The Role of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace and how to demonstrate yours in a job interview

While technical skills, qualifications, and experience are all key things employers look for in job applicants, emotional intelligence is increasingly becoming a core pillar of the interview process.

Therefore, job seekers who can effectively demonstrate their emotional intelligence during interviews can gain an advantage. In this article, we will delve into the significance of emotional intelligence in the workplace and provide valuable insights on how to showcase it during a job interview.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence, often referred to as EQ, encompasses a wide range of skills and abilities that relate to recognising, understanding, managing, and effectively using emotions in both personal and professional contexts. It plays a pivotal role in the success of individuals in various workplace scenarios.

Employers increasingly value EQ alongside traditional qualifications and experience for several reasons:

Teamwork and Collaboration: Employees with high EQ can navigate interpersonal conflicts, communicate effectively, and build strong working relationships, making them valuable team players.

Leadership: Effective leadership requires more than just technical expertise. Leaders with high EQ can inspire and motivate their teams, resolve conflicts, and make sound, empathetic decisions.

Customer Relations: For customer-facing roles, emotional intelligence is vital. Employees who can understand and address customer emotions are more likely to provide exceptional service and build loyal customer bases.

Conflict Resolution: Workplace conflicts are inevitable. Employees with strong EQ can mediate disputes, defuse tension, and find amicable solutions, contributing to a harmonious work environment.

Adaptability: EQ allows individuals to adapt to change and handle stress more effectively. This quality is essential in fast-paced, dynamic industries.

Interview questions to test emotional intelligence, and how to answer them the right way

These questions are designed to gauge your ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as your capacity to empathise with others and build positive relationships.

Before we get to the questions though, there is a typical structure to how you can answer these:

  • Set the scene by explaining the situation and background
  • Explain the challenge, your thought process in approaching it, how you handled it,
  • Explain the impact on the team or business of the challenge and its resolution
  • Talk about what you learned from the experience (which shows self-reflection and the desire to seek continuous improvement).

Some typical interview questions that help assess emotional intelligence include:

Tell me about a time when you had to work with a challenging team member or colleague. How did you handle it, and what was the outcome?

This question assesses your ability to manage interpersonal conflicts and collaborate effectively.

Some important things to cover in your answer would be how you recognised your own emotions, were able to step back from them, and how you tried to understand the other’s perspective. This could include how you discussed the varying points of view of the other party and worked together, in collaboration, to find a resolution.

Can you describe a situation in which you had to deliver difficult feedback or criticism to a co-worker or subordinate? How did you approach it, and what was the result?

This question evaluates your ability to communicate with empathy and manage emotionally charged conversations.

You could, for example, talk about how you booked a one-on-one, non-confrontational meeting; how you focused on their strengths and how you could work together to improve their performance, ensuring they felt heard and valued. Again, talk about the impact on the business, such as a team member with improved performance, and improved team dynamics, as well as what you learned from the situation.

Share a specific example of a project or situation where you had to adapt to unexpected changes or setbacks. How did you react, and how did it affect the outcome?

This question assesses your adaptability and resilience in the face of challenges and unexpected events.

You could, for example, talk about the impact on the wider team, how you acknowledged their concerns and anxiety, and how you worked together to reorganise and find alternative solutions. The outcome of that could be that it fostered resilience and trust within the team, leading to more robust or adaptable processes. Remember to cover what you learned from the situation too.

Describe a situation in which you had to manage a heavy workload and tight deadlines. How did you stay organised and maintain a positive attitude?

This question assesses your stress management skills and ability to stay composed under pressure.

In this example, you could talk about time management skills, for example, including specific techniques and how you effectively prioritised tasks. If you were working closely with a team during this time you could also talk about how you maintained frequent and open communication, recognising the stress they too were feeling. Maybe you could even talk about various mindfulness techniques you practiced such as meditation to help manage your own stress levels and remain focused.

Can you provide an example of a situation where you admitted to making a mistake? How did you handle it, and what did you learn from the experience?

This question assesses your self-awareness and your ability to take responsibility for your actions and learn from your mistakes.

Let’s use a specific example for this situation: a client presentation that contained an error. In using this as an example, you could talk about the impact on the client (confusion, inconvenience), and the potential impact on your company (loss of a client, loss of revenue). You could then talk about how you, upon realising the mistake, immediately informed your superiors and proactively reached out to the client to apologise and correct the mistake. Remember to cover the impact on your company, and what you learned from the experience.

Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a particularly demanding or upset customer or client. How did you handle the situation, and what was the result?

This question assesses your ability to manage emotions in customer-facing roles and provide exceptional service.

Let’s say your example was a customer upset about the quality or performance of your company’s product. You could, for example, talk about how you listened to their concerns, empathised with their frustration, and what steps you took to address their specific issue. To highlight the impact of your role in this, you could talk about how by the end of the interaction, the customer’s anger had been transformed into gratitude, for example. From this, you learned the power of empathy and active listening to diffuse tense situations and how building trust can foster longer-term customer relationships and loyalty.


Of course, these are just a small selection of potential questions and you’re likely to come across more. The key to answering them is to remember that it’s crucial to provide specific examples from your past experiences and focus on how you applied emotional intelligence to handle the situation effectively.

In addition, there are a couple of additional ways you can demonstrate emotional intelligence during your interview. These include:

Active listening: Show your interviewer that you are genuinely interested in what they’re saying. Maintain eye contact, nod in agreement, and ask relevant follow-up questions.

Positive Attitude: Convey a positive attitude throughout the interview. Smile, maintain good posture, and use optimistic language when discussing your achievements and challenges.

Remember that emotional intelligence is not something you can fake, it’s about genuinely understanding and managing your own emotions while empathising with others. By preparing specific examples and stories that highlight your EQ, as well as practicing positivity and active listening during your interview, you can effectively showcase your emotional intelligence and increase your chances of landing your dream job.

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