Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Healthcare Interviews


Academic and practical talent will always be an important future performance indicator for healthcare professionals. However, a new kind of intelligence quotient is abuzz these days: emotional intelligence (EQ). Emotional intelligence is being lauded as an important focus for healthcare recruiters when vetting potential candidates, and for a good reason. Research has shown that EQ contributes to better physician-patient relationships, and internally, EQ increases empathy, teamwork, stress adaptation, and career satisfaction for doctors and nurses.

What is emotional intelligence?

In short, emotional intelligence is social skills. It’s the ability to recognize, control, and express one’s emotions and to recognize and react appropriately to the emotions of others. Individuals with high EQ are typically adaptable and relatable and manage interpersonal relationships well.

Although there are techniques to train for better EQ, it’s important for healthcare employers to begin looking for signs of high EQ from the start – the interview. But how do you sift through canned responses to detect whether a candidate has strong emotional intelligence? Here are a few questions to pose during the interview that may help.

  1. What is your favorite hobby outside of work? Can you explain it to me as though I know nothing about it?

    First, it is pretty telling whether they can think of their favorite hobbies outside of work on the fly. Physicians and nurses work notoriously long hours, and many find living balanced to be a struggle. So if they have an outside hobby they seem passionate about, it’s a sign that they recognize the importance of having a life outside of work and are actively working toward finding that balance.

    Now back to the EQ aspect. It’s not always easy to simplify a hobby you know well for someone who doesn’t understand it at all. So when you ask probing questions and request that they simplify it for you, are they getting frustrated? Or are they calmly adjusting their communication strategy and re-explaining it in a way that you understand?

    Those with high EQ are able to recognize when others are not understanding, adjust their communication style, and work patiently to help their audience understand their message – a clear asset in challenging situations, like in the O.R.

  1. Tell me about a time you worked with a patient who would not comply with their treatment recommendations. What did you do? What was the outcome?

    The importance of this scenario is that it’s frustrating for physicians, nurses, and other clinicians. And the response to that frustration is important – do they simply label patients like this as a nuisance, or do they work to find solutions to help the patient become adherent to the medical recommendations?

    Here are a few things to look for in their response:

  • Acknowledgment that it was a frustrating situation. People with high EQ are able to recognize their own emotions for what they are. Healthcare professionals care about their patient’s outcomes; naturally, most people will feel frustrated in this scenario.
  • Managing the frustration. Managing emotions, especially around the patient, is essential, and people with high EQ tend to do this well.
  • They sought to understand the patient’s motivations. Plainly and simply, were they empathetic? Did they strive to understand why the patient was not adhering to the recommendations?
  • They sought to ease the conflict and worked toward finding a solution. They read, understood, and leveraged their understanding of the patient’s emotions and motivations to work toward a mutually agreeable solution (and what was best for the patient).
  1. Tell me about a time you tried and failed at something.

    This is similar to the “what is your biggest weakness” question, except that it’s specifically geared to measuring EQ. You’re looking to gauge the candidate’s coping mechanisms when things don’t go as planned and to see whether they are openly accountable for their role in the failure.

    Candidates with high EQ are able to comfortably and objectively discuss what went wrong, how it happened, and what they learned from it without deflecting blame or letting themselves get too rattled by the question.

  1. Tell me about a time you or your team were unable to diagnose a patient.

    Failure to diagnose is one of the most troubling scenarios for both physicians and patients, and it requires not only thinking outside the box but admitting that they just don’t know. Strong candidates will know their strengths but also their limitations. How did they overcome? Did they ask for help and seek the advice of fellow associates? Were they resourceful in other unique ways, and did they actively work to put the patient at ease?

Finding great talent is just one of the many hats healthcare HR pros wear. If primary source verification is another, take a peek at EverCheck’s exclusive resource: The 7 Best Practices for Primary Source Verification.

It’s full of industry insights on how to get the job done accurately and efficiently, letting you get back to other important tasks (like gauging the emotional intelligence of your candidates). Get your copy.

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