You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would say they love attending interviews.
No matter who you are or how experienced you might be, interviews tend to send a few nerves rumbling.
It’s not so much the interview itself as the unexpected questions we might be asked that tends to get us worried.
Basic questions around our skills and experience are generally easier to answer, but what about the questions like ‘How good are you at asking for help?’ or ‘How do you create balance in your life?’. These questions are a bit more personal. They are not seeking to catch you out, but they are seeking to understand your emotional intelligence.
Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our three Emotional Intelligence Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will not only enhance your ability to understand and work with your emotions but will also give you the tools to foster the emotional intelligence of your clients, students or employees.
What Do We Mean By ‘Emotional Intelligence Questions’?
You’ve no doubt heard the term ‘emotional intelligence’ thrown around a bit, especially over the last few years (and especially if you hang out on the Positive Psychology blog a lot!).
To understand what we mean by emotional intelligence questions, it’s good to first understand what we mean by emotional intelligence. A popular definition comes from the leading researchers who first coined the term:
Emotional Intelligence includes the ability to engage in sophisticated information processing about one’s own and others’ emotions and the ability to use this information as a guide to thinking and behavior. That is, individuals high in emotional intelligence pay attention to, use, understand, and manage emotions, and these skills serve adaptive functions that potentially beneﬁt themselves and others.
Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso (2008).
Salovey and Mayer (1990) are accredited with first developing the concept of emotional intelligence. Within their developmental model, they devised 16 steps that show the development of emotional intelligence from childhood to adulthood. The 16 steps are divided into four main subcategories:
The ability to perceive emotions in oneself and others accurately.
The ability to use emotions to facilitate thinking.
The ability to understand emotions, emotional language, and the signals conveyed by emotions.
The ability to manage emotions to attain specific goals.
Research has shown that people who score highly for emotional intelligence overall, are better able to handle challenges and stress, have more meaningful relationships, and demonstrate a higher level of social competence (Zeidner, Matthews & Roberts, 2009). High emotional intelligence has also been linked to better feelings of overall psychological wellbeing (Ryan & Deci, 2001).
Emotional intelligence interview questions are seeking to uncover your level of emotional intelligence. Essentially, these questions will ask you about various situational or hypothetical scenarios to see how you would behave, engage, and react. Interviewers who use these types of questions want to understand how you regulate yourself as well as how you respond to others.
It’s important to know that as of yet there is no validated psychometric test for emotional intelligence, and when it comes to these questions, there aren’t any hard ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ answers. It’s only about you, how well you understand your emotional self-awareness, and your capacity to express this.
10 Interview Questions to Gauge EQ
Emotional intelligence interview questions will almost always be open-ended – so, think of questions that start with ‘Who’ ‘What’ ‘When’ ‘Where’ and ‘How.’ They ask you to think more deeply about your answer, and generally encourage a bit more of a discourse rather than a close-ended question that elicits a basic ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.
There’s quite a lot out there on the internet around these questions, but the top ten tried and tested ones that I came across repeatedly were along the following lines:
How do you de-stress after a bad day at work?
What’s something you’ve achieved that you’re most proud of and why?
Who are some of your top role models, why do they inspire you?
How do you celebrate success?
How do you respond when a co-worker challenges you?
Have you ever had to change your behavior, either at work or home, if so, why did you have to change, and how did you change?
How do you recover from failure?
When have you felt demotivated, and what did you do to overcome this?
How would some of your closest friends describe you?
What kind of behavior makes you angry/annoyed?
As mentioned, with these types of questions there no real right or wrong answers, but your answers can have a lot of impact on what the interviewer will think of you and your suitability for the role or opportunity at hand.
These next questions follow a slightly different format. They combine the concept of emotional intelligence with more scenario-based questions and tend to start with ‘Tell me about a time when …’. These questions tend to stump people, but mainly the interviewer wants you to describe a specific example that provides a glimpse into your behavior:
Tell me about a time when your mood had an impact on your work (this could be positively or negatively).
