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Using emotional intelligence tests in assessments in the year 2017

Rise of emotional intelligence (EQ)

Emotional intelligence was first mentioned in a scientific article by Salovey and Mayer in 1990 (source Wikipedia). The concept received limited attention until 1995, when Daniel Goleman published his New York Times best seller Emotional Intelligence. A hype was born. The hype came and went within a few years, but the concept of EQ is still occasionally mentioned in HR circles.

At the end of the 90s, assessment agencies often received questions about how you could measure EQ. HR professionals had often picked up on a few things about an EQ test. It was suggested that EQ could be measured in the same way as IQ. IQ is tested by measuring a candidate’s ability or skill to process information under time pressure. Preferably meaningless neutral information, to avoid measuring aspects of their existing knowledge in the process.

Psychometric robustness of EQ

EQ was also an interesting concept from an assessment perspective. This was due to the fact that it added new psychological characteristics to those usually measured within the assessment industry. These additions included emotional self-awareness, self-image, self-actualisation, social responsibility, reality perception, flexibility, optimism and happiness. However, significant technical problems were encountered when it came to the actual measuring. The biggest problem was that the method used to measure these characteristics was identical to the method used to identify personality traits; namely a set of self-descriptive questions. The Achilles heel was the dependence on self-description and the associated sensitivity to social desirability.

Also, unlike in the case of IQ or aptitude tests, it was not possible to measure EQ with equal psychometric robustness.

When the strong overlap between EQ and personality became clear in the assessment industry, and we were still in the middle of the hype surrounding it, the majority of test publishers came up with a reporting possibility that used their personality questionnaires as the basis for creating a translation in terms of EQ. Their aim was to continue to serve their clients using their existing test systems.

EQ as a development tool

Now, 20 years after all the hype, we see that the use of EQ in the assessment world is still rather limited. The main demand currently for EQ assessments is from the not-for-profit sector, and is in fact always for development purposes, often aimed at assessing the overall fitness of a group of employees. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the demand for learning agility assessments actually result in a significant reduction in demand for even this kind of EQ assessments.

Both EQ and learning agility assessments have found a place in the career phase of an employee. EQ testing during the recruitment phase is actually no longer requested and, instead, we’re seeing assessments that support recruitment being developed based on job descriptions, job analyses or competency modelling.

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