Why I Started Referencing Emotional Intelligence In Interviews
I am a feeler.
In fact, I’m pretty sure I remember how I felt in the past more accurately than where or who I was ever with. I used to believe it was abnormal, even embarrassing, to cry or show emotions of sadness. But as I’ve grown, I’ve changed the way I view my emotional awareness and how I choose to move throughout the world. Understanding pain and feeling emotion, once you recognize the value in them, can set you free.
This experience is called our Emotional Intelligence, otherwise known as EQ. EQ is the ability to understand, use, and manage our own emotions in a positive way that fosters healthy and effective communication. Or, to simplify, it’s the connection between our self-awareness and our social awareness. And as mental health becomes a larger part of the work/life conversation, I think it’s time to start talking about how emotional intelligence shows up at work, too.
But emotions are not something we’re formally taught. (Many of us were raised in families where discussing emotions was as neglected as the birds and the bees.) The good news is that EQ is a lifelong practice—an ever-evolving skill set—that we can start exercising at any point.
All that to say, emotions can be vulnerable, and that feels scary in the workplace. How do we go about integrating EQ beyond our personal life and into our work life?
It’s not easy, especially in a world that places more value on being right than getting it right. Here’s how I’m navigating it.
Why Emotional Intelligence Is A Career Skill
There is so much more to me than my education and experience—even more than my “proficiency in Adobe Suite” or my “content management skills.” Because, at the end of the day, we’re all layered human beings (onions, if you will) and employers want to hire authentic people. You can always teach someone a new skill, but you rarely have the opportunity to teach someone how to be authentic, vulnerable, and communicative.
I’ve found that the more I’m able to use and be in-tune with my emotional being at work, the more empathetic and self-compassionate I am. That’s especially important when it comes to learning opportunities like making a mistake at work. Having a strong EQ informs our understanding of ourselves and others, encourages forward thinking, and above all creates better transparency with our colleagues.
And it’s also this idea of vulnerability, not only with others, but with ourselves, that’s the big differentiator between the employee who is willing to take risks and the one who lets fear and shame stop them in their tracks.
“If you want a culture of creativity and innovation, where sensible risks are embraced on both a market and individual level,” writes Brené Brown in Daring Greatly, “start by developing the ability of managers to cultivate an openness to vulnerability in their teams.”
Without vulnerability, we’re prone to avoiding risk—Brown eloquently explains, “Shame becomes fear. Fear leads to risk-aversion. Risk aversion kills innovation.” Brown establishes that there’s a different way of showing up for work. The more we allow ourselves to hold space for empathy, the easier we can communicate our needs as a team. Rumbling with vulnerability is about leaning in, rather than walking away from the situations that make us feel uncertain, at risk, or emotionally exposed.
Many of us aren’t brought up in a culture of asking questions, rather we are expected to already know how to do things. Emotional intelligence, instead, allows us to embrace a vulnerable mindset of learning, helping, and asking questions. Above all, it fosters understanding. Consider how understanding love languages can help in your personal relationships—there’s also great value in understanding the communication styles that your colleagues identify with.
But how do you explain this skill to a potential employer?
How To Express Your EQ During The Job Search
One day, while following an internet rabbit hole, I discovered graphic artist @shegotthepink‘s resume—where she lists “High EQ” in her skills section. At that moment, everything clicked for me. This was it! Emotional intelligence, I discovered, could be a skill to lead with.
I started by acknowledging my past work environments, and identified what did and did not allow me to feel like a strong team member. I looked fondly on the bosses, colleagues, and clients who possessed the ability to understand me.
Now, I approach interviews as a door to open up and be vulnerable—a space to establish my voice, to share my values. The goal is to share what makes us such valuable assets (because we are), and the multi-dimensional benefits we can add to a company above and beyond our proficiencies.
It’s also important to note that that you are interviewing the employer just as equally as the employer is interviewing you. This is one of the most noteworthy pieces of interview advice I’ve ever received, because it invites you to examine your self worth and presents a crucial opportunity to ensure your core values are understood. This ensures that your next company culture is a space in which you feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.
During interviews, I also like to share the professional communication styles I identify with, and the ways in which I see myself best supporting (and feeling supported by) my potential team. This fosters a work environment that seeks value in clarity and sets the team up for success. Asking people for specific examples of what supportive behaviors look and don’t look like can also help support accountability in your new role.
Work-Appropriate Vulnerability Skills To Practice
One of the most daring moves we can make is to be the person that we want others to be. It is powerful to be a colleague who leans into your values and owns your work, while also remaining open to learning about what matters to other members of your team. When you understand your coworkers’ values, you understand them.
We can all also model a little bit of humility when it’s needed, which is to be secure enough in your ego to honestly admit things like “I don’t know” or “I am not very informed on this topic.” That sends a message to others that uncertainty is not a sign of ignorance, it’s actually a sign that we are secure in our knowledge. It shows we are more interested in improving ourselves than we are in proving ourselves.
And, of course, we can take feedback with grace. When we allow ourselves to be open to respectful and constructive feedback, we have the potential to grow from it.
Not all vulnerability is work-appropriate, though—and ultimately, emotionally intelligent people move through difficult moments at work in a less reactive manner, and accept accountability without shaming or blaming.
We live in a world that celebrates certainty, and mistakes confidence for competence. Instead, I suggest that alongside Excel proficiency, we should embrace our empathy—alongside our SEO skills, we should celebrate our self-expression. Let’s open ourself up to refining our emotional intelligence and continue practicing it, for the good of our teams—and ourselves, too.
How has emotional intelligence shown up for you at work? Share in the comments below!
Annie Balto is the Creative Assistant at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Minnesota, where she attributes her love for the natural world and curious personality. You can usually find her soaking up the sun on her long walks, nestled in the beautiful Malibu beaches eating from her favorite sandwich shop, or at home experimenting in the kitchen. Say hi on Instagram!