Wednesday, February 28

Deciphering Interviews: Emotional Intelligence

If you have ever opened a package to find that the wrapping was better than the contents, you have all the experience you need to understand the danger of placing too much emphasis on a candidate interview. As Daniel Goleman, author of Working With Emotional Intelligence, wrote as an opening: "The rules for work are changing. We're being judged by a new yard stick: not just how smart we are, or by our training and expertise, but also how we handle ourselves and each other." Ah yes, packaging.

While I had been introduced to the concept years ago, the label "Emotional Intelligence" (EI) was relatively new to me until an associate of mine recommended Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence. Given my interest in behavioral psychology (I work in advertising and minored in psychology, so go figure), I enjoyed the book, pulled several gems from it, and it remains on my shelf despite the fact that Don Blohowiak, from the Lead Well Institute, suggested a better title would be ""Three Ph.D.s Cite Tons of Research to Convince Business Executives (Yet Again) that Feelings Matter to People at Work" over at

Like virtually any issue, polarizing the issue seems useless though it does raise some interesting questions. As an employer, human resources director, recruiter, or team builder, how much emphasis should we place on interviews, especially in a world where some applicants are better equipped than others. After all, I coach some people, political candidates and public relations practitioners, to withstand the pressure of an aggressive media interview and some embrace it quite nicely ... but does that mean they have any more substance than the next person? (Hopefully, I've already decided that before I work with them.)

I am reminded of an experience when our company was just a few years old, before we restructured it to be modeled a bit more like a legal or consulting firm and less like a advertising agency or manufacturer. After considerable success with a few interns, we decided to hire a full-time employee — someone who could increase our presence in the marketplace and handle some large volume writing services work.

We narrowed down the applicants to three and scheduled interviews. Since one had already accepted a position elsewhere, we were left with two candidates who brought very divergent assets and qualities to the table. One was less experienced but showed potential and had a friendly, enthusiastic, team player presentation. The other had more experience and insisted she knew everything about communication she needed to know to help us take our company to the next level (which perplexed me because I didn't know everything, and still don't).

In short, one had fewer skill sets but a high EI (l don't like labels, but let's called her the Enthusiastic Presentable Upstart for simplicity) and the other had higher skill sets but a lower EI (Experienced Unpresentable Egomaniac). After the interviews, we ultimately decided that we would be better off hiring the Enthusiastic Presentable Upstart. The other one, well, it was very, very hard to like her, especially after she outlined her need for structure in a field where there seldom is structure.

Unfortunately, our new hire only lasted three months, which was about six weeks too long by any measure. The allure of EI packaging had worn off, leaving us with an employee who struggled to write the most basic news release (come to find out, her portfolio samples had been generously edited by her former employer). It was a valuable learning lesson.

In retrospect, sometimes I think that I would have had more success polishing and humbling the Experienced Unpresentable Egomaniac than I did trying to fast track skills sets for the Enthusiastic Presentable Upstart, which leads me back to the original question: how much emphasis do you place on a candidate interview? Or, is it easier to teach EI and presentation/interview skills than round up the skill sets required for mid-level job description?

In fact, as an additional point of interest, I've noticed that I'm running into more higher EI professionals in the field who look good on paper, present well, make stellar first impressions, and ask the right questions. But then, on the first project, they completely baffle everyone with apparent ignorance in communication (asking the media for "tear sheets" to prove they ran a news release comes to mind). Sure, I frequently build teams for clients (primarily vendor teams), but would be interested to glean some additional insight from an industry that interviews people all the time.



Rich on 3/1/07, 9:36 AM said...

Famous Last Words:

"Neither of those candidates were good from the start. You should have continued looking." — Recruiting Animal

"You only THINK the other candidate might have been the better choice." — Susan Dunn

Two recruiting professionals offer up the obvious, something I didn't consider at the time. Dunn goes on to point out that EI is much more than packaging as I oversimplied. She's right. If you want to read her well written comment, you'll find it here


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