Interviewing for EQ

My client was a highly skilled physician who had become interested in physician leadership. His superiors in a large healthcare system saw potential. They threw him into the deep end. They gave him a very difficult set of responsibilities, leading other physicians who were not all that interested in being led. Sure enough, he stumbled a bit – not awful, but he did temporarily damage some relationships. Not a great start. His immediate superior said: “Let’s get you a coach. I know this guy . . . ”

While my client’s EQ skills were not particularly low, it was clear that he was going to need to build his EQ skill repertoire to succeed, both in this difficult assignment and in the future difficult assignments to which he aspired. But which EQ skills needed focus the most? Where should he and I focus our attention? Answering that question required an assessment. Let’s talk about how such an assessment can be done.

Formal Assessment Instruments: There are lots of tests on the market today that purport to measure EQ. Regular readers of this blog know that I favor the Emotional Quotient Inventory 2.0® (EQ-i 2.0®). Few other instruments can measure up to the EQ-i 2.0® in terms of the science that is behind it. As I often tell clients, it is easy to write a psychological test. It is hard to write one that works, i.e., measures what it says it measures, and provides accurate results. Having been trained in psychological science, I can assure you that science matters. Otherwise, it is GIGO (Garbage In/Garbage Out). Delivering garbage test findings, that is findings which are inaccurate due to poor test validity, is a good way to lose clients.

If you decide you would like to include the EQ-i 2.0® in your assessment, you should know that its publisher, Multi-Health Systems Inc., (MHS), requires that users be certified in its use, because the results it delivers can have such a powerful impact on people. It is important that users understand the instrument, and how it is best used. MHS has a number of companies authorized to train new users. Trainers Ed and Chris Hennessy have trained numerous new users whom I know personally, and they get great reviews. So, if you decide you would like to include the EQ-i 2.0® in your assessments and are looking for training, I can recommend them wholeheartedly. You can reach them at

Interviews: For a variety of reasons, some readers might prefer not to use a formal psychological assessment instrument. In that case, consider a well-constructed behavioral interview. The manual for our EQ Leader Program2.0 (EQL), a comprehensive and customizable program for building EQ skills in leaders, provides just such an interview.

Behavioral interviews consist of questions designed to get interviewees to talk about specific behaviors that they have performed at specific times and/or in specific situations. Emphasis on specific. Research has demonstrated that behavioral interview questions are far more likely to elicit valid, useful information than traditional, more generic interview questions.

  • Traditional interview: “How do you feel about taking on difficult tasks.” (You can just hear the person answering, “Fine.”)
  • Behavioral interview: “Tell me about a time when you took on a difficult task. What led you to do so? What was the outcome?” (This person has to think, and come up with something concrete.)

Now let’s get back to the questions I had about my client, i.e., which EQ skills would need focus the most in order to get the best results; where should he and I concentrate our attention? But instead of thinking of this client as mine, let’s think of him as yours.

Obviously, the EQ skills that need focus the most will be those most important for leading people who don’t want to be led, when the leader has no line authority. Those are the skills you should have in mind when you do your behavioral interview.

While the EQL interview has questions for all sixteen EQ skills, you may not have time or want to ask all of them. Therefore, you might opt to zero in on a smaller number of skills to ask about. After reading through the questions for all of the EQ skills, let’s say you get interested in three of them, reasoning that they would be particularly important in your client’s situation:

  • Interpersonal Relationships: You may recognize that Interpersonal Relationship skills are always important in leadership, and particularly so when line authority is absent.
  • Empathy: Your reasoning for including this skill might be that it will be important for your client to care about, and, more importantly, accurately recognize what the physicians he is charged with influencing care about.
  • Assertiveness: Leadership is an ongoing negotiation between leader and follower. Therefore, leaders must be clear about what they want/need without resorting to threats. Being clear is actually a kindness to followers, because it lets them know what they need to do to succeed.

Now that you have decided which skills are important, you will need to find out your client’s current skill level in each one. And that’s where the behavioral interview comes in.

Let’s look at one question from the EQL behavioral interview for each of these three skills, and the rationale for asking it. (I’m sure you could make a case for a number of additional EQ skills, but for the sake of this exercise, we’ll concentrate on these three.)

Interpersonal Relationships: “Who are/were you closest to in each of your jobs? What made you pick that person as someone to get close to? How did you go about building that relationship?”

Psychologists predict behavior for a living. They will tell you that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. In this case, you want to find out whether your client has ever had a good relationship with anyone. Almost everyone has had at least one. Find out about it. When it comes to coaching, you will want to refer back to this success experience so that you can guide your client to use it as a pattern to build more relationships.

Empathy: “Tell me about a time when you had to influence someone’s behavior. How did you approach the task?” (Note to Interviewer: Did they take time to learn about the other person’s interests/feelings/needs?)

People seek to influence others’ behavior all the time. By asking this question, you will get information about how your client has been going about doing so. Now you can help them figure out which of their tactics are effective and which fall flat.

Assertiveness: “Describe a time when you had to defend your point of view.”

Your client’s responses will help you know if he tends to get defensive (aggressive) or go passive. Either way, you have uncovered an important coaching topic.

If you would like the entire interview, please contact me at If you would like to know more about The EQ Leader Program, contact me, or go to our website: What is the EQ Leader Program? – EQ Leader, Inc.

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