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Emotional Intelligence in the Recruitment Game


Whether you’re in-house or head hunting, emotional intelligence has a role to play in every hiring decision. Even if you’re not conscious of it, you are using your own emotional intelligence and assessing the emotional intelligence of the candidate in every interaction.  What is emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to recognize, control, and express your own emotions as well as the ability to recognize the emotions of others. It’s a form of empathy that helps you place yourself in the position of another and recognize how a situation affects them.

In recruitment, the name of the game is assessing how situations will affect potential hires. In the past, we vaguely described determining whether or not a candidate will thrive in a position with “culture fit.” While that term is largely being removed from the HR vernacular, it’s been replaced by assessing candidates’ soft skills. Are they leaders, does detail work get them excited, are they strong communicators? These are the traits we’re identifying today as arbiters of success as much as qualifications and experience.

Recognizing that a shy person would feel overwhelmed in a rowdy group of marketers but would feel comfortable in a smaller, more subdued environment may have been deemed “culture fit” in the past. Today’s recruiter knows matching soft skills are as much a part of a successful hire as experience.

The Bigger Picture

Resumes tell us what the person has done and if that were the only criteria for hiring, no one would have to interview. Will they challenge the group or ease comfortably in; will they grow with the position? Do they have the leadership qualities needed to corral the team? Will this innovator who says he loves to think outside the box feel stifled in a structured environment?  Recruiters with strong emotional intelligence understand there’s more to a successful hire than a skills match, they look for traits that will complement the group as well as the candidates.

Once Removed

For in-house recruiters who don’t have direct knowledge of the dynamics of the group they’re looking to match with a candidate, you might think EI doesn’t come into play. But being able to translate to a department head impressions of the job seeker’s soft skills can be as instructive as making the match yourself. Telling managers you’ve just interviewed a candidate with a go-getter attitude may be a huge win or a huge red flag: they’ll be able to decide whether or not there’s potential there.

For third-party recruiters or agencies, the challenge may be a bit more complex. Some companies may not be willing or able to articulate the subtleties of the department or team. Some may feel doing so could trigger the dreaded “culture fit” pejorative. Additionally, head hunters work for conflicting masters. Their company is looking for results in the form of successful hires; their wages are often dependent upon them as many work on a commission basis, and their clients are looking for hires that stay long term. For many, emotional intelligence may seem a low priority, but in fact the opposite is true: anyone can match resumes to skills needed. A great third-party recruiter matches potential with employers that are looking for innovators, leaders with companies that need people who inspire, and detail-oriented workers with companies that look for diligence. The short-term benefits may seem slight, but as these head hunters get better at knowing their client’s soft skills needs, they become an invaluable resource.

Innate or Instructed?

Some believe EI is a natural trait, you’re either born with it or not. Others believe it can be learned. Successful recruiters look to hone and develop their EI, whether or not it comes to them naturally. For those who really can’t cultivate the skill set, personality testing and other survey tools can help identify soft skills in candidates. The challenging applicant market has recruiters working harder to fill positions with fewer candidate options. Assessing the soft skills of candidates may seem impractical with the pressures recruiters face today. But taking the longer view, affecting hires that become long-term employees rather than short-term fixes ultimately makes the job easier. Finding a match for a job is easy; finding the right match for the job, the team, and the department requires the emotional intelligence the best recruiters have and develop.

About the Author

Riia O’Donnell is as avid contributor to the HospitalRecruiting blog and has over 20 year’s hands-on experience in all aspects of the Human Resource functions. Beginning as a recruiter, she grew to lead in all areas of HR, including employee training and development, legal compliance, benefits administration, compensation evaluation, and staff management. She has been a contributing writer for a wealth of human resources, training, and small business websites for the past 7 years. Connect with Riia on Twitter at @RiiaOD.

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