Home Career Hiring? Screen for emotional intelligence

Hiring? Screen for emotional intelligence

Five questions to highlight head and heart

July 2019
woman thinking about the emotional aspect of hiring

HEALTH CARE TODAY is as much about social skills and navigating multiple relationships as it is about clinical knowledge. Hospitalist teams need providers who have high adaptability, character flexibility, and, above all, the ability to care and be kind. Because candidates don’t really highlight these qualities on their CVs, how do you screen for them? Behavioral interviewing works.

If you have only an hour or less with potential hires, I recommend that you ask them these scenario questions to get at their responsiveness, empathy, situational awareness and clinical abilities. Here are the five questions I rely on to get insight into candidates’ emotional profiles without bringing them back for a second visit.

1) Tell me about a situation you’ve encountered where the family’s expectations did not match the care team’s, or the situation was otherwise difficult. What did you do, and how was the situation ultimately resolved?

I’ve been amazed at the number of applicants who have a dearth of feedback about themselves—and at their level of embarrassment when asked.

With this scenario, candidates describe the clinical background, the area they were working, the key players in the event, and how they or the team handled it. Their answers can give you outstanding information on how they conduct family meetings and how often, the value they place on relationships with patients and families, and how they display empathy toward people who are suffering. In addition, their answers will help you profile how well they interact with nursing staff and ancillary services.

2) Tell me about a person you’ve admired in medicine and why. And 3), tell me about a person you’ve admired outside of medicine and why.

The answers give you a window into candidates’ aspirations, highlighting qualities they may already possess but want to further develop. People naturally want to mirror and project; in medicine, candidates commonly admire intellect, bedside manner or dedication to the art.

Observe how often prospective hires discuss the following: They admire physicians who are great with families or who always stay to make sure patients are cared for, or are available to support trainees or peers. Or the people they admire have earned respect with a group or show a lot of patience answering patient questions, no matter how mundane. Admiring such qualities are all signs of higher emotional intelligence.

Candidates regard people outside of medicine for variable reasons, which potentially shows you what they enjoy in their spare time without being directly asked as well as personality characteristics. Such answers might expand their own self-descriptions or display well-roundedness, a spirit of adventure or how they cope with adversity.

Parents are frequently cited as sources of inspiration; other individuals readily complete this picture. You can even reframe the question to have candidates name someone besides a parent. This sometimes solicits an intensely personal story about why the interviewee went into medicine in the first place and is a way to get richer detail than just asking that question directly up front.

4) What specific qualities do the people who work with you say you exhibit? What kind of feedback have you been given about yourself?

I’ve been amazed at the number of applicants who have a dearth of feedback about themselves—and at their level of embarrassment when asked. While we are socially trained to not self-promote, people’s ability to highlight their attributes succinctly and confidently tells you a lot. Are they able to distill impressions down to facts about themselves? Are they confident? Do they believe what they hear, and do they introspect to a level that shows they have and can develop insight? I often don’t ask about direct weaknesses due to the fact that answers tend to be trite.

Finally, my favorite:

5) If you received a behavioral complaint from a nurse, patient or family member, tell me how you would approach it.

This scenario allows you to probe providers’ feelings of remorse, a desire to improve, an ability to manage difficulty with grace and, finally, their insights into interpersonal interactions. In the world of complaint resolution, I am most impressed when physicians take responsibility for their actions and own their frustrations in a situation.

Take note of candidates who actually state they’ll apologize; because complaints are generally “he said, she said” scenarios, neither party is completely without blame. What we describe as “shame” is a common response to a complaint, but so are indignation and defiance. In an interview, you won’t see the defensiveness that exists in real life, but you will get a sense of how applicants approach problems, as well as their desire to make peace and move forward.

Candidates who directly express remorse, offer a genuine apology or fully explore the circumstances via speaking to different people involved display high levels of maturity.

Published in the July 2019 issue of Today’s Hospitalist

Susan LeeSusan Lee, DO, MBA, is the chief of hospital medicine at Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Va. She is trained in internal medicine and psychiatry and has hired well over 100 hospitalist physicians and advanced care providers. Dr. Lee can be reached at sclee@carilionclinic.org.

Notify of
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dr. Lee Anne Sorto, DNP, FNP-C
Dr. Lee Anne Sorto, DNP, FNP-C
August 2019 8:56 pm

Love these questions and from a clinician who studies emotional intelligence a lot, these are great, thought-provoking questions to gain deeper insight.

July 2019 1:09 pm

Wonderful article!! Thank you for sharing your expertise and sage words of wisdom.