emotional-intelligence.png“Tell me about a time that you tried something at work and failed? “

“Have you ever received negative feedback from your manager? How did that make you feel?”

Have you been asked these questions in an interview? Did you wonder why? Was the interviewer just trying to make you squirm or was there a reason behind the questions?

Let’s hope that no one is intentionally torturing you, so what’s the reason? The hiring manager was probably attempting to determine your level of emotional intelligence. Studies have shown that lack of emotional intelligence is one of the top reasons new employees don’t work out.

But what is emotional intelligence and why does it matter?

Psychology Today gives this definition:

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It is generally said to include three skills:

  1. Emotional awareness.
  2. The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving.
  3. The ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and cheering up or calming down other people.

Got that?

Basically, it means being aware that your emotions can affect your own performance and the emotions and performance of others around you. High emotional intelligence means that you can recognize and control your emotions – no temper tantrums when things go wrong! No pointing fingers or playing the blame game. And no being the Debbie Downer of the team. It means that you can help others navigate their own emotions and that you can solve problems and manage projects by keeping things calmer and not escalating emotional situations.

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Why does this matter? Because no one is perfect. You can’t hire employees who know everything and will never make a mistake. We are all human. What matters more is how someone acts when things go a little, or a lot, off kilter. How do you react to feedback? Are you willing to admit that a mistake was made, improve, and move on? These things matter – they are the difference between being a good and bad, or good and great employee.

You should prepare for these kinds of questions and understanding what the interviewer is after will help you prepare. Let’s look at the questions an interviewer might ask and see what’s behind each of them.

“Tell me about a time that you tried something at work and failed? “

How you deal with failure can reveal your level of emotional intelligence. The interviewer is looking for someone who can admit failure without being overly concerned with placing blame or making excuses. Instead they want to hear what you learned and see that you can bounce back from a mistake. As you answer this question, don’t be defensive or apologetic. Tell the story as honestly and matter-of-factly as you can, acknowledge where things went wrong, and focus on what you learned and would do differently the next time.

“Have you ever received negative feedback from your manager? How did that make you feel?”

Emotionally intelligent people can handle criticism. That’s what they’re looking for when they ask this one. Managers want to hire people who aren’t going to fall apart when they are given negative feedback on their performance. There is always room for improvement so we can all expect some critical feedback in our work lives. People with high EI don’t take it personally. They don’t get upset and they don’t dwell on it for days. They are willing to look at what they need to change and how they can improve. Acknowledge that it isn’t always pleasant but that you understand the importance and function of feedback. Whatever you do, don’t get angry or emotional answering the question! It’s not that people with high EI don’t have feelings, it’s that they keep them under control in a work environment.

“Tell me about a conflict at work that made you frustrated.”

Again, everyone has feelings and we all get frustrated at work sometimes – it’s how you deal with that frustration that matters. People with good emotional intelligence understand their emotions and they manage them. They have empathy for the other person involved and they find a way to address the problem and find a solution that doesn’t antagonize the situation. Discussing a prior conflict and showing how you resolved it in this fashion shows that you have control over your emotions, that you understand how they affect others in the workplace, and that you have social and communication skills that you use to solve interpersonal problems, not inflame them.

“Tell me about a time that you had to ask for help with a project.”

If you display reluctance or embarrassment about having to ask for help, that’s a red flag. Saying you’ve never needed to ask for help is the wrong answer! No one knows everything and if you are afraid or too proud to ask for help, that’s a problem. This question is designed to see how comfortable you are with acknowledging that you need advice or help and that you seek it out. Make sure that your answer highlights this. Don’t make it seem like you were reluctant, or had to be told. Tell a story where you realized it and sought out help on your own. This isn’t the same as something going wrong, it’s recognizing that you don’t know enough ahead of time and are able to find someone who does.

Some companies pride themselves on asking offbeat interview questions to see the candidate’s reaction. Because they are offbeat or seem silly, it’s easy to assume they are useless or irrelevant. But these offbeat questions might be the interviewer trying to discover your emotional intelligence level. Being prepared to answer these questions smartly could be the difference between getting hired and not. Hope this helps you show your high EI with flying colors!

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