Emotional intelligence: a secret ingredient for career success
What is emotional intelligence (also known as EI or EQ)? A basic definition is:
- the ability to identify and deal with our own emotions…
- the ability to recognise and understand the feelings of others…
- …and to adjust our own behaviours and our responses to others accordingly.
It requires self-knowledge and empathy. The concept of emotional intelligence – coined by Peter Salavoy and John Mayer – entered popular understanding with Dan Goleman’s books on the subject in the 1990s and there is much that you can read about the subject online if you are prompted to do further research. What we are concentrating on here is how it can be beneficial in the workplace and, in particular, to graduates starting out in their first job.
While higher levels of emotional intelligence are undoubtedly an asset in ‘people-y’ roles, such as those in HR, the health professions and people management, it can be helpful in any graduate job that involves interaction with people – whether colleagues, customers or bosses.
How can emotional intelligence be an advantage in the workplace?
In the workplace, emotional intelligence can help build better relationships and make things run more smoothly. For example, if you have to request some work from a colleague whom you suspect is feeling down or overwhelmed, how and when you make the request should be different than it would be if you thought that they were in ‘a good place’. If you are a manager who has to introduce a significant change, your awareness of how people react to change might inform how you choose to approach it. If you have to persuade a client to take a course of action about which they have doubts, understanding what makes them tick is likely to improve your chances of success.
Emotional intelligence is a vital component of other key skills, including:
- interpersonal and communication skills
- teamwork and relationship-building
- influencing skills
- customer service or client management skills.
Your emotional intelligence could even improve your own work performance: for instance, if you realise that you are feeling stressed, you could take steps to relieve the cause or (depending on your job) rearrange your day to leave more complicated or arduous tasks to a better time. This in turn could improve your productivity. As such, emotional intelligence allows you to strengthen your inner resilience.
Do employers assess your emotional intelligence during the graduate recruitment process?
Emotional intelligence may be one of the competencies assessed during a strengths-based recruitment process or during an online situational judgement test – a type of online ability/psychometric test that, these days, often forms part of your initial application.
However, it is likely that recruiters won’t be judging how emotionally intelligent you are per say. They will probably be explicitly assessing your communication, teamwork and relationship-building skills – all of which are enhanced by higher degrees of emotional intelligence.
This being the case, your emotional intelligence will necessarily be on display at an assessment centre – particularly during group exercises and during any times for small talk. You should also call upon it when answering any competency-based or job-specific interview questions that involve people, feelings and behaviour. These include:
- Tell us about a time when you’ve worked with a difficult person.
- If you noticed a team member was underperforming, what would you do?
- How would you persuade someone to do something that they didn’t want to do?
- How would you handle conflict?
- How would you handle a stressful work situation?
How can you improve your emotional intelligence?
A good starting point for improving your emotional intelligence is to interact with different people from a range of backgrounds. As we’ve discussed, people with higher emotional intelligence can see things from other people’s points of view, even if they themselves don’t agree with them, and the best way to begin to do this is to meet other people and get to know how they think. Part-time jobs, getting involved with different societies and extracurricular activities, volunteering (here in the UK or abroad), travelling – all can widen your horizons.
Another exercise would be to read news and opinion pieces from a wide range of sources, particularly those that you don’t agree with, and consider the different perspectives taken on topics and why that might be. The aim here isn't necessarily for you to change your views but to understand why people might think differently.
The other aspect of emotional intelligence is getting to know yourself and how you think. Perhaps most importantly, learn to recognise your triggers for stress or for any negative behaviours and develop strategies for avoiding them. Identify, too, your strengths and what combination of circumstances leads you to be at your best. This level of self-awareness will be very attractive to employers and prepare you to achieve your ambitions in the workplace.