How Emotional Intelligence Tests Can Help You Hire the Right People

February 9, 2022・12 mins read
How Emotional Intelligence Tests Can Help You Hire the Right People

While interview data can capture meaningful information for your hiring decisions, they don't provide you with data about certain intangibles, such as emotional intelligence, that can get lost in a formal and structured interview. Emotional intelligence (EI) is one aspect of culture and personality “fit” that can be difficult to assess in an interview but can have long-lasting and rippling effects within an organization. EI tests can provide a fuller understanding of who the applicant is and whether or not they’d be the right person to bring onto your team. In this article, we will deep dive into the different aspects of EI testing. (Note: we are not organizational psychologists. For more information on psychometric testing, consider consulting with an organizational psychologist before investing in a robust testing tool and strategy!)

What are emotional intelligence tests? Should you use them?

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a set of capabilities that allows you to perceive and identify the emotions of other people while becoming more self-aware and in control of your own emotions. While it may be less obvious to describe the presence of EI in words, you can certainly feel the lack of it in your everyday interactions. Leaders with high levels of EI can:

Impacts of low emotional intelligence in the workplace

But the opposite is also true! Poor EI among employees or leaders can bring down the group dynamic and cause burnout.

EI has become so important to hiring that 71% of hiring managers in the United States see it as more important than IQ. It’s no surprise that the need to measure this trait is becoming more important than ever, despite the challenges in doing so.

Judging how a candidate will work in a group or lead a team can be difficult, even if you’ve got a panel of interviewers and all the right assessment questions. Having an EI test in your arsenal of hiring tools can help you feel confident about how a candidate might perform on a team and get along with others.

Different kinds of EI tests

Just like IQ has testing options, an individual’s EQ (emotional quotient – the larger context of EI) can also be tested. There are a few different methods used to test EI. For this article, we will discuss two categories: Self-reporting and Ability EI. Let’s explore them both.

Self-reporting assessment method

This is when you ask the candidate to fill out a questionnaire about their own level of emotional intelligence Self-reporting can give you more information about a person’s perceived personality traits. These are filled out by the candidates themselves and identified via:

  • Forms
  • Tests
  • Questionnaires

The candidates report on skills like:

  • Empathy
  • Warmth
  • Gregariousness

They do this by ranking responses according to different metrics of personality or by having a test-taker agree or disagree with statements such as:

  • "I expect that I will do well on most things I try"
  • "I like to share my emotions with others"

These processes can be an easy way to get more information on your potential hire, but watch out! They can also be prone to bias. If a candidate knows their chances of securing a role depend on how they answer a questionnaire, they’re likely to respond in a favorable way.

People with low EI are also prone to overestimating their abilities — since they lack the self-awareness to look at their behaviors and performance objectively.

While you may glean some valuable information about the candidate’s personality, this form of testing on its own would not be a reliable way to measure one’s ability to perform on the job. Rather, this can be an additional tool to help you get to know the individual alongside their candidacy interviews.

Ability EI

This type of testing measures how well someone can recognize the emotions in a given situation. For example, a candidate might be given a question like:

  • If someone were about to go into an important meeting, would they feel: a) anger b) excitement c) nervousness or d) all of the above?”

Although these tests are a good way to know if a candidate can recognize emotions, they still don’t guarantee your prospect will work well with others or fit in with your team. So what’s the best option? HR professional Whitney Martin says that picking the best EI test depends on having a vision of exactly what you’re hoping to assess and measure in your candidates. For this, many researchers suggest measuring EI with a mixture of self-reported traits and tested abilities. Ability screening compensates for some of the bias innate in personality testing, while trait screening gives you some idea of how well your candidate’s personality may fit with the vision you have for the role. These mixed models can include tools like personality questionnaires and interviews combined with group exercises or EI ability tests. When used together, you can start getting a better idea of how well a candidate would respond in a real job scenario.

When to implement an EI test

So when should you make use of an EI test? Generally, EI testing should be done later on in the hiring process (such as for the finalists for the role).

  • Tests should be given to all candidates being considered at that phase of the process
  • You should be open with them about why they are being tested, how you’ll use the data to make your decision, and its importance to the role.

Provide candidates with a calm, quiet place to perform the assessment (or allow them to complete it at home). And let them know that this type of tool is only one part of the overall hiring process. Remind them that you’re also basing your decision on:

  • Interview data
  • Experience
  • Recommendations from references

Stating this upfront can help lower the pressure on your potential hire - and make sure their answers are as honest as possible. Finally, check in with your state government to confirm their employment laws regarding implementing these kinds of tests with candidates.

Where can you find EI tests?

There are plenty of ways you can EI measure, and not all of them involve time-consuming or expensive testing. Whether you’re looking for a standardized personality quiz or a robust, data-driven tool, the best emotional intelligence test is one that aligns with your goals and vision. Below we have listed a few tried and true options that are on the market.

