A guest blog from Jen Shirkani, founder and CEO of Penumbra Group.
Our firm specializes in an intensive and advanced interviewing and hiring methodology for interviewing for Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and we are often asked if we could only ask five interview questions, what would they be? We like to do a solid assessment of technical skills and experience first, then focus one or two interviews just on their EQ. There are several skills to zero-in on, including Self-Awareness, Self-Control, Empathy, Flexibility and Optimism. No one question will reveal all these competencies, but often one question will reveal the presence or absence of several of these skills. And one more reminder: we always recommend that organizations use the behavior-based technique when phrasing questions. Simply….instead of hypothetical “What if” or “How would you handle” questions….ask for concrete past realities…“Tell me about a time when…” or “How have you handled a situation in the past when….”
Okay, here we go:
1. “Describe a time when you were unfairly criticized and tell me what the details were.”
This question is designed to uncover two things: the candidate’s Self-Awareness and their definition of criticism. Be sure to get a specific example from them. The word “unfairly” is important to include as you will be assessing how justified the feedback they received was against their actions. Would a reasonable person think it was fair or unfair criticism? You also want to understand how sensitive they are to receiving negative performance information. Does the example they share represent criticism or feedback? What does your company culture provide most often – criticism or feedback?
2. “Think of a time when you had to work with a headstrong co-worker and tell me how you handled it.”
Many candidates are concerned about sharing a weakness or failure. Interpersonal communication and proper conflict management skills are vital for team members and interviewers must do an effective job of validating skill level in these areas. The power of this question is that it asks about someone else, giving the candidate permission to share struggles due to other personalities. It also gives you a chance to glimpse their empathy/understanding of others…do they offer an indication of trying to understand better or help the person or just a superficial judgment based on self-centered reactions? I love to ask this question after a candidate tells me they have “great people skills.”
3. “Share with me the last time you went above and beyond the call of duty. Tell me about the details and why you did it.”
This question is designed to understand what the candidate defines as extra effort. Is the example they share something you consider to be of substantial heroics or actions you would expect on a routine basis? Knowing how recently it occurred will also reveal their level of engagement in the recent or distant past. Lastly, it will be critical to know what motivates this employee to work at peak performance. The hiring manager must ensure that the motivation drivers are present in the current workplace in order to match with the candidate, and not only that but it also reveals what will retain them in your company & whether they would be a fit for your leadership style (a biggy).
4. “When was the last time you had to act when there was no policy or formal procedure to do so? Tell me what you did.”
We always recommend that small companies ask this question, most of who have little in the way of formalized policy and procedure manuals. This question helps you assess the candidate’s comfort in “thinking on their feet” when they have come from a large organization or will be working in an environment with little direction or daily support. Their response may indicate how much they will seek out and need direction from others versus working independently. In highly regulated or high risk environments, the “right” answer may be a candidate who avoids working outside formal standards of conduct.
5. “We have all had times when we unintentionally insulted or offended someone at work. Tell me about a time when this happened to you.”
This is a great roll-up question because is reveals several EQ skills. Do they have the Self-Awareness to know when their behavior has a negative impact on someone else? Do they have the Empathy to see things from someone else’s point of view? Do they have the Social Skill to work through conflict and maintain effective relationships? This question requires interviewer confidence and the tenacity to tough it out through uncomfortable silence or a candidate who tries to sidestep answering, but the benefit in doing so shows what you are made of and proves to the candidate who is really in control.
This intensive interviewing approach is very different from most other interview classes you may have been to. Many of our participants have said that they always thought they knew how to interview but realize that they could be so much more effective and were actually excited to do interviews for the first time.
Asking the right questions and a strategic approach can make hiring fun and no longer a nuisance to be avoided. We tend to enjoy what we’re good at. Hiring is a skill that must be learned, so get out there & get what you need to do your very best and enjoy it along the way.
To learn more about interviewing from Jen Shirkani, check out her SoundviewPro course: Strategic Interviewing for Emotional Intelligence.