E-i, E-i! OH! How to assess Emotional Intelligence in a phone interview

I’m not a fan of phone interviews. Ugh! I so much more enjoy in-person interviews, where I can meet candidates face-to-face and read their bountiful non-verbal cues, much of it revealing their level of leadership ability.

However, phone interviews are an important part of a search process. We get quick and easy access to remote candidates, and phone screens allow us to streamline the overall process.

So, I bite the bullet, and dial.

We use Emotional intelligence (EI) as one measure for assessing the leadership level of candidates. EI is more difficult to assess via the phone, but not impossible.

Here are a several indicators for assessing a candidate’s level of EI in a phone conversation:

1)     Are they able to catch themselves from rambling on?

2)     Are they focused on you (the interviewer) and the conversation, or are they allowing themselves to be distracted—typing on a keyboard, playing with the dog, eating an apple?

3)     When appropriate, do their answers focus on “we” and “team” more than “I” and “me”?

4)     Are they ensuring there’s a balance to the conversation by providing clear, concise answers, then allowing you to either ask follow-up questions or move on to another topic?

5)     Do they fully answer your questions, or continually shift their answers to what they want to talk about?

6)     Are they showing an eager interest in the team they would lead, if hired?

7)     Are they showing an eager interest in the organization’s clients/customers?

8)     How do they behave in meetings with their staff? Ask them! (High EI people are deliberate about how they behave in meetings. They fade to the background, let others speak first, let them speak freely, pull quiet team members into the conversation, or purposefully don’t attend certain meetings.)

9)     After an interview, think about how it unfolded. Did it feel like the candidate became more in-tune with you and the opportunity? In-and-out of tune? Or drifted toward out-of-tune? (Those higher in EI will become more in-tune with you and the position, and that’s how they’ll behave in the role and organization, as well.)

10) Did you feel respected by the way the candidate handled themselves, answered your questions, and asked questions?

These indicators work because they are grounded in the four basic levels of EI:

  • Social management
  • Social awareness
  • Self-management
  • Self-awareness

Here’s the logic, starting from the top and ultimate objective of social management, and working backward to the foundation of EI, self-awareness:

Before you can socially manage (effectively lead), you first need to be socially aware (in tune emotionally with a group or team)

But, before you can be socially aware, you first need to be able to manage yourself (not turn people off, keep them open to your leadership)

But, before you can manage yourself, you first need to be self-aware (aware of how you are behaving and being perceived by those around you).

Take this approach into your next phone interview. See if you can get a feel for the candidate’s self-awareness and self-management, and then their awareness and management of others.

And, as the interview unfolds, try to get a feel for the level they seem to naturally settle into.

With practice, this gets easier, and more fun.

Hopefully, with these tips, you can take your phone interviews from E-i, E-i Ugh! To E-i, E-i, Oh! and discover a more rewarding search experience in the process.

John Hughes is a 35-year veteran of IT. As founder and managing partner of Gnu Talent, John, and business partner Brian Donaldson, are solely focused on guiding industry-leading companies in their successful search for influential IT leaders. John and Brian have sat in these seats themselves, are respected industry-wide, and have deep IT connections, making Gnu Talent a powerful, knowledgeable resource for IT leader placements.  John is also author of the book, Haunting the CEO, a leadership fable used by universities in MIS and MBA curriculum, and by C-suite business leaders as a go-to guide for how to do IT right.

John Hughes is a 35-year veteran of IT. As founder and managing partner of Gnu Talent, John, and business partner Brian Donaldson, are solely focused on guiding industry-leading companies in their successful search for influential IT leaders. John and Brian have sat in these seats themselves, are respected industry-wide, and have deep IT connections, making Gnu Talent a powerful, knowledgeable resource for IT leader placements.  John is also author of the book, Haunting the CEO, a leadership fable used by universities in MIS and MBA curriculum, and by C-suite business leaders as a go-to guide for how to do IT right.