structured interview.

Focusing specifically on counterproductive behaviours, our own EI research has identified nine ‘defensive habits’. 

Defensive habits are combinations of rigid attitudes and behaviours that can derail effective performance – essentially this is when someone is emotionally un-intelligent.  Several of these defensive habits, such as being domineering, guarded or emotionally reactive may play out in behaviours that harm a team and the organisation’s goals and wellbeing.

Gaining insight into a candidate’s potential for counterproductive performance at the recruitment stage can help avoid a costly mistake of bringing the wrong person on board.

So, in summary, we know from research that it is vital to assess general mental ability and technical skills in the recruitment process – they tell you particularly about ‘what’ a person can do (task performance).  Beyond that however, it is also important to consider ‘how’ a person will work and support the organisation’s objectives and climate (contextual and counterproductive performance).

Using an EI questionnaire provides a practical, focused ‘lens’ to gain insight into a candidate’s potential to demonstrate these latter two aspects of performance.

Great employees create and support sustained business growth.

Introducing Emotional Intelligence into the recruitment and assessment process will help you to identify the candidates with the right attitudes and mindset to work well with colleagues, lead change and deliver your organisation’s objectives.

About Dan Hughes


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