Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Interview Questions for Candidates

Delving into the realm of Emotional Intelligence (also referred to as EQ, or Emotional Quotient) during job interviews has become more than just a trend — it's essential to help you identify candidates who have the soft skills that are vital for thriving at work.

In a recent study from Leadership IQ, hiring managers shared that 23% of hiring mismatches were due to the fact that the new hires ended up having a lower level of emotional intelligence than they desired, which many admitted they completely overlooked when conducting job interviews!

Exploring EQ sheds light on candidates’ underlying motivations, reactions and people skills, and it helps you better predict how well they'll adapt, communicate and work within your team. If arming yourself with this information before making your hiring decision sounds good to you, then read on.

We’ll tell you which EQ questions to ask, how to assess emotional intelligence and potential red flags 🚩🚩 to look out for (plus things that can be cleared up with a little further questioning).

Emotional intelligence interview questions to ask

These emotional intelligence interview questions are designed to explore different facets of emotional intelligence, including self-awareness, empathy, communication, conflict resolution and adaptability. ✨ They'll enable you to assess how candidates handle various challenges at work and reveal their capacity for emotional growth and collaboration. Pick a handful and start getting to know your candidates better!


Interviewing tip

It's important to create an open and non-judgmental atmosphere so that candidates feel comfortable sharing more in-depth insights. If their initial response is brief or canned, ask another question to create more space for specific details, emotions, thought processes and outcomes. We’ve included follow-up questions to encourage candidates to elaborate and share a more complete picture of their experiences. Just look for the ➕ sign.

1. Tell me about a time when you had to navigate a conflict within a team. How did you approach the situation, and what was the outcome?

➕ Tell me more about this. What were the specific challenges you faced? How did you work through them?

2. Can you describe a moment when you had to adapt to a sudden change or setback at work? How did that feel and how did you continue to contribute effectively?

➕ Could you walk me through the steps you took to adapt to the unexpected change? How did you keep your team members aligned and motivated during that transition?

3. Share an example of a project where you had to collaborate with team members with differing personalities and backgrounds. How did you ensure there was effective communication and understanding?

➕ Could you share more about the teamwork dynamics within that project? How did you collaborate and encourage other team members to contribute their strengths as well?

4. Describe a situation when you received constructive criticism from a colleague or manager. How did you react, and what steps did you take to learn and grow from the experience?

➕ When you received that feedback, what were your initial thoughts and feelings? How did you process the feedback afterward, and did it lead to any changes in your approach?

5. Tell me about a time when you identified that a team member seemed stressed or demotivated. What did you do to offer support and help them through the situation?

➕ Were there any challenges or barriers you encountered while providing support, and how did you overcome them? How did the team member's emotional state or motivation change after your interaction?

6. Can you tell us about a time when you disagreed with a decision made by your team or manager? How did you express your viewpoint and how was it received?

➕ Was it challenging to understand the person’s (or your team’s) point of view? How did you work towards a deeper understanding and create a space for meaningful dialogue?

7. Can you share an example of a successful negotiation or a time when you guided a customer or team member to reach a certain decision? How did you come to understand one other's perspective and find common ground?

➕ Were there any differences in opinions, needs or goals that you had to bridge during the negotiation or decision-making? How did you identify those differences?

8. Describe a time when you took the initiative to resolve a problem before it escalated. What steps did you take to address the issue and prevent it from happening again?

➕ What was your thought process as you approached that conflict?

9. Tell me about a time when you had to give critical feedback to a team member. How did you make sure your message was delivered sensitively and was well-received?

➕ When you provided critical feedback to your colleague, can you elaborate on the steps you took to ensure the conversation was constructive and respectful? How did you approach balancing honesty with sensitivity?

10. Share an experience in which you had to manage your own stress or pressure during a high-stakes project. What strategies did you use to stay focused and maintain your emotional balance?

➕ Describe the key factors that helped you manage your stress effectively during that high-pressure project. Were there any techniques or practices you relied on to stay composed?

📣 Hiring remotely? Be sure to throw in some good remote worker interview questions!

