How To Use Emotional Intelligence As Your Startup’s Best Recruitment Tool

October 20, 2016 Amy Volas

This post was written by Amy Volas, Head of Avenue Talent Partners.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to perceive, maintain, and evaluate emotion. While clearly a benefit for a startup sales team, the skill is also of tremendous value for the very people who plan to build them—hiring managers and recruiters.

For now, the debate as to whether or not a salesperson’s EQ is innate or can be learned has yet to have been solved. Still, whatever the end outcome, if you’re set on landing game-changing sales talent for your startup, you can use emotional intelligence to your advantage.

Below, you’ll find five tried-and-true methods for making this happen:

1. Focus On Core Behavior When Building Job Descriptions

First and foremost, when crafting a job description for your startup’s latest sales opening, focus largely on the core behaviors you’re looking for in an ideal candidate. Far too often, this is where startup hiring managers and recruiters go wrong—even worse, it’s commonly the initial step.

Erroneously, instead of placing emphasis on core behaviors and tailoring the message to your target audience, they’ll build out job descriptions around specific qualifications and responsibilities that end up reading like every…other…job…ad…out…there.

Yes, these are necessary components of a thorough job description, but more is needed to make the right hire.

Avoid this mistake by using the basic principles of EQ to touch on a candidate’s softer, subtler sales skills. Confused? There’s no need to be—below, you’ll find a few of them:

  • The ability to adapt
  • The ability to self-motivate
  • The ability to swiftly solve problems
  • The ability to work confidently in groups
  • The ability to articulate oneself accurately

The types of startups that need sales talent vary greatly. By focusing on core behaviors, you’ll give sales candidates immediate insights into what it’s like to become part of your team and why your gig is different.  Doing the same thing as everyone else in the way of a job description isn’t going to “speak” to your desired target.

Whether your startup’s internal structure is social and free-flowing or more competitive and rigid, making use of core behaviors in your job description makes using EQ to attract the right kind of sales talent an easier, more straightforward, meaningful engagement.

2. Avoid ‘Yes-Men’ At All Costs

You’ve heard the term “yes-man,” haven’t you? A yes-man is a man (or woman) who, without even the slightest sign of opposition, immediately agrees with anyone in a position of authority.

To some misguided hiring managers and recruiters, this might seem like a positive. But if you’re on the lookout for emotionally intelligent salespeople, you’ll want to target prospects who can think independently.

Believe it or not, research conducted by University of California, San Francisco actually shows that the more difficulty a person has with saying “no,” the more likely they are to experience workplace stress and depression.

Conversely, those with extraordinary EQ ratings won’t say “no,” unless they really want to.

They’re passionate, driven, morally strong, and though happy to effectively debate a topic, are more than willing to alter their thoughts or actions, should convincing information be made known. People who have trouble saying “no” to the team or the boss aren’t best placed to help get sales prospects to “yes.”

Sure, yes-men might look good on paper, but their weakened emotional state often makes them a detriment to the lifeblood of your startup—the sales team.

3. Look Exclusively For Problem Solvers—NOT Dwellers

The emotionally intelligent are almost always problem solvers. Why is this?

Armed with an above-average capacity to empathize, emotionally intelligent salespeople understand the harmful potential any negativity could have on others—not only themselves.

Because of this, they’re proactive in rapidly finding solutions to pressing problems without dwelling on past issues and outcomes.

In fact, according to Travis Bradberry, President of TalentSmart, contrary to most, sales talent with impressive EQ scores actually improve their work performance when solving problems for coworkers and clients.

With all of this in mind, however, during the recruitment process, it can be hard to know whether or not someone is a problem solver or problem dweller.

Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof way for categorizing a candidate, but if you’re interviewing an emotionally intelligent person, there’s a good chance they take pride in their ability to think “big” while solving big problems for themselves, their employers and their clients.

So, don’t be shy—dig into the details, ask for specific examples of how they identified a problem, what they did in detail to solve said problem and what the outcome was.  What was their role in the process or were they more of an outsider looking in? If an interviewee is able to quickly recall a specific time when they solved a problem for the betterment of a past employer or client, odds are high that you’re interviewing an emotionally intelligent salesperson.

4. Try Them On For Size

Nervous about introducing the wrong person to the team?  As opposed to crossing your fingers, sending over an offer letter and hoping for the best, why not invite a candidate to tag along on a sales call or have them create and walk you through a sales-centric plan of attack or their current offering.  

Even better, invite them to your next meetup, town hall or “Beer Friday”.  How about breaking bread to see how they interact with you and the team over dinner?  Evaluating their demeanor with wait staff and the judgment they use as to how they conduct themselves in this kind of dynamic can speak volumes and gives you a glimpse into how they’d be on the job.

Obviously, there’s bound to be a difference between a short-term, hands-on litmus test and full-fledged employment, but this technique is still an excellent way to gauge the EQ of a sales applicant, while also seeing how your current team responds to who you’re courting.

Interested in something a bit more scientific, though? Another way to “try a candidate on for size” before making a long-term commitment is to invite them to take part in what’s known as a “psychometric test.”

Psychometric testing is a standardized means for measuring a sales applicant’s mental wherewithal and behavioral style. In simpler terms, it’s a way to identify “can do” and “will do” dimensions through a salesperson’s behavioral traits.

Though psychometric testing has been around for decades, it’s only recently become a popular option to more meticulously understand sales candidates.

Should you choose to experiment with psychometric testing and like what you see, consider administering the test to current sales employees to delegate responsibility more effectively, identify positive and negative sales characteristics, motivate your team and minimize turnover.

* Note: Free of charge, experience firsthand what a psychometric test is like by clicking here.

5. Trust Your Instincts

Of the points presented on this list, though this one might lack in the ways of data-backed research and psychological savvy, hands down, it’s by far one of the most powerful.

This tactic proves most beneficial when a person exhibits signs of a high EQ, yet you’re unable to shake an uneasy feeling as to the sales candidate’s integrity or personal confidence.

As a successful startup, I’d imagine there’s an abundance of emotional intelligence. Should your gut be telling you something your brain can’t seem to make sense of, listen to it. While there’s a chance your intuition is off, making the wrong hire is a costly mistake.

Besides, in spite of both verbal and non-verbal communication skills that align with higher EQ levels, if you feel this way, future prospects are likely to experience something similar during a sales pitch—certainly something to keep in mind.

As such, before furthering the recruitment process, consult with a couple of references or mutual connections to come to a better understanding of what a person’s character is like behind closed doors. Your instincts might not be perfect, but as a person looking to make an important hire, you’d be wise to listen to them.


The value of emotionally intelligent salespeople can’t be minimized.

And though there’s a good chance your startup has yet to have gained much experience with hiring them, before long, you’ll start to see a strong connection between the kinds of salespeople you hire, and the regular success they bring your business.

To keep your company’s sales engine running like a well-oiled machine, incorporate the elements above into your hiring strategy.

In the end, as your business continues to scale, you’ll be glad you did.

Featured Image Source: Brain Think Human Idea Intelligence Mind Creative by PublicDomainPictures CC0 Pixabay

About the Author

Amy Volas

Amy Volas has been a sales fanatic, recruiter and entrepreneur for 20 years, working both for and with household brands like ZipRecruiter, Indeed, Yahoo! and Jacobson. Currently the Head of Avenue Talent Partners, she spends her working hours growing startups through one of her clients’ most valuable assets—salespeople. When she’s not working, she’s spending time with her cat, dog and husband—in that order (jokes).

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