Jacob Kaplan-Moss

IQ isn’t enough to get hired

I’ve interviewed hundreds of people for technical roles, and a pattern has emerged. In general, we reject many more candidates for social skills than for technical competence. In fact, most technical interview funnels are arranged so that technical screens are earlier. This means that if you reach an interview, you’ve probably (mostly) passed the technical part, and are now being judged mostly on EQ - emotional intelligence. If you get rejected at this point, it’s probably because of social skills.

This will vary from position to position. For example, I’m hiring right now for two roles: one heavily customer facing, one less-so. I have a somewhat higher bar for communication skills for the previous position. But even with that difference, the pattern holds: it’s far more likely to reject candidates because of low EQ than low IQ.

Skills like communication, balancing competing priorities, resolving conflict, giving and receiving feedback are, unfortunately, a lot more rare among technical staff than (say) SQL. Since good engineers have both high IQ and high EQ, it follows that we reject more for low EQ than vice versa. It’s much more common to find someone who can code but can’t empathize then the other way around.

Further, I’m much more likely to take a risk on someone weak technically than weak socially. Someone who communicates well, gets along with colleagues, has strong self-awareness and self-regulation, and demonstrates an ability to learn — well, my experience is that they can close technical gaps quickly. On the other hand, my experience has been that a “brilliant jerk” is unlikely to learn empathy in time to avoid being a total team-killer.

So, if you’re an engineer looking to further your career: by all means invest in learning new technical tools! But also balance that out and invest in leveling up your EQ.