Studies at Google have found that their most productive employees and teams excelled not because of their technical skills, but because of emotional intelligence and related soft skills such as communication, listening, problem solving, understanding others and showing empathy.
Psychologist Daniel Goleman, author of one of the most influential books on the subject, has pointed out five key elements that make up emotional intelligence. They are:
These are qualities interviewers look for. How can you convince them you have these traits? Simply claiming “I’m very self-aware” or “I have excellent social skills” won’t count for much. Anyone can say that. Instead, you need to prove it.
Here are 10 ways to do so, divided into four categories: demonstration, stories, social proof and emotional intelligence interview questions.
Demonstrate emotional intelligence and soft skills through your behavior.
1: Show empathy towards everyone you meet at the interview. This might mean asking a question like “How’s your day going so far?” and responding in a way that shows you understand. For example, if they’ve just achieved some business or personal milestone you might say “Wow, you must be proud of that!” Or sometimes, empathy might mean just flashing a smile, if someone is too busy to chat.
To ensure you’ll show empathy, give yourself a chance to actually feel it. Often we see an interviewer as an authority figure or gatekeeper. That doesn’t leave much room for empathy.
Take a few moments before the interview to remind yourself the interviewer is a real, vulnerable human being. Look at their LinkedIn profile and find things to like about them – or use your imagination to make some guesses. (Hints: They probably love someone. They probably enjoy laughing. They may have overcome painful difficulties in their life.) You may find you feel more comfortable and friendly toward the interviewer as a result of these musings.
2: Manners, etiquette and conversation are other aspects of social skills. Do you know it’s more polite to wait to be asked before taking a seat? To turn down an offer of a glass of water (unless you really need it)? If you’re like me, you may have made it to adulthood without being exposed to all of these fine points.
Also like me, you may not be a genius when it comes to chitchat. But we can actually learn and practice small talk. It matters, because small talk not only demonstrates emotional intelligence, it also puts people at ease and creates rapport. The candidate who gets into rapport with the interviewer may be the one who gets the job.
3: Demonstrate your communication skills in the way you answer interview questions. Prepare thoroughly by outlining clear, concise, relevant answers to the most common interview questions. Jot down some talking points, but don’t write a script. Sounding like you’re reading a script is definitely not a good demonstration of emotional intelligence!
4: Listen well. Listen actively, and listen not only to the words being spoken, but to what’s not being said. Listen with undivided attention instead of thinking about what you’ll say next.
5: Self regulation, also known as self management or self control, is severely tested by the anxiety many of us feel in job interviews. Don’t neglect this emotional side of interview preparation. It takes work. Here are four ways to overcome interview jitters:
During the days before the interview, spend some time vividly imagining doing a calm, confident, successful interview. This takes concentration but it really works.
Find breathing exercises online, so you’ll know the most relaxing way to breathe – many people don’t! And practice in advance, repeatedly over the course of several days, so that you’ll actually breathe that way on interview day.
Be thoroughly prepared so you have less to worry about.
Illustrate your emotional intelligence through stories and examples.
6: Identify and practice stories that show soft skills such as coaching others, resolving conflict, solving difficult problems, coping effectively with stress, and so on.
7: Demonstrate self-awareness by knowing your strengths, your weaknesses and what motivates you, and being able to articulately answer the common interview questions about these.
Offer social proof.
8: Cultivate your network and seek introductions to people connected to companies you’d like to work for. This increase the chances that someone will be able to refer you into an interview or put in a good word for you during the process.
9: Get LinkedIn recommendations (the written paragraphs, not the quick-click endorsements in the Skills section). Recommendations are a fantastic way to have supervisors, co-workers, internal/external customers or clients vouch for soft skills like communication, people management, coaching and problem solving. Unlike the references you provide near the end of the interview process, recommendations are viewable from the very beginning.
Prepare answers to emotional intelligence interview questions.
10: Many of these questions are available via a quick internet search. They may refer to situations like “a time when someone criticized your work,” or “how you would deal with an angry customer.” Practice giving detailed answers to questions like these. Make sure your answers are authentic as well as strategic. And make sure your answers include evidence and facts, not vague claims.
Even if your interviewer has never heard the phrase “emotional intelligence,” using the tips I’ve offered will help you come across as a mature, likable individual who is good with people. Every employer wants that! (This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated.)