In the face of any social or economic upheaval, you'll usually find a slew of articles urging recruiters to use emotional intelligence (EI) in difficult times. While this is true, EI is always crucial in recruiting.
Strong EI can enhance all areas of your life, but let's focus on why it is essential in recruiting. There are many definitions of EI out there, but this one by Bradbury and Greaves, from Emotional Intelligence 2.0, highlights the aspects directly relevant to recruiting:
"Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships."
Recruiters are under pressure to get jobs filled, but candidates have a very different experience. Finding a new job is a very stressful event. Most sources, such as the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, cite it in the top 10 most stressful events in any person's life. That means candidates' emotions run high during the process. The job hunt is fraught with uncertainty and lack of control. Many studies (Platt & Huettel, for example) have demonstrated that our brains are averse to uncertainty and perform poorly when autonomy is low.
Recognizing candidates' emotional state will help a recruiter enhance the candidate experience and foster employee engagement. In some ways, it's as simple as saying, "I understand how you must feel." But failing to recognize a candidate's emotional state can result in an impersonal experience or, worse, a de-personalizing experience. The bottom line is that a recruiter who can identify with a candidate will have an advantage over competitors who are more process oriented.
Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman have identified five key aspects of EI. Here they are, with applications in recruiting.
Self-awareness is not as easy as some think. It requires that you pay attention to your emotions and the relationship between them and your behavior. Further, a self-aware person understands how their feelings and actions impact others. Let's say you're in the middle of a conflict with your supervisor, and you're feeling anger or frustration. Meanwhile, you have an interview scheduled with a candidate. The conflict has nothing to do with the candidate, but will you be able to keep it from affecting your attitude or behavior during the interview?
Self-regulation refers to expressing your emotions appropriately. You don't need to stifle them -- that would be unhealthy. In a highly diverse society, you can expect to interact with candidates who have political or social values very different from your own. It's usually easy to avoid those kinds of topics, but if a candidate insists on expressing an opinion that touches a nerve for you, you can use your EI self-regulation. First, decline to rise to the bait and, second, re-direct the conversation to relevant topics. After you hang up, you might blow off some steam by talking about the incident with a sympathetic friend or coworker.
Social skills are pretty much standard equipment for recruiters. In the context of EI, this idea refers to your ability to apply your self-awareness and self-regulation in social interactions. Social skills that are of high value to recruiters include active listening, verbal and non-verbal communication, and persuasion. If you interact with candidates primarily via email, phone and text, then your words are very important. Without non-verbal cues, like intonation or facial expression, a simple statement can be misinterpreted.
Empathy takes an awareness of others' emotions to the next level. If you are empathetic, you can relate to another person's feelings based on similar experiences of your own. You might be working with a candidate when there is an unexpected death in the family. It almost goes without saying that it won't be business as usual. However, if you can recall your own similar experiences to understand what the candidate is going through, it may prevent the candidate from dropping out. It also may make a lasting impression that translates into strong employee engagement.
Motivation in emotional intelligence refers to being driven by internal goals and rewards, more so than by external things like money, status, or acclaim. You don't have to be entirely altruistic (money matters, right?), but achieving internal goals can be a richer, more satisfying experience than achieving external ones. Initiative and a desire for self-improvement are expressions of motivation.
EI is an intangible, but it has the potential to show in your performance metrics. If your company collects feedback from candidates and hiring managers, you may see an uptick in the numbers once you've taken a proactive approach to practicing emotional intelligence.