Describe an example of when you have had to be confrontational to achieve results. What did you do and how was it received?
Tell me about a time when you had to neutralize a stressful situation in a professional environment.
Tell me about a time when you had to work cohesively as a team with people you didn’t like.
Describe a time when you had to deliver some bad news to someone.
These questions require you to think more deeply about your answer, as well as ‘tell a story.’ Your answer should create a clear picture of where you were, what you were doing, what the situation was, what you did, and what the result was.
Free Self-Assessment Questionnaires and Tools
If you want to get better at answering emotional intelligence questions, the best place to start is by discovering where you’re currently at with your emotional intelligence, how aware you are of the self, and any potential areas for growth.
A self-assessment questionnaire is a great place to start to get a baseline. This Mind Tools questionnaire is only 15 questions, but it’s a great starting point if you’re new to understanding your emotional intelligence.
Alongside self-assessment questionnaires, there are several practical emotional intelligence exercises to help you better understand and develop your emotional intelligence. Below are three exercises for assessing your emotional intelligence.
1. Self-Reflecting on Emotional Intelligence Exercise
The purpose of this exercise is to encourage you to reflect on your emotional intelligence and assess your skills/responses through an emotional intelligence lens. It uses the four sub-categories developed by Salovey and Mayer (1990) and poses questions around each.
Reflect on the below three questions for each of the sub-categories:
Where do you think you currently are in terms of your emotional intelligence relating to this area of EQ?
What are some of the key areas of strength for you in this area of emotional intelligence?
What are some of the key areas of improvement for you in this area?
Also, a reminder of the four sub-categories to reflect on with these questions:
Your ability to perceive emotions in yourself and others accurately.
Your ability to use emotions to facilitate thinking.
Your ability to understand emotions, emotional language, and the signals conveyed by emotions.
Your ability to manage emotions to attain specific goals.
One of the best ways to develop your emotional intelligence is understanding why and when you feel certain emotional responses and building a framework of language and labels to help you express yourself. Using an Emotion Meter is a great way to do this. Here’s how to do it:
Step One: Identify the Emotion
First, you need to create a baseline. Take a moment to begin to connect with your current emotional state. You can use mindfulness or meditation to do this. Close your eyes and tune into your emotions – what’s happening? Are you agitated, excited, sad, happy? Take a moment to observe.
Step Two: Rate the Emotion
Once you feel you’ve identified the emotion, give it a rating between 1 (very unpleasant) and 10 (very pleasant).
Step Three: Rate Your Energy
Now reflect on how energetic you’re feeling and use the same scale to give that a rating. So, rate from 1 (very low amount of energy) to 10 (very high amount of energy).
Step Four: Plot Your Emotion
Now take your two scores and plot them against the below emotion chart to see how you match up:
Step Five: Reflect
Finally, now you have a label for your emotion, reflect on why you might be feeling this way. Are you hungry or tired? What happened earlier in the day? Who did you interact with, and how did it make you feel? This practice of reflection will help you build your understanding of how, when, and why you experience specific emotions.
This exercise will help you identify limiting ideas or beliefs you hold and outline a step by step process on how to address them. Limiting beliefs impact our emotional intelligence by creating unwanted behaviors, which emotional intelligence questions are designed to uncover. To get better at answering these questions, it’s great to know what limiting beliefs you may hold that you’re unaware of.
Here’s how to get started:
Step One: Create an ‘I Should’ List
Begin by writing out a list of all the things you think you ‘should’ do, be, or believe. These can be absolutely anything from ‘I should worry less’ to ‘I should clean the house more regularly.’ There are no wrong or right ‘shoulds,’ only ideas you have about yourself. Give yourself plenty of time and write out as many as you can.
