In a Job Interview EI Trumps IQ

It’s maturity over intelligence. Or, maybe, it’s maturity over knowledge.

Candidate A appears for a job interview for a programmer, an IT software developer. She’s given a puzzle to solve. (Puzzle may be the wrong word, but let’s not quibble.) The interviewers asks her to write on the board (In these politically correct times, I don’t know if I can say whiteboard or blackboard, so I’ll just leave it at “board!”) three three-letter words. Then they ask her to write a program that will automatically rearrange the words in every possible configuration. In other words, A, B, C; B, C, A; C, B, A; etc.

The woman then proceeds to write a program that does not rearrange the words into every possible configuration, but the letters in each word.

They politely thank her and point out her error. She apologizes. She explains that she is nervous. One of her weaknesses is public speaking. An interview is public speaking and she is rather uncomfortable. She says that in order to overcome this deficiency, she has joined Toastmasters. She then offers to write the proper formula.

They tell her it is not necessary and ask her to wait in the Reception area. (For the record, the program she wrote was correct, simple, clean and neat, so they knew she could do the job. She had the hard skills.)

The second candidate enters. After the normal pleasantries, the interviewers give him the same challenge. He makes the same mistake as the previous candidate. Just as before, they point out the error. But his reaction is different. He says:

Of course, you are correct. I did make a mistake. But let’s think about it for a minute. Did I really make a mistake? In a matter of only a few seconds, less than a minute, I wrote for you a clean, neat, simple beautiful program that achieved what you wanted in principle, only it was more complicated. It’s more complicated to rearrange the letters in three words than three words. All I have to do is to make a change here, here and here, and you have the correct answer to your assignment. Since I can accomplish the more complicated, you know I can accomplish the simple one.

They thank him and tell him that they will be in touch.

Now why did the guy get the “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” response, while the gal got called back into the room and offered the job?

She had what he lacked: Emotional Intelligence. It is sometimes referred to as the Emotional Quotient. It’s also known as soft skills. I simply call it “maturity.” The guy is always right, even when he is wrong. The gal knew she was wrong, was self-aware (an important component of EI) about her personal weakness, admitted it and explained what she was doing to improve. The guy did not have a clue.

He will not be, and probably never will be, a team player. He is not self-aware. He probably went home certain that a job offer would be awaiting him in his Inbox. One of the worse colleagues I ever had was a fellow who thought he was always right. He would never admit to making a mistake. I don’t remember his name, but years ago I looked him up on LinkedIn. I was not surprised to see that he was employed at all of his various jobs for only a matter of months. I was also not surprised to see that he listed all those jobs on a public website. And I will guarantee that in a job interview it was always someone else’s fault that he did not last long. After all, when a perfect person is fired it cannot possibly be their fault! (What I don’t understand is why anyone hired the guy after the first few disasters!)

Now our gal friend, she’s a team player. She is someone who is willing to learn. She’ll admit to her errors and stay late to correct them. Metaphorically speaking, she’s the person you want beside you in the foxhole.

Even if the guy was more technically skilled than the gal, you should always go with the candidate with the high EI. It will make your life a lot easier and your work a lot better.