Your RPO Provider Needs High Emotional Intelligence to Find Great Hires

Time to Read: 7.1 minutes

Updated: November 16, 2022

The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2020 emotional intelligence will be one of the top 10 skills in the workplace. That goes for bosses as well as teams and team leaders.

No matter how many hard skills a candidate possesses, a lack of emotional intelligence can render them a bad fit for any company.

This is not all that surprising. Consider the work of author and psychologist Daniel Goleman, who, back in 1995, found that many of competencies that distinguish the best performers at work are related to emotional intelligence, or EQ.

Even in highly technical IT roles, candidates with emotional intelligence tend to do better. Soft skills such as EQ and cognitive flexibility are necessary for workers to adapt to the changing marketplace and industry demands.

These soft skills are not just about being a friendly face in the office. Holly Benson, vice president at Infosys, says non-technical skills help fuel “innovation, creativity and collaboration” within organizations.

It’s all very well for a client to direct its RPO to find emotionally intelligent candidates, but this means recruiters need to be intelligent in the same way.

In this post, we argue that an RPO partner needs to have a strong team of recruiting professionals who are emotionally intelligent. In this way, they will know how to test candidates for this increasingly important soft skill.

A Brief Definition of Emotional Intelligence

Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, defines emotional intelligence in terms of how people manage behavior, navigate social complexities and make personal decisions to achieve positive results.

Emotional intelligence, Bradberry argues, comprises four skills subsumed by two overarching competencies: personal competence and social competence.

Personal competence comprises self-awareness (accurately perceiving one’s own emotions and staying aware of them as they happen) and self-management skills (using awareness of one’s own emotions to stay flexible and to positively direct behavior).

Social competence is made up of social awareness (accurately picking up on emotions in other people) and relationship management (using awareness of your own emotions and those of others to manage interactions successfully).

Bradberry notes how those with strong emotional intelligence and an average IQ can, in 70 percent of cases, outperform those with the highest IQs. Quite simply, emotional intelligence sets candidates apart from the rest.

Why Do Employers Want Emotionally Intelligent Candidates?

Candidates who lack EQ tend to struggle to learn from their mistakes and blame others for their failures. According to Laszlo Bock, Google’s former head of people operations, this boils down to poor self-awareness and lack of motivation to better themselves.

Obviously, employers want to find emotionally intelligent people for their companies, but the blame cannot rest solely on candidates who turn out to be bad fits. According to a Leadership IQ study, a major reason for new employees failing at their jobs is due to a flawed interview process. Company CEO Mark Murphy attributes this to interviewers focusing on technical rather than emotional competence.

Murphy points to coachability, emotional intelligence, temperament and motivation as being vital qualities in successful candidates.

Where Are the Emotionally Intelligent Candidates?

Knowing that organizations thrive with high EQ candidates is one part of the recruitment process. The other is knowing how to find them.

Annie McKee, at Harvard Business Review, writes that recruiters often don’t hire for EQ, focusing instead on pedigree: where the candidate went to school, grades and test scores, technical skills, and certifications. This is often because those doing the hiring have not been trained to test for emotional intelligence.

This needs to change. Recruiters should become more aware of the importance of hiring candidates who can adapt to change; understand and motivate other employees; and manage the good, the bad and the ugly emotions that humans display throughout the stressful periods of work, McKee argues.

Further, she recommends that recruiters need to go beyond the simple questions related to emotional intelligence by asking strong followup questions. The recruiter has to be able to penetrate the “idealized notion” of candidates and get to how they really behave.

As one example, McKee says this could mean asking candidates to think about a challenge in which they need to help a team come to a solution. Running through successful and unsuccessful examples will help shed light as to how the person perceives their own emotions and how they managed them.

Why Recruiters Need to Be Emotionally Intelligent

The old saying “It takes one to know one” comes into mind when talking about emotionally intelligent recruiters.

Or, as The Next Step director Jo Skipper says, “You have to know your opposite.” Noting how she loathes tardy candidates and the assumptions she forms of those who are late, Skipper says she is aware of this as her personal potential derailer: “We can’t play judge and jury about who will be most successful in a role. As recruiters, we have to leave our prejudices behind.”

Recruiters who are aware of their own emotions and how to manage them in trying situations will be able to ask the right questions to determine whether candidates share this intelligence.

Anna Gibbons, at the Undercover Recruiter, writes about the importance of hiring professionals implementing their understanding of emotional intelligence to improve the quality of hires. This includes looking at interviewees’ body language and how they articulate themselves.

“Don’t underestimate your gut feeling,” Gibbons says. “If someone is saying all the right things, but for some reason you doubt their integrity or their confidence in themselves, it is worth thinking about whether they will give the same impression to the hiring manager.”

Recruiters with superior EQ are vital to build and maintain strong relationships to prevent the recruitment process from going awry, according to Ankur Chauhan at Collar Search.

Chauhan argues that EQ helps recruiters determine whether a candidate will succeed or fail in a new role. He suggests raising the following points when interviewing potential hires:

  • how they manage their impulses,
  • how they adapt to change,
  • whether they are defensive under pressure,
  • how they manage shifting priorities
  • and how agile they regard themselves.

Caroline Stokes, founder of recruiting agency FORWARD as well as podcast and recruitment platform The Emotionally Intelligent Recruiter, is a big advocate of partnering with recruiters with high EQ.

Not only is this vital for the points discussed above, but it is a boon for the bottom line. Stokes points out that the U.S. Air Force saved $3 million after switching to emotionally intelligent recruiters.

Having recruiters with high EQ is good for profits, and it’s good for team morale and cohesion. In short, emotions are very important. Sigal Barsade, professor of management at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, says:

“[High-EQ recruiters] can provide a company with information [about] what people really feel and can help predict what kind of decisions will be made, what kind of behavior will occur, and what types of relationships will be formed.”

Referrals and EQ

Hiring professionals often talk about the power of the referral. However, adding an emotionally intelligent approach to referral hires “can be a rich source of social capital to introduce to your organization,” Kes Thygesen writes at Fast Company.

Not only do current employees have a solid understanding of what is required for the job, but they are also watching out for themselves. They will rarely suggest a candidate who is ill-equipped to deal with the role’s demands.

By stressing the importance of emotionally intelligent attributes such as willingness to learn, relationship management and social awareness, “your employees will scour their networks to find the right fit,” Thygesen argues.

Recruiters and Candidates Can Enhance Their EQ

For those of you reading this and wondering whether you have the right EQ or not, fear not, as this is a skill that can be developed. Jessica Stephenson, at Exact Hire, writes that emotional intelligence can improve or regress based on an awareness of one’s emotions.

This self-awareness can come in many forms. For Stephenson, it was when listening to the audio version of Bradberry’s book during her commute and realizing what times of day and circumstances make her a better listener.

This knowledge of how we react to and interact with information from others is the first part in controlling how we behave.

Emotionally intelligent candidates will mean better hires. They will be able to work well in teams and respond appropriately to work stress and others in the organization.

Companies will need self-aware recruiters with well-developed soft skills to find the best candidates for hard-to-fill roles.

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Shanil Kaderali

Shanil Kaderali is a strategic talent acquisition leader with global experience. He's managed and led recruitment functions at companies like Cisco Systems, Symantec, WellPoint, as well as having worked for several Baker's Dozen RPO winners.

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