Put aside the hard skills; emotional intelligence may make or break your next job interview.

When you think of searching for a job, a few things immediately come to mind: resumes, cover letters, interview questions, interview outfits, and more. Something that probably doesn't come to mind? Your emotions. And yet, they could be the key to landing your next role.

Emotional intelligence (also referred to as EQ for “emotional quotient”) is a rising necessity in the workplace. In fact, one survey by CareerBuilder reported that 71 percent of employers value emotional intelligence in an employee over IQ, while 75 percent are more likely to promote an employee with higher EQ over someone with higher IQ.

What this tells us is that there is an increasing importance being placed on interpersonal skills. This is great for creating positive work environments, but there is a downside: Emotional intelligence isn't something that's formally taught. And with these unique skills becoming imperative to professional success, employers will be looking for them during your interview.

There may not be an official handbook, but there are tools to help. Here we break down what “emotional intelligence” really means, why it's important for your career, and how to show off these skills in your next job interview.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence can be defined in two major parts. First is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage your own emotions. Second is the ability to recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others. Psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman breaks this down further in his book titled “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.” He introduces the idea as a set of skills including self-motivation, empathy, social competence in interpersonal relationships, and control of one's impulses.

It may sound complex, but don't fret. Essentially, emotional intelligence is all about understanding yourself and the people around you.

Why is emotional intelligence important for your career?

Like any hard skills, interpersonal skills are essential for success in the workplace ‒‒ and those are informed by your EQ. Most importantly, they affect the way you work with those around you. Traits like empathy and self-awareness, for instance, directly improve your ability to collaborate, resolve conflict, and handle pressure.

Say you're in a brainstorming session with your colleagues. One of your co-workers presents an idea that you don't think would be effective, but you have an idea that you think could be the answer to the issue at hand. Your task is now to communicate both of those things tactfully, suggesting this solution without putting down your co-worker or appearing overbearing. In order to navigate this tricky situation, you need to understand the way your actions may affect the people around you and choose them accordingly.

If you are looking to move up to a leadership position, EQ becomes even more important as much of the dynamics of the team will be determined by your decisions and behavior.

How to display emotional intelligence in an interview

There's no objective test you can pass to show a hiring manager during the hiring process that you have the EQ needed to be an effective addition to their team. Therefore, you have to demonstrate it throughout your interview through your responses and interactions. Here are some of the ways you can do that.

Actively listen

To show EQ in a job interview, you have to start with active listening. This means doing more than simply waiting for the interviewer to finish speaking before you dive into your pre-planned answer to “What's your greatest strength?” ‒‒ quite the opposite, actually. Don't start planning your response or jump to conclusions about what they want to hear from you. Instead, when the interviewer is speaking or asking you a question, take time and really listen to what they are saying and only respond to that. Consider that every word they say to you is as important as what you will say to them.

Show your emotions genuinely

Human resource professionals and interviewers need to see that you care about what you do, and answering that call will also help you demonstrate EQ by showing off your emotional availability. Luckily, some of the most popular interview questions present you, the candidate, with the perfect opportunity to do just that. Take advantage of queries like “Tell me about yourself” and “Why do you want this job?” to demonstrate to an interviewer your genuine passion for your career (and the job opportunity).

Talk about your growth

No one likes to talk about their failures, especially at a time when you're supposed to impress a stranger. Still, the ability to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them is a strong indicator of high EQ. Therefore, don't shy away from questions like “What's your greatest weakness?” or the behavioral-interview staple, “Tell me about a time when you experienced failure.” Talk openly about a shortcoming from your professional past and then add the positive spin: what you learned and how you've applied the lesson since.

Ask questions about company culture

The questions you ask at the end of an interview can say a lot about who you are, and you can use that to your advantage. By asking to know more about the company culture and team environment, you'll demonstrate that you have an active interest in the motivations and personalities that drive the organization.

Using emotional intelligence to boost your career

As the value of EQ in the workplace increases, the more important it will be for you to demonstrate those job skills in your interview. Start by taking time to reflect on your career journey, and focus on communicating it with sincerity in your interview. Remember, your goal is to show that you're qualified to both execute the job and excel among the people around you. That's how they'll know you're the right fit.

Can't tell if you're displaying EQ in your interview? It isn't easy. Build up your skills with the help of a professional interview coach.

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