How to assess a candidate’s EQ

Even if interviewing candidates on their skills and values is already part of your hiring process, it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be familiar with all the ways to assess a candidate's emotional intelligence. It requires a thoughtful and thorough approach that will become second nature the more you practice it.

Here are the key things to look out for so you can effectively evaluate a candidate's EQ during the interview process.

🔑 Active listening: Pay attention to how well the candidate listens and engages with your questions. Do they provide thoughtful and relevant responses that show they understand the nuances of the questions? An emotionally intelligent person is more likely to actively listen and respond empathetically.

🔑 Empathy and understanding: Ask questions that require the candidate to put themselves in others' shoes. Their responses will reflect their ability to understand and empathize with different perspectives, which is a key aspect of emotional intelligence.

🔑 Self-awareness: Ask about the candidate's strengths and weaknesses, and observe how candidly they discuss their areas for improvement. Someone with high self-awareness can acknowledge their limitations and show a willingness to learn and grow.

🔑 Conflict resolution: Explore instances where the candidate faced conflicts. Pay attention to how they describe their role in resolving the conflicts, whether they took responsibility and if they focused on finding common ground and maintaining relationships.

🔑 Adaptability: Look for examples of how the candidate managed unexpected changes or challenges. Evaluate whether they showed a flexible and composed attitude, which demonstrates their ability to adapt to dynamic environments.

🔑 Stress management: Ask about high-pressure situations and how they handled stress. A candidate with strong EQ will likely describe strategies like staying organized, seeking support or practicing mindfulness to manage their stress.

🔑 Communication: Observe their communication style. Are they able to express their thoughts clearly and respectfully? Emotional intelligence involves effective communication that considers the feelings and perspectives of others.

🔑 Feedback reception: Inquire about times they received feedback, both positive and constructive. An emotionally intelligent candidate will describe how they processed the feedback and used it to improve.

🔑 Collaboration: Discuss experiences where the candidate collaborated within a team. Look for indications that they value teamwork, respect others' contributions and foster an inclusive environment.

🔑 Body language: Pay attention to their nonverbal cues. Typically an emotionally intelligent candidate displays open body language, maintains eye contact and uses appropriate gestures to emphasize empathy and understanding. (Except in some cases, for example, in neurodivergent candidates. More on this in the box below. 👇)

🔑 Consistency: Evaluate whether their responses and behavior align consistently throughout your interview(s). Emotional intelligence isn't just an "interview mode"; it should be a consistent trait.

🔑 Reflective thinking: Conclude the interview by asking the candidate to reflect on their own emotional intelligence. This question can reveal their depth of understanding


3 tips for accommodating and assessing neurodivergent candidates

Assessing emotional intelligence in neurodiverse candidates requires an understanding of their unique strengths, challenges and communication styles. Neurodiversity encompasses a range of conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia and more, and individuals within this spectrum may have exceptional abilities in areas like pattern recognition, attention to detail and innovation. When evaluating their EQ, be sure to incorporate these 3 tips:

1. Be flexible with your interview format and hiring process – Traditional interview formats might not be the most suitable for all neurodiverse candidates, so they should not be the only context in which candidates are evaluated. Offer options such as written responses to interview questions, virtual interviews, assignments or interactive assessments to accommodate their strengths and communication preferences.

2. Observe (but don’t put a lot of weight on) nonverbal cues – Some neurodivergent individuals might not display typical nonverbal cues, so it's important not to jump to conclusions about their EQ solely based on these. Focus on their verbal responses, thought processes and the content of their answers.

3. Accommodate processing styles – Neurodiverse candidates may need more time to process questions and formulate responses. Allow for pauses and consider reframing questions if necessary to facilitate effective communication. You should also use clear and direct language (no jokes or sarcasm) during interviews to ensure that questions are well-understood and candidates can respond effectively.

Possible red flags (and things that can be cleared up)

Identifying potential red flags related to emotional intelligence during interviews is crucial to avoiding costly and demoralizing mis-hires. It's also important to approach these observations with an open mind and gather more information before making a final judgment. Here are some red flags to look out for, as well as instances that might initially seem concerning but could be clarified through further questioning or conversations with references.