Personality tests and self-reporting

Personality tests can be useful in figuring out whether the person you’re going to hire fits the vision you have for the role. As mentioned above, these types of tests are prone to bias, especially in a hiring situation. A candidate who feels stressed about getting the job might be inclined to change their answers so they will be perceived as better suited for the role. There’s even some question of the legality of these tools since the personal nature of these questions could potentially violate the candidate’s right to privacy. But when used correctly, they can be a great supplementary way to evaluate a candidate for your role. Just make sure that the testing is:

  • Job-related
  • Accurately measures performance
  • Doesn’t discriminate

5 measurement categories of emotional intelligence

While studying emotional intelligence, expert Daniel Goleman defined 5 categories of EI:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. People skills

Viable assessment options

Trait-based personality tests can measure many of these attributes. Attributes like empathy, self-awareness, and motivation can come across in commonly used tools like:

When combined with a behavioral interview, a reference check, or a test of EI ability, they can give you a better picture of who your candidate is and the EI skills they’ll bring to the team. Other self-reporting tools include:

Both of these instruments can be filled out relatively quickly by your potential hire and they will offer you some credible data about their level of EI.

Ability test known as the MSCEIT

While certain basic personality tests, interviews, and reference checks might be enough for many organizations, some hiring professionals want a more robust measure of EI. In these cases, testing a candidate’s ability can be a great assessment tool. One of the most popular EI ability tests is:

  • The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (or MSCEIT). Candidates can complete this test in about 35-45 minutes. It is designed to directly measure a person’s ability to read and understand emotions. Your prospects will demonstrate their level of emotional competence as they take the test. For example, prospects will be shown a picture of a person looking sad and asked which emotion they see.

The MSCEIT (sometimes referred to as the MEIS) is generally considered to be one of the only true ‘ability’ EI tests on the market. It is robust and works well for both organizations and researchers. With that in mind, it will give you plenty of information on your potential new hire. However, although this test is comprehensive, it’s also lengthy. Requiring candidates to take such an in-depth test could intimidate them. Additionally, you are likely to pay around $50 per candidate to implement this assessment because the test, itself, is copyrighted.

A 2nd option called TalentSmart

Other options include using an HR assessment company, such as:

  • TalentSmart, for your ability testing. TalentSmart tools are specifically geared toward organizational use. This tool will also provide the company results that you can track over time. Additionally, you will have options to set goals for new hires as they progress in the role.

If you’re exploring your options, check out the Emotional Intelligence Network (EIN) for their resource collection of EI measurement tools. When you use the EIN, you will be able to access information about how most of these tools are widely used by both researchers and organizations. That said, many are more time-consuming or costly, which makes them a better choice for larger companies or hiring managers with specific EI needs.

Online tools

EI testing doesn’t need to be expensive or lengthy to be useful. We have listed 3 online questionnaires you can add to your hiring tool kit (or you can try them out for yourself!):

  1. Harvard’s Professional Development program
  2. IHHP’s Emotional Intelligence Test
  3. Berkeley Science Centre’s test of EI ability

Although these three assessments are not as robust as some of the other testing mentioned above, they provide a relatively easy and inexpensive way to find out more about your candidates' baseline EI.

Emotional intelligence test dos and don’ts

When you incorporate EI testing into your hiring process you should always do it with:

  • Care
  • Consideration
  • Even in consultation with organizational psychologists and your legal team

Here are some dos and don’ts when using EI assessments on your potential candidates.


Test at the right time: It’s generally better to test only the finalists or test candidates after references have been called. Personality testing or self-reporting EI tests can be intimidating to candidates and lead to bias. Pick a quality tool: There’s no shortage of good EI tests on the market. Whether you pick one designed for researchers or one geared towards corporate HR, make sure the test has good predictive validity and does what it’s meant to do. Have a goal: Knowing the type of candidate you want to hire can help you pick the best tool for the task. So, have a specific vision in place. Without one, you will likely end up collecting more information than you need. This would be both costly and time-consuming. Meet with key members of the organization and create some benchmarks for the role. This process will help you know which EI test to choose.


Keep information hidden: If you keep applicants in the dark, they can become anxious about whether or not they’ve gotten the role. The lack of information may even scare them away from your company. Therefore, let candidates know:

  • Why they’re being tested
  • How their results are being used

Apply too much pressure: The hiring process can be intimidating for candidates, even without additional tests. Therefore, your attitude and the language you use around the testing process are also important. They will set the tone for your prospects.

Why emotional intelligence matters

Skills like empathy or the ability to actively listen can be crucial for making a workplace feel inclusive, managing in a hybrid work environment, and getting through tough economic times. So, adding EI tests to your hiring process can add some extra planning and scheduled interview time, but the results might just be worth it! After all, according to EI trainer Jason Cressey, “there is no job where EQ isn’t important for success.”

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