Hiring for EQ and Culture

At FounderForward, we focus a good deal on Emotional Intelligence (“EQ”) and Culture. They’re core topics of our individual and group coaching work. This past week in our Founder GROW Group session, we discussed how to incorporate EQ and culture into the hiring process.

The conversation was inspired by a study we surfaced from recruiting firm Robert Half U.K., which found that while 60% of businesses say that EQ is a very important skill for employees to possess, one in four (25%) admit that it is undervalued in the hiring process.  

This study is in line with what we’ve seen working with hundreds of early-stage companies. Specifically, most startups aren’t asking the right questions or holding the right conversations to determine a candidate’s emotional intelligence and/or culture fit within an organization.

The real bottom line here is that most startups conduct a shoddy hiring process (from role clarity to job descriptions to interviews and beyond). We certainly can’t address all of these at once, but the major takeaway is that founders must make the time to develop and implement a strategy and process around hiring. It’s the first touch point of the Employee Experience, and there’s nothing more important to your company’s success than getting the right people in the right seats.

Hiring for EQ

There’s a great deal of research out there indicating that high emotional intelligence is what separates the good from the great. According to expert Daniel Goleman, EQ can be twice as important as IQ. Possessing high emotional intelligence not only means a person is self-aware and able to manage their emotions, it means they are socially aware and can empathize with and interact well with others.

In fast-paced, high-stress startups, where teamwork and collaboration are crucial for success, hiring for IQ alone is simply not enough. You must be deliberate in assessing a candidate’s EQ.

Here are some questions and prompts that help uncover EQ:

  • Tell me about a recent failure and what you learned from it?
  • Tell me about a time when a co-worker was angry with you and how you dealt with it?
  • Describe a time you were overwhelmed with emotion and did something you later regretted.
  • When you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, how do you self-soothe?
  • What was the best day at work you’ve had in the last 3 months? Why did you enjoy it so much?
  • What was the worst day at work you’ve had in the last 3 months? Why did you dislike it so much?
  • What skills are you currently working to improve?
  • Provide the candidate with feedback on something so you can watch how the feedback is received.

Hiring for Culture

Let’s start by addressing what this does not mean. It does not mean: Hiring people that look like us. Hiring people that think like us. Hiring people we want to have a beer with.

Determining whether someone is a fit for your culture is about finding folks who are passionate about the problem you’re trying to solve. Who will embody the core values of the company and thrive in the work environment. Who will challenge you and your team in positive ways to benefit the company.  It should be thought of more as a culture “add” than a culture “fit.”

Hiring for culture requires that you and your team can communicate your mission, vision, values, and overall culture in a clear and compelling way. It also requires you to truly “walk the talk,” so candidates can see and feel your culture first-hand throughout the hiring process.

Here are some questions and prompts for conversations about culture:

  • Describe the work environment in which you are most engaged.
  • What are some of your core values or guiding principles? 
  • How did the culture at your last company empower or disempower you?
  • What would make you quit a job within the first 3 months? 
  • Provide an example of a time when you went out of your way to delight a customer.
  • Provide an example of a time when you went out of your way to help a teammate.
  • What is your preferred style of management?
  • Have you ever found a company policy unfair or ineffective? If so, what was it and what did you do about it?

EQ and Culture are important, and they should be driving factors in your hiring. The key is to make sure you’re thinking about them in the right way.

For more on Culture and EX, listen to a conversation with myself and Stephan Vincent on “The EX Podcast”.

Robyn Ward

Robyn Ward

Robyn Ward is a 20-year veteran of the technology startup space. Via her coaching and consulting business, FounderForward, she helps founders with with leadership development, culture & team-building, as well as fundraising strategy and strategic partnerships. Robyn also teaches Entrepreneurship at USC and is a champion of diversity and equality in the technology industry.

Straight to your inbox.

The best content on the future faces of tech and startups.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.



Join the Angel Sessions

Develop strategic relationships, build skills, and increase your deal flow through our global angel group and investing course.