🚩🚩 Red flags

  • Lack of self-awareness – Candidates who struggle to identify their weaknesses, areas for growth, or any challenges they've faced might lack self-awareness, an important aspect of emotional intelligence.
  • Dismissive attitude – If a candidate brushes off the significance of interpersonal conflicts or challenges, it could signal an inability to acknowledge the impact of emotions on teamwork and relationships.
  • Blame game – Candidates who consistently shift blame onto others without taking any personal responsibility might struggle with emotional maturity and accountability.
  • Inflexibility – An inability to adapt or discuss times when they've had to change plans due to unforeseen circumstances might indicate a lack of adaptability and resilience.
  • Negative feedback handling – Candidates who seem resistant to or defensive about receiving constructive criticism may struggle with managing emotions when given feedback.

❓ Responses that could be cleared up

  • Lack of specific examples – If a candidate provides brief answers to your EQ questions without elaborating on their experiences, it could be due to nervousness or misunderstanding the question. Further probing could help them open up, or try sharing your own examples to provide a model.
  • Overwhelming emotion – A candidate might get emotional while discussing a challenging experience. This might not necessarily be a red flag but instead could indicate their investment in their work and the impact it’s had on them.
  • Too much self-promotion – While candidates should talk about their accomplishments, excessive self-promotion without acknowledging team efforts may indicate a lack of collaborative spirit. However, this can be clarified by exploring team dynamics.
  • Limited conflict examples – If a candidate struggles to come up with conflict examples, it might not indicate a lack of emotional intelligence. They could be fortunate to have worked in harmonious environments. Further questioning can reveal more.
  • Negative tone in feedback stories – A candidate describing a negative feedback experience might seem like a red flag initially. However, discussing how they grew from it could demonstrate their emotional maturity and willingness to learn.

In all these cases, it's essential to follow up with more questions and potentially talk to a candidate's references to gain a well-rounded perspective. References can shed light on how the candidate interacts in a professional context and confirm or contradict observations made during the interview. Keeping an open mind and being willing to explore deeper into a candidate's experiences can provide a more accurate understanding of their emotional intelligence.

📣 Need to ask a candidate for references? We have easy-to-fill-in email templates for both the candidate and the reference provider.

Ask the right  interview questions to assess emotional intelligence

While technical skills are important, a candidate's soft skills and emotional intelligence (as well as your team's!) can significantly impact their long-term success within your company. According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, who wrote the book 📘 on emotional intelligence, “Organizations and employers who prioritize EQ foster a safe working environment in which people work closely together to solve problems, take ownership for any mishaps and keep a level head when under pressure.” Ask the right EQ questions, pay attention and you'll be much better equipped to see which candidate is going to thrive within your team.


What is emotional intelligence and why is it important in the workplace?

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to understand and manage one's own emotions, as well as recognize and empathize with the emotions of others. In the workplace, emotional intelligence is important for good communication, collaboration, conflict resolution and leadership.

Why should you ask emotional intelligence interview questions?

Asking emotional intelligence interview questions is essential for gaining insights into a candidate's people skills, self-awareness and ability to navigate complex social and workplace dynamics. Candidates with high emotional intelligence are more likely to communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, adapt to changes and work harmoniously within teams.

How can emotional intelligence be assessed during the hiring process?

Emotional intelligence (also known as EQ) can be assessed through interview questions that explore candidates' experiences in handling emotions, conflicts and challenges with team members. Observing their responses, self-awareness and empathy can provide insights into their EQ.

Is emotional intelligence more important than technical skills in the workplace?

Emotional intelligence complements technical skills and is essential for effective teamwork, communication and leadership. While technical skills are crucial for work, emotional intelligence improves workplace interactions that drive collaboration and lead to team success.

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Brook Fischer
With a background in education and journalism, Brook has spent the past 18 years crafting and editing insightful content for small to medium-sized businesses. Her current favorite topics in the hiring space include employer branding and how to create a positive candidate experience. She lives in Toulouse with her husband, two sons and one sweet Staffy.

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