Hiring Right Means Carefully Assessing EQ
by Dora Vell

It's almost impossible to overstate the importance of choosing a new CEO. A pivotal decision affecting a corporation's every aspect, selecting a new captain at the helm is a critical moment in a company's history.

With its ability to predict success, emotional intelligence or EQ is always an important consideration but for CEO hires it should be a - if not the - top factor. As the ultimate leadership position, CEOs must motivate, influence, inspire, team-build, manage conflict, marshal resources and direct a company towards an end goal. EQ gifts a person with these essential soft skills.

From destructive internal conflicts to poor decision-making, the consequences of a low-EQ CEO have a significant impact on both bottom-line and marketcap.

Assessing CEO candidates' EQ is often especially challenging as these senior candidates can be especially adept at hiding shortcomings. The most effective methods are two tried and true hiring tools - interviews and reference checks. Neither new or scientific their power comes from their careful and diligent administration. EQ tests aren't typically used because: candidates' notoriety makes background checking easier; and sitting CEOs' hesitation to consider new positions makes an EQ test unwise. While done infrequently, in some situations however, getting a CEO candidate to sit down with a psychologist who can assess EQ is possible. The information provided is often great assistance to completing the EQ puzzle.

What you're looking for

A very sophisticated level of the five EQ hallmarks -self awareness, self regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills - is required. While the behaviours that demonstrate emotional competency are the same for a middle manager as CEO, with CEO they need to be much more highly developed. They include: staying composed and effective in crisis situations; handling failure and criticism; building strong networks of cooperative, productive relationships; considerate and tactful interactions with subordinates and superiors; and putting subordinates', colleagues' and the company's needs ahead of personal gain.

Using the tools effectively

Maximizing the interview and reference check can be done by following a few key tips.

Interviewing for EQ

First and foremost, let them do the talking. While you want to direct the interviews' course, the more they talk the more they'll reveal about their attitudes, beliefs and style.

Stick to the basics. Though you're dealing with CEO candidates, ask about all facets of their career history, from education through to providing a chance for self appraisal. Skipping any category may rob you of key EQ information.

Let actions be the true EQ measure. If the candidate's behaviour indicates a high EQ assume it'll continue. If it doesn't, proceed with caution. Only assume people can change once they have and significant evidence indicates the transformation.

Be aware of body language. Do the words being spoken correspond to the individual's body language. If the 'right' answer is put forward but at the same time the candidate has lost eye contact ask yourself what's causing this discomfort.

Ask for specific examples of the EQ competencies. For example, can you tell me of a time when you brought two opposing parties together and what the end result for the company was. Similarly, create scenarios and ask how they would manage them.

Be a detective. Don't take the candidate's explanation at face value. For example, frequent job changes may indicate an EQ blindspot. While the candidate may have self-justified the reason, delve further with probing questions and reviewing the issue with references.

Watch for strong beliefs. A good indication of how the CEO will perform, strong beliefs can be a positive or negative. When expressed, pursue its potential behavioural impact with further questioning and review it with references.

Referencing Checking for EQ

Checking references completes the EQ picture. Tips for maximizing this part of the EQ assessment process include:

First, check the references. Don't assume that: because the candidate is high profile the references can't tell you anything you don't know; the candidate's successful record means issues don't exist; it will be good reference because it was candidate supplied.

Take detailed notes when reference checking. Jot down key descriptions, incidences and examples. Being able to refer back to them helps when making your final summation on the candidate.

Spend enough time checking references. The more the reference says the more you'll learn about the candidate and the reference needs time to get comfortable in order to be as forthcoming as possible. This is especially true with senior level candidates were intimidation or a business relationship may make references less hesitant to open up.

A 360 degree reference check is critical. Speak to a multilevel group of work associates to get a complete picture of the candidates' performance. Get at least five references to ensure a cross section of experiences.

Do blind referencing. Talk to people who you know who have worked with the candidate but weren't referenced by the candidate. In addition to further insight, they may offer a more honest and accurate appraisal.

Be thorough in looking for EQ evidence. With each referee ask about each emotional competency separately and make sure you ask for examples of each.

Guarantee confidentiality. Getting honest and accurate references is impossible without an overt promise of confidentiality.

Finally leave areas for development and weaknesses until the end when the reference is more comfortable. If asked up front you risk not getting as detailed, insightful or accurate a response.

Reaching a conclusion

Upon completion of the interview and reference checks, write a report summarizing each candidate. You'll be better able to compare the candidates' EQ and reach a decision as to which candidates have high levels and which don't. While it may not be the most scientific of processes, securing a strong assessment of CEO candidates' EQ is possible. When the interview and reference check are performed properly you'll find that "who you are speaks so loudly, I can barely hear what you're saying."

Dora Vell is a Partner with Heidrick & Struggles, in their International Technology Practice. For additional information email: dvell@heidrick.com and visit www.heidrick.com and http://www.doravell.com/ .

Many more articles in The HR Refresher in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2004 by Dora Vell. All rights reserved.

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