What is the first thing that comes to mind when considering what it takes to land a great job? Intelligence. And what is the first thing that comes to mind when considering intelligence? That familiar number we call IQ.

But what if intelligence couldn’t be measured with just one number? What if another less quantifiable but equally as important factor existed?

Emotional intelligence (often referred to as EQ) is defined by Steven J. Stein and Howard E. Book as “the set of skills that enable us to make our way in a complex world — the personal, social and survival aspects of overall intelligence, the elusive common sense and sensitivity that are essential to effective daily functioning.”

The personal, social and survival aspects of overall intelligence.

Test scores are valuable but limited in what they reveal about a person. There are plenty of individuals whose knowledge has taken them far, but greater understanding of EQ raises the question how much farther they could go with better social skills.

Conversely, there are people with average test scores who leave every room having dazzled the person to whom they were speaking. There is something about them that makes the people they talk to feel like a million bucks. Their social skills have taken them places SAT scores never could.

As an executive recruiting firm, Long Ridge Partners deals with the abstract qualities that make up EQ on a daily basis. The feedback we receive from clients concerning the candidates we send for interviews almost always includes mention of this alternative form of intelligence.

EQ is a critical factor that cannot be quantified on a resume, but greatly impacts the hiring decisions made both internally and externally here at Long Ridge Partners.

“When making an internal hiring decision, we will have the candidate come into the office for a half day of work. We want to see how they interact with others, if they fit our culture, and whether or not there’s a high probability they will succeed here,” says Adam L’Esperance, founding Partner of Long Ridge.

While EQ cannot be boiled down to a single key factor, confidence is vital.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy recently spoke about the importance of confidence in achieving success. “Confidence is about inviting people in,” Sarah Matthews of The Daily Universe reported. “When people are present and confident, they communicate in a way that is harmonious with their body language.”

Interviews are a scary thing. A candidate walks into a room armed with a resume, a list of memorized facts about the company, and the hope that their personality will click with the interviewer. There are a hundred variables, and high emotional intelligence can be an interview game-changer. Knowing how to keep the conversation going, ask the appropriate amount of follow-up questions, and even use body-language and eye contact to make the other person more comfortable are all ways to increase chances of an offer.

However, “increasing emotional intelligence” is both an abstract and daunting task. What does that mean in a practical sense? Where do you start?

The best resources for improving your own EQ are the people around you. Every social interaction is an opportunity to improve. Working to maintain eye contact and ask relevant follow-up questions is a great starting point. Asking trusted friends and colleagues how to better communicate with them is a less comfortable but rewarding next step.

Maya Angelou had evident insight into emotions and the part they play in all areas of life when she wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” There is assurance that even if an interaction is awkward or slightly uncomfortable, the most important thing to do is make sure the other person feels heard and that their questions are being answered.

A company will make a hiring decision based on this overall intelligence, even if they are not aware they are doing so. Taking the time to study how to approach social situations with confidence and a focus on making the other person feel comfortable will be a worthy investment. It may even lead to the dream job.

Furthermore, emotional intelligence is more than successfully navigating a 90-minute interview. EQ also involves the management of emotions while working the dream job. It is recognizing not only what emotions you are feeling, but why you are feeling them. These skills will be of service in keeping the position, building relationships with colleagues, and even moving up the ladder.

A helpful tool for developing this skill is to think of emotions as a road map that can be traced backwards. This method is imperfect, but it is a good place to start.

Take into account the following scenario: your co-worker scoffs at another co-worker’s idea during a meeting. You have no personal stake in the aforementioned idea, nor do you have a special relationship with either of the people involved, but your face turns red. You realize you’re watching the co-worker who proposed the idea, and your right hand is clenched protectively into a fist. What is happening? Why do you suddenly feel so invested when logically you are so removed?

Take a step back.
  1.  What emotions (it is usually more than one) are you feeling?
    Red face = Embarrassment. Clenched fist = Anger.
  2.   What event triggered these exhibitions of emotion?
    Witnessing one of your colleagues laugh at another colleague’s idea.
  3.  Why did this matter to you?
    Aha. A couple of weeks ago, you were the person feeling embarrassed. You had a new idea, but not enough time to think it through before the meeting. Vulnerable in presenting a good but underdeveloped idea, you were shamed in front of the entire team as a co-worker audibly scoffed.

Okay, so you’ve identified the cause of the emotion which led you to re-experience a painful moment. Having fun yet?

Tracing emotional roots can be painful, but it will be worth it when using the past to handle the present.

Where do you go from there?

The first step is to get your emotions under control so that they do not control you. Allow yourself 10 seconds to sit in the shame. Let yourself feel it. Then, take three deep breaths, open your eyes, and do your best to let go. Using what you are feeling to comfort someone else can help the process. It allows purpose to come into a situation that otherwise feels not only painful but also pointless.

Approach your co-worker who presented the idea and tell them you have been in the same place; you know what it feels like to experience this kind of embarrassment.

Research professor Dr. Brené Brown defines empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” When you share your similar experience with someone, it makes them feel less alone.

This exhibition of empathy will build strong relationships with your colleagues. People, both above and below your ranking, will recognize this emotional intelligence (even if they don’t call it that) and it will take you places.

Traditional IQ is vital to a successful career, but it is not the only form of intelligence that matters. Lifelong learning means not only cracking open the books, but learning to read social situations, trace the root of emotions, and move forward in a way that strengthens relationships for all those involved.

And just as we teach one another about the stock market or sales quotients or recent data, we can also help each other increase our emotional intelligence through communication and vulnerability.

There’s a whole world of social interactions just waiting to be met, which means there are a million opportunities to increase EQ: right now, every day, for free. Let’s get to it.