How emotional intelligence can make you a better recruiter
Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a concept that’s been around the business world now for nearly a generation. Encompassing ideas such as leadership, empathy, depth of understanding, teamwork, and motivation, there’s a widespread belief that EI is a key component in the success of both individuals and organisations.

But how can an understanding of EI help recruiters achieve the best possible outcomes – for their candidates, their clients, and for themselves?

The candidate

“Someone’s ability to perform in an interview – being able to think on their feet and understanding what the interviewees want to hear are an expression of Emotional Intelligence,” says Steve Hammond, Queensland director of Kingfisher Recruitment. “A resume might tell what you’ve done, but an interview will reveal who you are.”

“Our role is not to like every candidate that walks through the door, but to see the potential of everyone who walks through the door,” says Jo Skipper, Director (Victoria) for HR recruitment specialists The Next Step.

The more that a role involves leadership, the more important it is to locate candidates who exhibit high EI. “The top executives will undoubtedly have high EI, because they understand the people they’re working with,” says John Harland, Director of ERG Recruitment Group.

“EI is really important for resilience – something you want in top performers, as they don’t buy into some of the problems and issues that lead to stagnation. They can see beyond that, and take others along with them.”

Recruiters, though, should not become blind to the limits of EI in selecting an ideal candidate, as the more a role is dependent on technical skills, the less important EI becomes.

A client’s culture…

Understanding a client’s business culture is a crucial weapon in any recruiter’s arsenal, and EI is key to maximising that understanding.

“As recruiters, we helicopter into people’s businesses and lives,” says Skipper. “We have to be chameleons, to reflect the different organisations we’re working with. It’s a privilege to be able to do this. EI allows you to ‘read the room’, to read the organisation and the candidate.”

…and how it can change

But sometimes a client wants to change their culture, or may benefit from an influx of staff from a different culture. A good example was after the GFC, when a lot of people in private business moved to the government sector, giving rise to questions such as, could they work within the red tape?

“From a recruiter’s perspective, there was sometimes an argument to be had that the best candidate didn’t necessarily have 20 years experience in the sector,” says Hammond. “This called on the EI of the recruiter, the client AND the candidate.”

The Recruiter

In order to present any candidate in the best possible light, it’s important for a recruiter to turn their EI skills on themselves. “You have to know your opposite,” says Skipper. “What doesn’t turn you on in a candidate? I personally can’t stand people who are late, and I automatically make assumptions – it’s my potential derailer.”

“We can’t play judge and jury about who will be most successful in a role. As recruiters, we have to leave our prejudices behind.”

“If recruiters themselves exhibit EI, they’ll be in a better position to assess the EI of a candidate, and therefore better able to assess the candidate’s fit within a business culture,” says Harland.

Skills and behaviours

There’s always a discussion to be had between recruiters and clients as to what constitutes an ideal candidate, and this process calls on EI on both sides of the table. Hammond’s big tip here is to hire on behaviour, not skills.

“Recruiters should look at skills and ask a couple of times – why is this skill important? Re-evaluate, and be open-minded about what you want.”

Importantly, this discussion needs to look at the underlying reason why a client is asking for certain skills or behaviour.

You can always train skills, you can’t train behaviours,” says Hammond.

Complex but also simple

“Ultimately, Emotional Intelligence is about intuition, being people-orientated, and bringing out the best in people,” says Skipper. “In the world of recruitment, long-term reputational success comes from really understanding the whole of EI.”