Step Two: Ask Yourself Why
Now that you have your list go back to the start and begin asking yourself why. Why do you think you should worry less? Why do you think you should clean the house more? There’s a process called the ‘Five Whys’ which says if you can keep asking why after everything you say, then you haven’t got to the heart of the matter. Ask yourself why up to five times to uncover deeper beliefs and ideas you may have.
I should clean the house more.
Why? Because my mum said I should.
Why? Because she thought I was lazy growing up.
Why? Because I didn’t get as high grades as she wanted me to.
Why? Because I didn’t think I could achieve better.
Why? Because I thought I was lazy too.
In this example, you can see how drilling down though the why bought out a limiting belief that the person is lazy and unable to achieve as high as they might.
Step Three: Turn it into a ‘Could.’
Now that you understand how damaging using the word ‘should’ can be, it’s time to transform the belief behind it. Instead of ‘should’ reframe the thought into a positive ‘could.’ Using ‘could’ turns the idea into something more empowering that you have control of.
If I wanted to, I could clean the house more. Nothing is stopping me, and I’ll do it if I want to.
Reframing the belief as a could remove ideas of trying to appease others and puts you firmly back in control of your behavior.
Tell me about yourself | Best answers (from former CEO)
Possible Emotional Intelligence Interview Questions and Answers
Knowing where you sit in terms of your self-awareness is great and will help you feel better prepared to answer emotional intelligence interview questions. Below I’ve picked out five of the top possible questions along with some guidance on what your answer should be like.
1. Who inspires you, and why?
More than an ice breaker question, this is seeking to understand what type of personality, behavior, and public impression you respect, and potentially want to emulate yourself. When answering this question, consider:
The organization’s culture and values – who inspires you who exhibits similar values?
The individual’s public profile – before suggesting someone make sure you know what’s out there about them – you don’t want to be aligning yourself with someone who may have said politically incorrect statements.
Their capacity to build relationships and partnerships – are they more of a lone wolf?
2. How do you value friendships in the workplace?
This question is looking to get a bit deeper into how you build relationships and what value you place on friendships as part of healthy workplace culture. In your answer, talk about:
Whether you’re still friends with colleagues from past workplaces.
Focus on the qualities that help you build relationships, demonstrate how this enables great co-working to achieve projects and goals.
How friendships in the workplace have helped you achieve work-life balance.
See this as an opportunity to ask about the current culture and team.
3. What kind of behavior makes you angry/annoyed?
This is probably one of the trickiest questions! How exactly do you answer? Too much honesty could land you in hot water but denying you get annoyed or angry at work is merely unrealistic – we all do from time to time. When answering, consider:
Your emotional intelligence: having some pet peeves is fine, but what they want to hear is how you manage these professionally and proactively.
Don’t talk negatively about specific people or organizations – keep your answer general.
Keep it light: use humor to prevent this from getting too heavy and demonstrate that you understand this particular frustration as a part of the role/industry and you’re used to it.
4. What is one of your proudest achievements?
This question wants to get to the heart of what’s important to you. How you answer can reveal a lot about what you see as success. In your answer, consider:
Whether you want to pick a solo achievement or team achievement – depending on the organization and the role, which one you pick could be a real deal-breaker.
Why this achievement was important to you, and why it made you proud.
How you achieved it – tell a story highlighting any perseverance or resilience required to achieve it.
5. How do you recover from failure?
This question is a little double-edged: firstly, they want to hear about a time you failed (never a comfortable topic) and then how you overcame it. Essentially, they want to know how you bounce back from setbacks. In your answer, consider:
Using a professional example rather than something too personal.
Describe what went wrong without assigning blame, make sure you demonstrate appropriate ownership and introspection.
Talk positively about how you overcame it – Who did you speak to? How did you reevaluate? What did you put in place for next time?
Domains of Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence expert, Daniel Goleman (2019), believes that emotional intelligence can contribute to success as much (or even more) as your IQ – a skill that is especially useful when conducting interviews.
