Emotional intelligence combines several key competencies into one package. These include empathy, social skills, and self-regulation. Some, or even all, of these abilities may be valuable to your company when looking for a new hire. But how do you determine whether they are present? It’s all in asking the right questions.

This is the second blog in our Tech Interview Guide series. An interview is what separates the goods from the greats, and in order to determine them, a hiring manager needs to be able to assess both the soft and hard skills of the person on the other side of the table. Let’s get into how to do so from an emotional intelligence angle.

How to Formulate Soft Skill Questions

The sought-after soft skills needed for a role can vary depending on the values of the company and the nature of the position. This means an enterprise must constantly refine and adjust its priorities related to these characteristics. While this can be challenging, there’s a simple recipe for developing a compelling soft skill question: Envision a scenario where the skill in question would have a notable impact, whether beneficial or detrimental and frame the question accordingly.

Definition of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize and manage one’s own emotions. It involves the ability to perceive and manage emotions, as well as understanding feelings, emotional language, and signals conveyed by emotions. Candidates with this skill can easily interpret social cues in meetings, strive to build effective working relationships with colleagues and clients, and contribute to a respectful and positive work culture.

Job Role Examples

  • Sales: Mastering high-level sales involves forging emotional connections with customers and building rapport across diverse personalities. Genuine connections stem from understanding and leveraging both your own emotions and those of your prospects and customers.
  • Human Resources: Emotional intelligence empowers individuals with confidence, resilience, motivation, and empathy, enabling HR leaders to effectively lead, manage, and collaborate with employees. 
  • Process Improvement Engineering: Emotionally intelligent individuals consider the emotions and perspectives of others, fostering inclusive and comprehensive decision-making processes.
  • People Managers: Emotional intelligence cultivates a positive work culture, enhancing efficiency and productivity while fostering growth, innovation, and creativity among team members.

Potential Emotional Intelligence Questions and Responses


1. “How do you respond when a co-worker challenges you?”

Strong Responses

  • Any answers where the first reaction is to understand the underlying causes rather than reacting defensively or with anger.
  • A focus on resolving the issue collaboratively rather than placing blame, showing an appreciation for the colleague’s perspective.
  • Recognition of the importance of maintaining effective relationships with colleagues as a component of personal and professional success.

Poor Responses

  • Generic or rehearsed answers that lack specificity or fail to draw on actual work experiences, even though the question does not explicitly require a detailed example.
  • If the candidate is more concerned with proving to you that this person was not in the right to challenge them. 
  • Any answer that suggests an unusual or inappropriate reaction to being challenged, indicating a potential lack of emotional regulation or interpersonal sensitivity.

2. “Tell me about a time when you had to defuse a stressful situation in a professional setting.”

Strong Responses

  • If the candidate clearly describes the situation, the individuals involved, and the actions taken to resolve the conflict.
  • The candidate uses tact or diplomacy to alleviate tension or stress.
  • Demonstrations of leveraging personal relationships and empathy to understand different perspectives better.

Poor Responses

  • Answers where the candidate’s actions had no positive impact or, worse, contributed to escalating the tension.

3. “How do you recover from failure?”

Strong Responses

  • Any answers where the candidate is not threatened by failure and takes a reasonable amount of responsibility.
  • If the candidate is able to turn the failure into a learning lesson or to help them improve in future iterations.
  • Any answers where the candidate displays a level of self-awareness and reflection on the failure.

Poor Responses

  • Any answers where the candidate is unable to address the question, either by saying they have never experienced failure or that they are not sure how to recover from it 
  • Any deflective answers where the candidate uses an example of a failure that can not be attributed to them personally.
  • If the candidate is unable to recover from the failure in a reasonable amount of time.

4. “Tell me about a time when your mood impacted your work (this could be positive or negative).”

It’s more difficult to manage or cope with negative emotions, so a negative impact example is more evidential in terms of self-awareness than a positive impact example.

Strong Responses

  • Any answers where the candidate is self-reflective and appreciates the relationship between emotion and productivity.
  • Any answers where the candidate is able to display positive coping skills and was able to manage the emotion to achieve the desired outcome effectively.

Poor Responses

  • If the candidate severely overreacts or is unable to effectively manage their emotions.
  • Any answers where the candidate is unwilling to provide an example or attempts to deflect the question.
  • If the candidate is unable to make a clear connection between the emotion or mood and the impact on their work.

5. “Tell me about a time when you had to neutralize a stressful situation in a professional environment.”

Strong Responses

  • Answers that concisely outline the context, people involved and steps taken to address the conflict.
  • If the candidate shows the use of tact or diplomacy to diffuse the tension or stress.
  • Any examples that demonstrate an understanding of how to leverage personal relationships and empathy to better understand competing perspectives.

Poor Responses

  • Any answers where the candidate made no impact or contributed to escalating the tension rather than diffusing it.


Follow-Up Questions To Consider

  • Did you get any feedback from your leadership on how you handled the situation?
  • What was your rationale for that decision? 
  • Given the chance, would you change anything if you encountered a similar issue in the future? 
  • What were some of the lessons you learned from that experience? 
  • Can you provide another example of X? 

Key Takeaways

Emotionally intelligent people understand more than emotions, they also can use, manage, and handle them in a way that benefits everyone. It’s one ability that we at Talentlab recognize is crucial for leaders, but also acknowledge it demonstrates the opportunity for a candidate to grow into a management role down the road.

Our team specializes in aligning your hiring expectations with candidates who not only meet but exceed them. To learn more about how we can help your company, contact us today.

Sarah Doughty

Sarah is a seasoned recruitment advisor, with a background in hard-to-find technical talent searches. Over the course of her career she has worked with hundreds of clients building high-tech employment brands, leading recruitment teams, marketing candidates, executing passive search strategies, and developing expansive passive candidate pools in key markets across North America. Sarah excels in tough situations that require creativity and tenacity to overcome challenges.