Emotional Intelligence: the new skills gap?

The IQ and EQ debate has raged for many years. The answer is becoming ever clearer that they are both equally important.

A largescale survey of employers by global, strategic insight agency, Opinium, has uncovered what it considers to be a significant skills gap when it comes to emotional intelligence.

Employers have long been prescriptive in the hard skills and qualifications that they require from potential applicants but far less explicit about the EQ levels, and softer skills, that certain positions require. It is not uncommon to see a job advert in which an employer says “candidates must have X number of years experience” or “ACA or equivalent qualifications are required”.

Far less common is a job advert that says “this position requires good listening skills” and yet, increasingly, it is these slightly harder-to-quantify traits that employers want. The Opinium survey revealed that over half of employers cited emotional intelligence as important for employees entering the workforce – and ranked it higher than work experience and education. That is not to say that work experience and education aren’t important – they are and always will be – but it reinforces the need for more than just technical expertise.

The survey revealed that four of the five top traits that employers look for are related to emotional intelligence:

  • Effective communication
  • Adaptability
  • Time management
  • Listening
  • Self-awareness


These traits ranked higher than financial acumen and even A Level grades.

Despite the importance being attached to these traits, an analysis by Page Group found that only 0.4% of job adverts mention “empathy” and only 2% of adverts reference “listening”. The proportion of CVs that mention these same skills is even lower.

Paul Edwards, Managing Director of KPP Search, comments: “What this shows is that increasingly clients and candidates aren’t showing each other what is important. The ‘wants’ of an employer often seem to boil down to a list of technical experience and qualifications. Many employees have the soft skills that the employer is seeking but don’t take the time to demonstrate them as the employer is giving an inaccurate representation of what they are actually looking for. The power of having KPP in the process is that we really get to know the clients and the candidates that we are representing, so we can ensure that both show themselves to their full advantage. Whilst I fully accept the findings of the Opinium survey, I daresay that there is not so much of a skills gap but an expectation gap – employers aren’t being clear about what they are looking for, which leads to candidates not being clear about what they offer.

The advance of technology in the workplace continues apace but what this survey reinforces is that there are many things that only a human can do.

Paul Edwards goes on to comment: “My advice to all candidates would be to evaluate their skills, and particularly those softer skills, and ensure that they are highlighting them to all prospective employers. These may not be the skills that the employer is outwardly looking for, but as we know from experience, and this survey highlights, they are absolutely crucial, now more than ever.”

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