5 ways to showcase your emotional intelligence on a job interview

EQ is one of the top skills hiring managers are looking for - use these interview tips to stand out
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soft skills: relationship-building

If you are walking into an IT job interview with cutting-edge AI and data science skills, you are in a good position. But technical skills – no matter how high in-demand – will only get you so far. Today, hiring managers are looking for talent that brings more to the table. Often, that "special quality" they seek out and value in candidates is emotional intelligence.

In the latest World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, emotional intelligence came in at No. 6 on the list of top job skills employers will require in 2020. In fact, they are looking for those skills already. A survey conducted by OfficeTeam, a Robert Half company, found that nearly all HR managers polled (95 percent) said that it’s important for employees to have high EQ.

According to the OfficeTeam survey, HR managers are relying on reference checks as the best gauge of emotional intelligence in candidates. But outside of having a third party weigh in on the EQ capabilities of hopeful job seekers, hiring managers have to suss them out during the interview process. It helps to know what they’ll be looking for.

The next time you're being interviewed, consider these five strategies. Besides simply being great advice from interview and EQ experts, these specific tips will help you showcase the emotional intelligence capabilities that today’s employers value most. Highlight these skills as much as your technical chops, and you’ll be a shoe-in for your next IT job.


The first tip to keep in mind is that you are not just there to talk about yourself. You’re also there to listen – and there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that. Halelly Azulay, author and founder of TalentGrow LLC, says that job seekers should “listen to understand.”

“There are so many distractions, especially during a job interview, and we’re always trying to multitask,” says Azulay. “Listening deeply means listening to understand instead of listening with the intent to respond, disagree, or to have our turn to talk. Most certainly, listening to understand is way better than tuning out or fake-listening, which is unfortunately common practice. Listen with a curiosity to learn something new or see things from a new perspective.”

[ If you’re trying to show more emotional intelligence, avoid these 10 no-no’s ]

Rethink your canned responses

There are certain questions you know you’ll be asked in an interview. These are the standard prompts hiring managers use, like “Tell me a time you’ve dealt with opposition,” or “What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses.” If you’re interviewing for your second or third job, you might even have go-to responses to these common questions that have worked for you in the past.

It might be time to freshen up those canned answers to make sure your EQ competencies are shining through. Here are a few examples.

When they ask why you left your last job:

"Don't blame others,” says Sanjay Malhotra, CTO of Clearbridge Mobile. “If you were let go from your previous job, for whatever reason, don't run down your employer. A great indicator of emotional intelligence is the ability to take responsibility for your mistakes. If you face this question in a job interview, take this opportunity to show your ability to handle and regulate negative emotions. More so, show your ability to channel a negative emotion and transform it into a positive outcome or solution.”

When they ask you to share an example:

Preparation is key, suggests Jim Perry, vice president at BTS. “Think about your work and life experiences, and be prepared to share a story or two of times when you have done great work, been part of a team that really clicked, or overcame a big challenge,” says Perry. “As you respond to interview questions, don’t pontificate or rehash business platitudes. Instead, tell a concise story that illustrates your point of view. Your stories should be very straightforward – give them context, narrative, and explain what you learned.”

When they ask about your strengths:

Don’t just rattle off your technical skills. They’ve already seen your resume. This is your opportunity to highlight your EQ capabilities and the soft skills that will make you a better fit for the job than the rest of the candidates.

Psychologist Heather Stevenson explains: “Having high emotional intelligence means that you are able to read people and situations and respond appropriately. Someone who has these skills would be able to talk about their ability to adapt to the needs of the company, for example through their flexibility and openness to change, or willingness to try new things and listen to the various needs of team members. Someone with good EI skills is also able to get along well with others and typically a great asset to a team environment or job that focuses on customer/client relations. Speaking to these skills is usually a great way to impress a potential employer,” says Stevenson.

When they ask about a difficult experience:

“Be positive,” says Drew Bird, founder at The EQ Development Group. “Interviewers are much more likely to look favorably on a candidate that speaks in positive language. Even if you are describing a difficult experience, talk about what you learned from that experience and how you have been able to integrate that learning into your life.”

[ Also read: 8 unusual IT interview questions and approaches: CIOs share ]

Ask questions

When you are done answering these questions, it’s your turn to ask some of your own. Besides getting the information you’ll ultimately need to determine if the job is the right fit for you, asking smart questions is another great way to show of your emotional intelligence. Azulay calls this “being interested to be interesting.”

“When you show interest, you become interesting,” says Azulay. “A lot of us have an inner-judge that worries that the other person won’t find us interesting enough, or that we won’t naturally connect, or that we won’t have anything in common. We need to stop judging and start actively seeking possible points of fascination. People don’t get enough opportunities to be in conversations where the other person is sincerely curious and interested in them, so you’re going to feel like a fantastic conversation partner to them. They’ll not only enjoy the conversation during the interview, they’ll remember you fondly in the future.”

"Show that you are thinking about more than just getting the job. You are thinking about how to succeed at the job"

BTS’s Perry says that being curious and exploratory is his No. 1 tip for interviewees. “Rather than trying to sell yourself as a fit for the position and ticking every box, do your homework so that you are not asking the obvious questions,” Perry advises. “Prepare some questions around their business, the business unit and team that you would be joining, the values and culture of the organization, etc. You can also ask questions about what makes people successful in their culture and what are some common rookie mistakes. These all show that you are thinking about more than just getting the job. You are thinking about how to succeed at the job.”

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.