A top exec at a 19,000-person company reveals the tricky interview technique he uses to assess emotional intelligence

Jim ayresAmwayJim Ayres.

When a hiring manager asks you a super-weird interview question (“What kind of tree would you be?”), it’s rarely because the interviewer is just a super-weird person.

Instead, the person is most likely trying, in a subtle way, to see whether you can think on your feet or to find out whether you’d be a cultural fit.

So when Jim Ayres, the managing director of Amway North America, is interviewing candidates for leadership positions and wants to measure their emotional intelligence, he rarely goes with the standard, “Do you work well in groups?”

Instead, he prompts the candidate to tell him who’s on his or her team.

Say they answer, “Karen, Bill, and Steve.” Ayres will respond: “Tell me about Karen.” Specifically, he’ll want to know about her family, how she works best, and what typically gets in her way.

If the candidate doesn’t know anything about Karen’s work style or personal life, that’s a bad sign.

“It may seem odd,” Ayres said, “but if you’re a leader and you know [the answers], it’s a good indicator that you have emotional intelligence.”

Ayres wants to see that leadership candidates will be invested in their teams and that they value interpersonal relationships — in other words, that they’re emotionally intelligent.

The term emotional intelligence was coined in the 1990s by psychologist Daniel Goleman, and it refers to self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. A growing body of research suggests that emotionally intelligent leaders are more effective (though some researchers think otherwise).

Ayres believes that emotional intelligence is especially important at Amway.

“Our culture is built on relationships,” he said, noting that the company was founded by two business partners, Jay Van Andel and Richard DeVos.

Leaders need to be able to relate to people, he said, and work effectively on teams.

“Technical expertise is important,” he added, “but it’s difficult to be successful with only technical expertise.”

NOW WATCH: What to do with your hands during a job interview

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.