Using Emotional Intelligence to Ace your Interview

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 8th, 2014

A Lowcountry Graduate Center article by
Jannette Finch, MLIS, Librarian, College of Charleston North Campus and Lowcountry Graduate Center and
Charles O. Skipper, PhD, PE, PMP, Colonel, United States Marine Corps (Ret), Chairman, Department of Engineering Leadership and Program Management, The Citadel School of Engineering

Nervous about your interview?

The interview process allows you to show that you have the necessary competencies to perform the job. One typical question often asked is, “Tell me about a time you handled a difficult customer.”

Why do interviewers ask this question? Your answer reflects something about your Emotional Intelligence (EI). By asking this question and others like it, interviewers are using a technique known as “targeted behavioral event interviews” to assess your level of EI. [1]

Many studies assert that EI is essential in the workplace and defines effective leadership. Daniel Goleman, author of the 1995 best seller Emotional Intelligence, comments that, “without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.” [2]

The good news is that you, the job candidate, can prepare to answer EI probing questions and can develop and grow the soft skills that define EI. You can train yourself to recognize the moods, emotions, and desires of yourself and your coworkers. You can learn how to manage Emotional Intelligence through self-regulation.

So what is Emotional Intelligence, and how do you reveal that you have it during a crucial job interview?

The seminal definition by Salovey and Mayer is “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” [3]

In the Harvard Business Review Blog, Christina Bielaszka-DuVernay writes that although there are “multiple aspects to emotional intelligence, the three competencies below reveal a lot about a candidate.”

1. Self-awareness and self-regulation. The candidate understands their own needs and wishes and how these emotions affect behavior. They regulate their emotions so that any fear, anger, or anxiety they experience doesn’t spread to their colleagues or make them lose control.

2. Reading others and recognizing the impact of personal behavior on them. The candidate has well-developed emotional and social “radar” and can sense how their words and actions influence their colleagues.

3. The ability to learn from mistakes. They acknowledge their mistakes, reflect critically upon them, and learn from them. [4]

Before your interview, search for sample interview questions, learn to recognize what your interviewers are really asking, and then practice your answers. Your answers should be real examples from your life that show you have the self-awareness to read others, the ability to control your own emotional reactions, and that you possess the invaluable ability to learn from your mistakes.

Some great sample interview questions designed to reveal behaviors in competency areas such as collaboration, service orientation, resilience, courage and assertiveness, and many others are found in:

Lynn, A. B. (2008). The EQ Interview : Finding Employees with High Emotional Intelligence. New York: AMACOM/American Management Association.

Good Luck!


[1] Jacobs, R. L. (2001) Using human resource functions to enhance emotional intelligence. In C. Cherniss and D.  Goleman (Eds.), The emotionally intelligent workplace: How to select for, measure, and improve emotional intelligence in individuals, groups, and organizations (159-181). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

[2] Goleman, D. (2004). What makes a leader? Harvard Business Review Blog. Retrieved from

[3] Salovey, P. and Mayer, J. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9, 185–211.

[4] Bielaszka-DuVernay, C. (2008). Hiring for emotional intelligence. Harvard Business Review Blog. Retrieved from


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