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Are Resumes Passé? Enter the EQ Test

The increasing use of EQ tests comes at a time when the traditional means of vetting job candidates is under fire. Certain companies, like Google, are turning away from looking at traditional indicators of success like a job candidate’s grades and standardized scores. Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations at Google, told TheNew York Times recently that such achievements are a “worthless criteria” on which to evaluate an applicant.

Meanwhile, the backbone of recruitment — which includes a resume review, phone or face-to-face interviews and reference checking — are also being viewed with growing skepticism. “The backbone has serious calcium deficiencies,” says Larry Stybel, a psychologist who co-owns Stybel Peabody & Associates, a search and career management firm based in Boston. “In this day of professional resume writers and LinkedIn, resumes are all pretty good. Interviewing is a learned skill: When you do it over and over again, you will get better at it. And references either give you no information or misinformation.”

Still, he adds, EQ assessments are most useful in helping companies round out a candidate’s profile — particularly when there is little else to go on. Of the organizations that administer these kinds of tests, about 43% use them for entry-level jobs, according to the SHRM. “When you’re hiring someone with little experience — a new college graduate, say, or someone who has been working for three to five years as an individual contributor — they don’t have a track record [on which to base a hiring decision],” Stybel says. “An instrument like an emotional intelligence test could be of great value.”

EQ tests are not a substitute for interviews, but they add structure to the hiring process and make it more systematic. They also provide a justification for hiring decisions. One of the biggest challenges of hiring is that “people tend to form very strong opinions of job candidates based on very little information,” notes Wharton management professor Matthew Bidwell. “The brain fills in the gaps very quickly. A hiring manager might sit down with a candidate for 20 minutes and come away thinking: ‘That person is fabulous. They have the right stuff to do the job,’ when really all that happened was they clicked with the person during the interview.”

The latest hiring buzzword is “cultural fit,” meaning that hiring managers are looking for candidates whose values and personalities align with the firm. According to a survey of more than 2,000 hiring managers conducted last year by CareerBuilder, the employment website, 23% of employers said they will dismiss a candidate who is not a good fit for their company culture. “But how are managers assessing cultural fit?” asks Bidwell. “Or is that just a code word for ‘click’?”

Even proponents of EQ tests say that assessments alone shouldn’t make or break hiring decisions. “I wouldn’t just use an emotional intelligence test in isolation,” says Rod Cornwell, international managing director for Thomas International. “You need to look at a candidate’s hard skills and [his or her] professional experiences. Ultimately, employers need to ask: What is it I’m trying to measure and why? [The assessment] puts some science behind the process….”

Wharton Business School, June 18, 2014 (shortened)