Should you focus on Emotional Intelligence in your hiring process?

Written by Byron Fitzgerald on March 28, 2019

Focusing more so on soft skills is nothing new. Most employers (should!) know that things like communication, adaptability, creativity are now more desirable attributes to screen for when hiring. Why is this happening? Amidst the dawn of automation, many skilled jobs are being given to machines, and so there is a higher demand for soft-skills.

Not all soft skills are the same. Let’s talk briefly about emotional intelligence. We have recently been asking our clients how important Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is for their hires. The feedback has been overwhelmingly in favour of EQ being a ‘need-to-have’ rather than a ‘nice-to-have.’

Why is that? Well, people with a high EQ typically have excellent emotional awareness, will have high levels of creativity (which they can use to problem solve more effectively), and can also manage their own emotions much more effectively. These attributes have ripple effects – problem solving more effectively directly feeds in to business success; and better self-management of emotions means stronger workplace relationships, and a far lower incidence of workplace conflict.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics; McKinsey Global Institute analysis (; we are seeing a significant % decrease in the demand for labour within certain industries. For example, the demand for ‘Predictable Physical Work’ (i.e. those that automation will replace) has decreased by 21% in Germany, 33% in Japan, and 31% in USA. On the flip side, the demand for ‘Creative’ work (Artists, Designers, Entertainers, Media Workers) has increased by 85% in China, 58% in India, and 28% in Mexico. Is this a reaction to the decreased demand for jobs which Automation can displace? Almost certainly.

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What does this really mean for businesses today? It isn’t ALL about automation. Let’s focus on an obvious industry trend of today: we have seen a big surge in demand for skills around Digital. I’m sure everybody has heard the term ‘digital disruption’ (think Netflix, Uber, Amazon), and businesses are scared they’re the next to be ‘disrupted’ (think Blockbuster!). With this in mind, many businesses are prioritising digital transformations skills (as we have noticed from our clients). There is an obvious skills gap then on the Digital side – the demand has grown quicker than the supply of labour.

What is the solution?

The huge swings in demand for Digital is happening quicker than we can re-train future employees at the undergraduate, and graduate level. To fix this problem, the foundations of what is being taught in Universities needs to change, but that is only a medium/long-term solution. The more immediate solution is hiring people who are able to train those around them quickly, and effectively. And which people make the best coaches/teachers? Those with high EQ!

Should screening for EQ be the priority of Hiring Managers today?

The short answer is yes. But not everybody has a high EQ and we can’t just rule everyone out with a low EQ. The solution? Put some metrics in to your recruitment process that test for how open your candidates are to learn. Those with a high EQ will easily be able to teach these people, and their appetite for learning will allow them to improve their EQ at the same time.

Even if this skills gap wasn’t here today, we should still be focusing on EQ. According to the World Economic Forum study, emotional intelligence comes with added benefits, such as better team collaboration (37%), better leadership (45%) and higher morale (46%). 

How do you assess the EQ of a prospective candidate? I’ll save that for a later article!

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