Are you emotionally fit for that job? A Swiss test can tell.

Would an emotional intelligence test help determine if being a pilot is the right career choice? © Keystone / Christian Beutler

Emotional intelligence is an increasingly sought-after skill in the workplace, but it’s hard for employers to know who has it and who doesn’t. A test developed by scientists in Switzerland seeks to measure what can’t be found on a CV.

This content was published on March 2, 2020 - 11:00

You just successfully finished a project that took several grueling months. You are about to pat yourself on the back and return to your daily work when your boss comes into your office and asks why you neglected your other duties, offering no praise for your excellent work on the project.

Do you consider quitting, berate yourself for your poor multitasking skills, or simply accept that bosses are never fully satisfied? If you chose acceptance, you are performing well on the emotional intelligence scale.

Professor Marcello Mortillaro is a senior scientist and the head of the Applied Affective Sciences Research Unit at the University of Geneva.

“Being emotionally competent doesn’t mean that you are always happy. It is being able to deal with your own and others’ emotions. It can be positive or negative,” explains Marcello Mortillaro, a University of Geneva scientist who is behind the Geneva Emotional Competence Test.External link It isn’t so much about expressing emotions but about reading between the lines, picking up on cues, knowing when to compromise and when to stay quiet.

As more companies are looking for someone who’s an “emotional fit” for a job, they are increasingly using tools like the one Mortillaro helped develop to assess soft skills and traits like altruism, empathy and conflict resolution that were long considered intangible, unmeasurable and highly subjective.

The missing ingredient

The Germanwings plane crash in the French Alps in 2015 is an example of why workplaces need to talk about emotional intelligence, says industrial psychologist Sébastien Simonet of the Swiss human resources consulting firm NantysExternal link.

The plane’s co-pilot, who was found to have deliberately caused the crash, had been declared unfit to work by his doctor. But that information was not known to his employer. 

“When we select pilots for airline companies, they know now that pilots’ mental health is important,” says Simonet. “The earlier you know about the emotional intelligence of the person, the better.”

Emotional Intelligence

The most widely used definition of Emotional Intelligence comes from John Mayer and Peter Salovey from Yale UniversityExternal link. In 1990, they described it as a set of abilities related to accurately perceiving one’s own and others’ emotions and to using them in appropriate ways for the attainment of individual goals. The EmCo4 test includes four components:

1) Emotion recognition - the ability to accurately perceive, interpret and label nonverbal expressions in others.

2) Emotion understanding - the ability to understand the qualities, causes, and consequences of one's own and others' emotions and is most equated with the concept of empathy. 

3) Emotion management - the ability to appropriately react to and modify other people’s (usually negative) emotions through behavioural strategies.

4) Emotion regulation - the ability to effectively handle and deal with one’s own negative feelings using adaptive strategies.

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It is not just sought after among pilots, doctors or others working under pressure. A surveyExternal link conducted by the CareerBuilder employment website a few years ago found that 71% of employers value an emotional quotient over IQ and other studies show that emotional intelligence is one of the key predictors of success in jobs from chief executives to wedding planners.

Rating emotions

While there are some scientific tests on emotional intelligence, none had been specifically designed for the workplace until Mortillaro and colleagues set out in 2012 to develop the Geneva Emotional Competency Test. Their aim was to develop something that was grounded in both credible science and workplace realities.

Together with Simonet’s team at Nantys, which holds the test’s commercial patent under the name EmCo4External link, Mortillaro combined expert judgement, scientific theoriesExternal link and consensus ratings, which included responses from thousands of people.

The multiple-choice test uses real workplace scenarios and spits out results akin to an IQ score. This means that there are right or wrong answers to all 115 questions.

For example, how should you react if two of your colleagues start arguing with each other in front of a client with whom you are trying to renew a contract? What about if you are really busy and your boss asks you to replace a colleague to give a presentation the next day on a subject that isn’t part of your responsibilities? The correct answers might surprise you.

Unlike tests that don’t pass any judgement, this one provides a colour scale from red to green depending on where you fall compared to the average.

“It must be about performance and can’t be self-rated,” says Simonet. “When you measure intelligence, some things are right and some things are wrong.”

The test also isn't a self-reporting so common in other tests. “To determine how intelligent someone is, you would never ask people – how intelligent do you think you are?” explains Simonet.

Both he and Mortillaro believe emotional intelligence can be learned and reject the idea that it is an innate, immutable skill. However, Mortillaro cautions about coaches who promise to boost emotional intelligence using methods without any scientific basis.

Beginning of a boom?

With more focus on employee well-being and mindfulness, Mortillaro expects demand to grow for such tests. Since the Geneva test was released in 2017, Nantys uses it in all candidate assessments for its clients that include Nestlé, pharmaceutical company Sanofi and the Swiss government.

How do the Swiss fare? 

The Swiss aren’t known to be the most emotionally expressive culture, compared for example to Latin cultures. But, Simonet points out that the Swiss do quite well when it comes to emotional regulation – where controlling feelings under difficult circumstances is important.

He explains, “a guy like Donald Trump isn’t possible in Switzerland because this would not be tolerated. Someone who doesn't dominate his emotions wouldn’t function at that level.”

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Demand is also rising as more experts argueExternal link that emotional intelligence will be a key differentiator for workers as workplaces increasingly turn to robots and machine learning for certain tasks. Another indirect benefit of such standardised assessments are their potential to level the playing field and match the right person to the right job regardless of gender, age or socio-economic background.

But the test isn’t quite ready to go global - beyond white-collar office jobs in Europe and North America. Switzerland’s economic stability and tradition of flat (non-hierarchical) and consensus-based workplaces make it a good place to develop such a tool, say its developers.

“I am not going to say that it isn’t going to work for a company in Africa, South America or Asia. We just don’t know because no one has done it,” says Mortillaro.

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