The Great HR Debate – IQ versus EQ

Quote Pic. eq-vs-iq1Why is this a ‘great debate?’ …

Why does this cause HR practitioners to passionately argue their points of view  … on whether IQ or EQ is more important, when it comes to recruitment practices?

Why should you care?

Think about how you select your team members … how you recruit … what you focus on … what you look for … who you attract … and who you typically choose?

Perhaps more importantly … how’s that working for you?

Lets start with a very general overview of what I mean by IQ versus EQ competence.   Yes, both are testable, measurable competence levels. Here’s the basic differences:

IQ focus – Skills, related experience, technical knowledge, qualitifications, expertise …

EQ focus – Observable behaviour, attitude, personality, likely team fit, enthusiasm levels …

For many small – medium size businesses, a common belief is that best outcomes occur when you: ’HIRE FOR ATTITUDE – TRAIN FOR SKILLS’

However, I’ve observed some organisations who ‘hire for attitude’, become biased towards choosing similar personalities, thinking they will fit in well … then end up with all one type of behaviour style, and no new alternative thinking, no new ideas, no one challenging the status quo … everyone’s having a good time but nothing much gets achieved.

Sometimes, this imbalance is so obvious when I’m facilitating a Team Building workshop within a small – medium organisation … as a trained DISC Behaviour Profiler, when there are too many of one type [D - I - S or C] in the room, there is an distinct lack of alternative thinking … and the one or two who are ‘different’ are often alientated, or feel treated that way and subsequently shut down for survival.

One HR professional recently wrote quite strongly against hiring for attitude over skills or demonstrated technical competence … stating:

  • it was illegal in many jurisdictions
  • it can lead to discrimination issues
  • it can foster a ‘sameness’ approach with preference of like-for-like hiring
  • it may not be good for business growth and flexibility in an ever-changing world.

Some good points to consider … but before we discard this approach,  lets be clear here about what ‘hire for attitude’ is.  I think many interviewers confuse attitude with enthusiasm … you know – ‘he’s a friendly and likeable character’ … ‘he sounds keen to start’.  Most candidates seeking to be hired know how to look keen and enthusiastic in interviews.  The challenge for interviewers is to look beyond what’s in front of you, as these days, applicants are well versed in interviewing techniques.

Testing for attitude, or more importantly broader EQ competence levels, is so much more than just ‘liking the guy’s approach’ or running on a gut feel that he seems like a ‘good guy’. You need to identify the real personality and behavioural qualities of your new potential team member.  You need to dig deeper … and a good place to start is by exploring past behaviours. Nearly 90% of human behaviour is repeated from job to job, so make sure you check that out thoroughly first.

Also … check in on your own preference biases … ensure you are not simply hiring ‘like-for-like’.  Workplaces and teams are far more enriched by bringing in an injection of different characteristics, different ideas … that’s how organisations grow rather than stagnate.

One key issue that I’ve observed is that many businesses need to put more thought into exactly what they need,  when they recruit. What’s missing from your teams?

  • Does your team need higher level specialised skills injection?
  • Does your team need more of the same skills [train on the job], and someone who will slot in well with your existing team and be an enthusiastic learner?
  • Do you know what behaviour types you already have in your team … do you know what’s needed, what’s missing [out of balance], or what would best fit the role and the team environment?

By interviewing well, being clear on what you want, being thorough and fussy … you are more likely to hire genuine attitude and with evidence of genuine skills or learning ability.

I believe testing an individual’s EQ competence and behaviour traits IS important … it’s more than a quick judgement of the attitude they bring to the interview.  If you get it wrong, it can break a team.  I’ve seen competent employees with great skills negatively affect a work group’s morale and productivity because of their attitude and behaviour,  in a matter of weeks.  Think about it … wouldn’t it be great to know how competent they are in:

  • Self-Awareness – do they know their own strengths and limitations, behaviour preferences and the impact that has on them and others?
  • Self-Management – how do they manage their emotions and behaviour? … how do they cope with stress? … how resilient are they in the face of setbacks?
  • Social Awareness – are they aware [or care about] others feelings and needs? … do they read a team’s under-currents well?
  • Relationship Management - how’s their communication skills? … do they have diplomacy and respect for differing opinions? … do they influence rather than dictate?

Sure … there are so many ways to assess a prospective team member, and I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach.  However, from experience, I do think that if a person has a noticeably questionable attitude at interview, there is a strong likelihood that it will just worsen once they are hired.  Similarly, if the preferred candidate does not have the skills and experience to a desired level, make sure they have the ability [and willingness to put in hard effort] to learn and gain this quickly. It makes no sense to hire really ‘nice’ people who will never be at the skill level you require.  If you don’t test all that at interview, I sure as hell hope you utilize the probation period to really test it fully in the workplace environment.

By now I guess you can see … I think the answer to the debate is not IQ versus EQ … it is in finding the right balance of BOTH. 

In reality, you can’t have one without the other. To me, a competent person … whether it be a new recruit or a Manager or the CEO … is someone who displays competence in all areas of their life … that is skilled and willing to continually build their knowledge, self aware, manages their behaviour, is internally driven to achieve, genuinely connects and builds effective relationships with others … yes, someone who is continually building both their IQ and EQ competencies.

One more thing … while IQ may get you hired, its your EQ competence that gets you promoted [*in the right organisations]. Successful leaders have strong EQ competence. *Where organisations ignore this, [eg: QLD Public Sector - yes, from experience], there is no leadership, only puppetry of positional power … [stay tuned for my e-book on that topic].

So … take the time to get clear on what you need in your organisation and teams … you need to intentionally structure your workplace to manage a variety of skill levels, personalities and behaviours … and your managers need to be competent in building and motivating diverse, energetic teams … teams full of energy, with the right mix of IQ and EQ.

IQ versus EQ is often referred to as HEAD versus HEART … and again, you need BOTH to survive.  Your team members are not tin men or robots with no heart, no emotions, no feelings.  What an awful workplace culture that would be!

“Emotional Intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence … it is not the triumph of heart over head - it is the unique intersection of both” - David Caruso

Embrace EQ skills … build your EQ competence … be the change you want to see … and recruit the change you want to have in your workplace.


Start with your Leadership / Management team … we can help.   Leadership coaching and mentoring is what we do best … and our most popular product – Vital Signs Leadership Deveopment Coaching package includes a SEIP – Social + Emotional Intelligence online assessment, which gives you an overall EQ score and a comprehensive 40 page report clarifying each of the 26 EQ competencies, all with great development tips.   We believe personal coaching and mentoring is the best way to build EQ skills and embed practical learnings.  Contact us … we’d love to help you.



Speak Your Mind