Emotional intelligence is more than a nice-to-have soft skill — it's the key to success in your career and job search.

Emotional intelligence — the ability to understand and manage your emotions and the emotions of others — is a highly valuable skill for professionals. Emotional intelligence allows you to read verbal and nonverbal cues in others so you can communicate effectively and cultivate healthy working relationships. 

Research shows that emotional intelligence is more than a soft skill; rather, it can make a difference in your overall job success. In a study comparing emotional intelligence with 33 other workplace skills, TalentSmart found emotional intelligence to be the strongest predictor of workplace performance

As a result of this strong link between emotional intelligence and performance, organizations understandably seek candidates who possess this skill. According to LinkedIn Learning research, emotional intelligence is one of the top five skills companies need most. Furthermore, a Capgemini survey found that business leaders expect the need for employees with high emotional intelligence to grow six-fold in the next five years.

In a job market where it's critical to set yourself apart, demonstrating strong emotional intelligence can help you stand out and improve your communication with others. Use these three steps to improve your emotional intelligence in your job search and at work:

Build self-awareness 

A key characteristic of emotional intelligence is awareness; people with high emotional intelligence, or high EQ (emotional quotient), are aware of their emotions and the emotions of others. But to understand others, show empathy, and adjust your communication style, you need to look within. 

When you understand how others perceive your actions and words, you have an opportunity to make adjustments and demonstrate your emotional intelligence. For example, if you practice with a partner or record yourself answering mock interview questions, you are likely to become more aware of how you sound and communicate in an interview setting. 

To build greater awareness of your emotional intelligence, take the following actions:

  • Think about your body language when you communicate with others.

  • Be aware of how others react to your words.

  • Visualize conversations beforehand and practice in advance when practical.

  • Consider how you can communicate with others to achieve better results.

Practice active listening

Listening to what others have to say is different than hearing their words. When you demonstrate emotional intelligence, you interpret others' needs not just by reacting to what they say, but also by showing that you're actively listening and understanding.

Early research revealed that words convey only about seven percent of what a person says, with the remainder being conveyed through tone of voice and body language. As a result, if you want to truly become emotionally intelligent, you need to focus on more than words when communicating with others. 

Active listening is one effective way to improve what you “hear” in your interactions with others. Here's how to become a better listener in your career and job search:

  • Repeat back the key points of what someone has said to you to demonstrate your understanding — especially in a job interview.

  • Watch the other person's body language and listen to their tone of voice.

  • Don't be afraid of short pauses in conversation; take the time to digest what a person has said before you rush to respond.

  • Ask clarifying questions to confirm your understanding of what the other person is saying.

Ask for help

Sometimes the best way to understand the emotions of others is to ask. When trying to make progress on a work project or solve a problem, it can sometimes be challenging to understand your co-workers' motivations or reasons for wanting to go in a particular direction. By trying to get at the heart of their reasons for taking one action or another, you can understand their perspective and respond more effectively.

You can also build your emotional intelligence by asking others how they think you're doing. Not only does this demonstrate your willingness to take constructive criticism, but it also showcases your desire to improve and can help you make adjustments in your job search. Asking for feedback gives you a chance to hear others' experiences when communicating with you, and how you can improve those interactions in the future.

Emotional intelligence is more than a requirement listed on job postings; it's a core competency that hiring organizations seek in candidates today. Demonstrating your ability to manage your emotions and understand others' emotions doesn't just help you communicate more effectively at work, it may also help you land your next job.

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