Should emotional intelligence tests be used for hiring candidates?

Posted on September 22nd, by Dr Rob Yeung .

Today’s Financial Times features a piece on the use of emotional intelligence tests in hiring candidates. You can read the piece on the FT’s website; however, the website requires registration (which is free).

All of the reputable studies that I have encountered suggest that emotional intelligence tests should be used with great care – and only in conjunction with cognitive tests, business case tests and capability-based interviews.

Anyway, I have also reproduced the full text below if you would prefer to read it that way too:

Evaluating emotional intelligence can be testing

By Rhymer Rigby

Last year the head of Google’s HR department – dubbed its “people operations” division – suggested that traditional interview scores and college grades were worthless when it came to predicting how potential employees would perform in their jobs. His comments have helped encourage a broader debate about how best to select candidates given the drawbacks of focusing only on easy-to-measure metrics such as qualifications and technical skills.

One indicator companies have shown increasing interest in over the years is emotional intelligence (EI) – the awareness of your own and other people’s emotions and the ability to use this information to guide your thinking and behaviour.

Since its popularisation in the mid-1990s, EI has gradually become part of the business landscape. “EI is extremely popular in coaching and development contexts, and growing rapidly in recruitment,” says Dr Konstantinos Petrides, director of the London Psychometric Laboratory at University College London, which developed the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue). This contains seven possible responses to each question, ranging from “disagree strongly” to “agree strongly”.

Matthew Owen, a partner at Sovereign Capital, a UK-based private equity house, says that if it means you find someone who is 1 per cent better then it is worth it – though he stresses that the tests should be used in conjunction with other evaluations. “A lot of organisations do three interviews and they essentially do the same interview three times. We want to get as much evidence as possible.”

EI testing can also point to areas that need to be explored further in interviews. Mr Owen says that sometimes you do come across a piece of evidence that really makes a difference. For example, he recalls that when Sovereign was interviewing for a chief financial officer, one particular candidate cleared many hurdles but the interviewers had concerns they could not put their finger on. “EI tests showed the candidate was very optimistic and had a lack of self-confidence.” This, he says, was more or less the opposite of what they were looking for in a CFO.

Some, however, sound a note of caution. Dr Rob Yeung, director of the leadership consultancy Talentspace, says that while EI correlates quite well with job performance, the best reports of EI are usually still from peers and supervisors, and that self-reporting can be prone to error.

Dr Petrides notes that high demand for EI tests means assessments that should be carried out by skilled psychometricians are being done by managers and entrepreneurs.

In any case, he says, it is pointless to try to “game” or prepare for EI tests because there are no right answers – you would have to try to second guess what recruiters want, which is highly risky. Besides, if you succeeded in such efforts, you might wind up with a job that does not suit you.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014.

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