Using Emotional Intelligence to Screen Physician Applicants

Written by: Alex Brown
Published on: Aug 16, 2021

Emotional Intelligence

Recruiters are often focused on skills, education, pedigree, and other easily identifiable qualities. But often the best performers share a trait that is harder to detect: emotional intelligence.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence describes the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions. As a result, that person also has the ability to understand – and more importantly, influence – the emotions and behaviors of others while on the job.

According to Daniel Goleman, who introduced EI during the 1990s:

“Companies today are increasingly looking through the lens of emotional intelligence when hiring, promoting, and developing their employees. Years of studies show that the more emotional intelligence someone has, the better their performance.”

Four Emotionally Intelligent Qualities

Goleman describes four characteristics that those with high EI possess.

Emotional self-awareness describes the capacity to tune into one’s own emotions, which leads to a better understanding of personal strengths and limitations. It allows a recruit to function with competence yet also know when to rely on someone else on the team.

Self-management is the ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses under control, which is essential for leadership, especially during a crisis. This quality is essential in high-pressure situations such as trauma interventions or surgical procedures.

Social awareness allows a recruit to read and interpret other people’s emotions – typically via non-verbal cues. Socially aware physicians are able to relate to different types of people, listen attentively, and communicate effectively to achieve the best outcomes.

Relationship management describes the interpersonal skills that “motivate, inspire, and harmonize with” others in a way that builds important team relationships. This skill enables a recruit to be a natural leader who gathers support from others and creates teams that are engaged, mobilized, and ready to handle extreme challenges.

How Recruiters Surface Emotionally Intelligent Candidates

Emotional intelligence is revealed during the interview process. While some EI traits can be found through well-crafted questionnaires, you get a better read on a candidate’s EI by observing responses to behavioral questions such as:

  • Can you describe a time you had a conflict within your team? How did you solve it?
  • Have you (and your team) ever struggled to solve an issue? How did you overcome the challenge?
  • Can you discuss a time you decided on a creative solution to treat a patient? How did you gain approval for the solution?

Behavioral interview questions provide recruiters with better insight into a candidate's personality, thought processes, and collaborative ability.

Interviewing for Emotional Intelligence

One key to successfully uncovering EI is to create an interviewing atmosphere that allows your candidate to express themselves fully when responding. This can be done with a technique called behavioral event interviewing (BEI).

Often, candidates are rigid and calculating in how they respond to an interviewer. BEI reduces that rigidity and enables an interviewee to be comfortable prior to being asked a question.

To accomplish this, start the interview by making the candidate as comfortable as possible by opening the interview in a way that is conversational, informal, and warm.

Then ask the person to describe a work situation that involved a difficult challenge, a situation that was successfully resolved. This helps put the candidate at ease, as most people enjoy describing a success.

Next, ask for a challenge story that resulted in an unsuccessful outcome – particularly one that felt like a failure and that your candidate learned from. This will give you an indication of how the candidate responds to challenges, creates a solution, and gathers acceptance from others.

Behavioral event interviewing is a powerful way to learn about a candidate’s emotional competencies and see how they demonstrate those competencies on the job.


Before you can identify EI, you’ve got to fill your candidate pool. job board helps physician recruiters connect with both active and passive job seekers in the Elsevier network - check out your options here.