Understanding the different characteristics of the emotional intelligence domains, as shown below, can be useful when being on the personal journey to optimizing your emotional intelligence.
Learning to be more emotionally intelligent includes understanding your own emotions and which categories they fall into.
Specific Emotional Intelligence Interview Questions for Leaders
Leadership skills are valuable across many different areas of our society – in business, schools, hospitals, politics, and community organizations, to name just a few. Increasingly emotional intelligence is being seen as a crucial component of successful leadership (Dollard, 2018).
Although Salovey and Mayer (1990) coined the concept of emotional intelligence, it was Goleman (1995) who made it as popular as it is today through his book Working with Emotional Intelligence.
Goleman was especially interested in the role of emotional intelligence in the workplace and cited it as being vital for leaders to be successful. While some might believe that emotional intelligence can’t be developed, this isn’t necessarily true, and more research is demonstrating the opposite (Groves, McEnrue, & Shen, 2008).
So, if you’re aiming for a leadership role, best to get practicing those emotional intelligence questions. These questions will typically seek to get deeper into the heart of your personal core values and try to understand how you lead. Here are five popular ones to get you started:
If you started your own business, what would be your companies’ top values?
Tell me about a time when one of your colleagues or staff questioned your authority or instructions. How did you respond?
How would you mediate a dispute between two staff members?
Where do you see yourself in five years?
How do you handle change? Can you tell me about a time when you had to respond flexibly despite competing demands?
Emotional Intelligence Coaching Questions for Students
Knowing how relevant emotional intelligence is for success is a great starting point to begin from when coaching students. Using emotional intelligence coaching questions can help students to develop their self-awareness better, and further their understanding of how their skills, experience, and personal values fit into large constructs within society and work.
Some great questions to start with include:
What do you consider to be your most significant strengths?
How do you think your biggest strengths benefit you in life, at school, or in the workplace?
What do you consider to be your biggest weakness?
How do you think your weakness will impact your success at achieving your goals?
Do you consciously consider your emotions when you’re at school/work? Why?
The important thing to remember with emotional intelligence questions for students is that it’s more about coaching them to develop their understanding of who they are and to reflect on their answers. If you choose to use these questions to coach a student, be sure to reassure them that there are no wrong or right answers, only pathways for learning and growth.
A Take-Home Message
For me personally, I’m a big advocate of exploring what emotional intelligence means to me, inside and outside of professional situations.
If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this article, it’s that emotional intelligence interview questions aren’t designed to catch you out, make you feel stupid, or prevent you from securing the opportunity you’re after. They are great questions to use outside of any context, to help you develop your self-awareness for your emotional intelligence and uncover potential areas for personal and professional growth.
Don’t wait for an opportunity to come along to sit down and reflect on what your answers might be to some of the questions included above. Your answers might surprise you.
Dollard, C. (2018). Emotional intelligence is key to successful leadership. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/emotional-intelligence-key-successful-leadership/
Goleman, D. (2005). Emotional intelligence. New York: Random House.
Goleman, D. (2019). The emotionally intelligent leader. Harvard Business Press.
Groves, K. S., McEnrue, M. P., & Shen, W. (2008). Developing and measuring the emotional intelligence of leaders. Journal of Management Development, 27(2), 225-250.
Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2008). Emotional intelligence: New ability or eclectic traits? American Psychologist, 63(6), 503-517.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). To be happy or to be self-fulfilled: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(16), 141-166.
Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9(3), 185-211.
Zeidner, M., Roberts, R. D., & Matthews, G. (2002). Can emotional intelligence be schooled? A critical review. Educational Psychologist, 37(4), 215-231.
About the author
Elaine Mead, BSc. Dual Honours, is a counselor, passionate educator, writer, and learner. Since completing her degree in psychology, she has been fascinated by the different ways we learn - both socially and academically - and the ways in which we utilize our experiences to become more authentic versions of our selves. She is currently completing her diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Coaching & Mentoring.