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Empathy: Why it’s the #1 Skill You Should Recruit in 2019

September 26, 2018 Veronica Perez

Empathy is a critical asset that is often overlooked by recruiters. Studies show that it’s a strong indicator of how well an individual will do in the workplace and is also one of the five pillars of emotional intelligence (EQ). Despite this knowledge, we rarely make EQ a priority in the candidate vetting process. It’s much easier to read a resume and check off a candidate’s technical skills or work experience than it is to assess their emotional capacity. Given the strong effect of EQ on both performance and profit, it’s time to reevaluate our recruitment approach and give greater consideration to a candidate’s EQ during the recruiting process.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ): the ability to be aware, control, and express one’s emotions in handling interpersonal relationships.

Companies across industries are hopping on the empathy bandwagon, as it’s proven to be related to their long-term economic viability. According to a study conducted by Baylor University, Coca-Cola “trained its leaders in emotional intelligence and found that these individuals exceeded their performance targets by 15%, while in contrast, leaders who did not develop emotional capabilities missed their targets by the same margin – a 30% gap.” The study also cites American Express, which provides all incoming salespeople with EQ training.
Companies are embracing the idea that employees who exhibit empathy for others have a greater capacity for a customer-oriented approach. An organization that invests and prioritizes EQ and employs empathic individuals undoubtedly makes for a formidable force in the market.

Predicting workplace performance

A recent study tested emotional intelligence alongside 33 other important workplace skills. More than any other skill, EQ was identified as the strongest predictor of a candidate’s performance. The study revealed that 90% of top performing candidates across industries exhibited high EQ, whereas only 20% of lowest performing candidates displayed high EQ levels. Unsurprisingly, sales positions showed the highest correlation between EQ and productivity. However, empathy itself extends to nearly every aspect of the workplace: team collaboration, customer service, interviews (both interviewer and interviewee) and even job training.

90% of top performing candidates exhibited high EQ, whereas only 20% of lowest performing candidates displayed high EQ levels.

And while empathy may be an abstract concept, employees who display high emotional intelligence have concrete, measurable business impact. (And we’re talking real, profit margin-type impact.) American Express estimates that US companies lose roughly $62 billion dollars a year due to poor customer service. It’s no surprise then that AmEx makes EQ training a priority and advises its business clients to do the same.

The role of the recruiter

Business relationships are built on trust. And as the examples above indicate, it is not enough for you or your clients to simply employ the most technically gifted individuals. For long-term business success, recruit and hire people with a deep capacity for the trust-building skill of empathy.
Recruiters are in the unique position of being able to help both their clients and potential candidates. Recruiters who are aware of EQ in the workplace will consider a candidate’s soft skills during the screening process. And those recruiters are then better able to fill positions with more dynamic candidates.

This isn’t to say emotional intelligence is a substitute for experience in the hottest new programming language, or having the latest healthcare certification. Rather, it means EQ is a differentiator and can separate an exceptionally talented candidate from the rest of the pack. While technology will continue to evolve and some skillsets will become obsolete, EQ isn’t going anywhere. In fact, as more aspects of our lives become automated and actual human interaction is more limited, emotional intelligence will be more important than ever. Big companies are catching on to this trend, so it’s time we recruiters do the same and make empathy a priority for 2019.

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