We all know what intelligence is, or at least we know what it’s supposed to be.
It’s how well you did on the SATs and whether or not you can remember the southernmost capital in the contiguous US, which incidentally happens to be the capital of Texas (Austin, in case you’re curious). Simply put, it’s your cognitive function. One could argue that intelligence is very important for many jobs and careers. Programmers, financial folks, physicians, and attorneys — they all have to be pretty smart.
Dr. Howard Gardner has a theory of intelligence (Gardner, 2006). He said that there are many types of intelligence — seven as a matter of fact. He talked about the normal book smarts we think of when we think of intelligence and he mentions physicality and nature as types of intelligence. These examples lead one to believe that a ballerina and a farmer have the same intelligence as the aforementioned physician; it is just a different kind. Gardner talked about inter and intra personal skills as types of intelligence, too. He may have been on to something there and perhaps ahead of his time. We all know that having an above average intelligence will get you far. But what about emotional intelligence? Some argue (especially emotionally intelligent people), that it will get you further.
What is emotional intelligence anyway? Essentially, it’s interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence. Intrapersonal means you are a self-aware person who have the ability and emotional competencies to regulate your emotions and impulses in most situations. An emotionally intelligent person is a person who reacts to situations appropriately and isn’t quick to show anger or hostility. Interpersonal refers to a person who can read and understand the emotions of others around them and relates to other people in meaningful ways. In other words, plays well with others.
These skills are important in life and are valued in the workplace as well. Large corporations and small companies, regardless of industry, are increasingly focusing on emotional intelligence as the must-have in their new hires. But, why? It’s nice if we all get along, but why does an emotionally intelligent employee matter to the bottom line? Studies show that the higher a person’s emotional intelligence, the better they are as an employee (Kannaiah D. a., 2015). They are more productive, they are better colleagues, they create a work environment that is collaborative; they bring out the best in others and boost job performance for everyone around them. They are dependable, stable, understand others' feelings, boast a social awareness and have staying-power.
Maybe you’re thinking to yourself — that sounds like me! I get along well with others. I am slow to show anger and quick to support my fellow colleagues and their feelings.
So, we know it’s important. We know employers are looking for it. We know how to define it, but how do we show it? How, in an interview, do you express your emotional intelligence? You will have noticed that employers have started to ask behavioral questions in the interview process. It is emotional intelligence that they are attempting to gauge. Maybe like me, you do better with concrete examples:
1. Question: Tell me about a time you and a colleague had a disagreement. How did you handle that?
Tip: We know that we are not going to get along with our friends, family members, and loved ones all the time, why should it be any different with our colleagues? What is important to point out here is that you are aware of how your communication style is interpreted (or misinterpreted) by others. Do you work to mend fences? Talk about a situation where you had to take a step back and really listen to what the other person is saying. Ensure your answer can demonstrate that you are not defensive and don’t take things personally, but rather are quick to resolve issues, learn from disagreements, and move on quickly in the best interest of the organization’s goals.
2. Question: Tell me about a time you had to motivate your team/colleagues. How did you approach it?
Tip: No woman is an island and no employee is either. When you talk about your colleagues, talk about how you motivate them to do better and how no success you have had is individual, but rather a group effort. Your potential employer wants to know that you will be a team player and will serve to be an added value to the organization. Not just because you will do well yourself, but because you will motivate those around you to be their best selves too.
I oversee a team of Patient Care Advocates (PCAs) at Progyny, a fertility benefits management company. Their main job is to support our members through their fertility journey. It’s not an easy task and while I am constantly hiring PCAs to grow our team, I am also very selective. It’s really important that they can speak to members and offer support. What is equally as important is how they support their teammates. Do they bring up the group or will they drag down morale? When potential hires express this, I am always more likely to consider their application.
3. Question: Why is it important for you to build rapport with your colleagues? How do you manage to accomplish this?
Tip: Working together is so much about gaining trust and creating affinity within groups. Talk about how you work to create professional relationships. Mention that you want to be a support to your colleagues and want to work in a collaborative environment.
4. Question: Tell me about a time you made an error at work. How were you able to overcome it?
We all make mistakes. What is really important to potential employers is how we react to those mistakes. Show you are self-aware by showing and acknowledging your mistakes. This is a great opportunity to show how you take responsibility by showing how you can take accountability and not shift blame onto others. We all fail, but those that learn from their failures and rebound quickly are exactly the kind of people we all want on our teams. I know it’s the kind of people I want on my team.
5. Question: Tell me something you find challenging in your current position? How to you approach that differently than your other tasks?
Tip: While it’s important to speak about past failures, it’s really telling when a person talks about how they approach challenges. It is important to convey that you can be flexible and not rigid in your approach to challenges and when you do encounter barriers, you don’t lose your way.
I cannot tell you how many people mention perfectionism when I have asked about weaknesses in an interview. You are not fooling anyone. It’s okay to talk about weaknesses and use it to highlight resilience. We know in the course of a day, week, or month that we are going to be challenged in our personal and professional lives. What makes someone a wonderful employee is the bounce-back effect. Another characteristic to highlight is, you’re not afraid to ask for help. Bring the conversation back to teambuilding and the importance of maintaining a positive attitude in the face of challenges.
Emotional intelligence in the workplace is super important. That's because leaders are emotionally intelligent people with the ability to have empathy for others that helps their workplace relationships and with emotional intelligence competencies like interpersonal skills that boost their job performance. To show your leadership skills to prospective employers, you shouldn't forget to talk about your emotional intelligence competencies and overall emotional eq that set you up for leadership and will set you apart from other possible new employees.
In the end, when prepping for an interview, focus on the soft skills as much as you do on the hard skills. Recite the capital of Texas, if that’s what matters in your interview, but do not forget to talk about how well you communicate. Tell your prospective employer about a time you reached across a department to get something accomplished and how your best successes have been done with the help of your teammates. Highlight what you’ve found challenging and how you overcame the challenge and be sure to discuss your resilient nature. Speak about your passions and how well you play with others. And, good luck! I’m rooting for you.