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Inside the B-School Emotional Intelligence Exam

A number of business schools are introducing an exam that evaluates one's emotional intelligence quotient, or EQ, in order to inform the MBA admissions process. As a press release on the topic explains, individuals with emotional intelligence have the ability to understand and effectively utilize emotions, potentially leading to increased self-direction, self-awareness and self-management. A recent study by Six Seconds revealed that leaders with these qualities tend to create a more effective workplace climate.

Examples of b-schools that have developed an EQ assessment test include Yale University's School of Management and the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business. Yale has released its test as an optional exercise for applicants that has no impact on chances of admission for applicants, Business Insider notes. Notre Dame, on the other hand, has included a "Personal Characteristics Inventory" examination as part of the application process. The objective of the test, Notre Dame states, is to identify "softer, less quantifiable aspects of a person's character and personality" that are hard to reveal during the traditional admissions process but "can contribute to success here at Notre Dame and generally in the world of business."

The Emotional Intelligence Test: Methodology and Concerns

Different schools have taken different approaches in creating their EQ tests, although they had the same end goal. For example, Business Insider notes that Yale's assessment exam -- the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), which was developed by the university's own researchers, takes the problem-solving approach and asks test-takers to assess individuals' emotions in given scenarios. Notre Dame turned to Talent Plus, a human resources consulting firm that has created similar assessments for other schools and businesses, for help in developing its test.

Josh Berry, Chair of Business Development and Strategic Alliances at the firm, shed some light on the methodology behind creating the examination for Notre Dame in an interview with MBAPrograms.org. Talent Plus first conducted research to identify specific characteristics of successful alumni and ideal students. To assess how well candidates meet these ideals, the test measures several major categories, including an individual's values, motivators and working style (e.g., organization or the ability to work with others).

One key concern arises from the EQ assessment methodology: Since these tests aim to identify people with a certain set of characteristics, how can one make sure that there is variation in the personality of top-scoring individuals -- those that are consequently flagged as ideal candidates for business schools or workplaces? How do organizations avoid getting homogenous talent sets?

Berry noted that while these tests do intend to find individuals with the same drivers, not everyone selected has the same intensity of each driver. Looking at it from a workplace standpoint, Berry explains, "…since we measure a wide variety of things, it's…almost impossible to say we just hired 100 people, and they all had the exact same profile. And so there is a lot of diversity in the characteristics that are still brought into an organization." In other words, while high scorers would not all have the same personality type, they would likely share a set of attributes contributing to their achieved or potential success. When these individuals' overall talent and aptitude are taken into consideration, the group's performance is likely higher than it otherwise would be.

Berry acknowledges that positive test results cannot guarantee success and assures that they are simply meant to reveal part of one's potential. "…[A]t the end of the day, a lot of educators acknowledge that they have some students that turn out better than others, and if we go back to that, some of them have natural tendencies…to be more empathetic, be more caring, and be more positive."

Higher EQ Could Lead to Increased Success

As Massimiliano Ghini, a leader on the Six Seconds study and management professor at Italy's Alma Graduate School, asserted in the press release, those with a higher EQ not only tend to be more successful themselves, but they also often foster better performance for others in the workplace. Ghini states, "The workplace climate is a driving force in how employees engage in their daily activities. When factors such as trust and teamwork are present, the research shows that the company generates better results. So the conclusion is simple: If we want business success, we need to equip leaders with the skills to make an environment where employees can work effectively." This is just what Notre Dame aims to do with the help of its new EQ test.

Berry explains that the EQ test can be a helpful assessment not only for well-experienced applicants but also for those who are changing their career and/or are not too advanced in their careers. The latter group of applicants often has not yet had the chance to assume a leadership role, but schools can measure their leadership potential via the exam. Berry cites evidence of previous Talent Plus assessments successfully predicting whether or not a test-taker would be an effective leader: "[We] have some amazing case studies identifying somebody at 20 years of age that has the potential to become a division president or CEO at a company and that coming true."

Implementing the EQ Test in B-Schools

Business Insider expects emotional intelligence tests to become more prominent in the b-school application process. Since schools are often ranked on how well their graduates perform, it is important for them to gain more knowledge on whether specific emotional attributes actually affect one's chances of success in the future.

David Caruso, co-creator of the MSCEIT and special assistant to the dean of Yale College, offers his thoughts on how schools should use test results. He suggests that universities use the test to improve the education that admitted students receive rather than as an admissions criterion: "We strongly believe that business schools should teach these skills, help students acquire emotion regulation strategies and teach them how to better read people. These are becoming increasingly more important skills and traditional curricula still ignores them."

Admissions and Financial Aid -- Apply, University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business, business.nd.edu
Interview with Joshua Berry, Chair of Business Development and Strategic Alliances at Talent Plus, Inc., Jamar Ramos, June 2013, MBAPrograms.org
"New Research Shows Emotional Intelligence Improves organizational Climate and Bottom-Line Performance, Presented at Harvard University in June," prnewswire.com, April 4, 2013
"Your Boss Probably Wouldn't Pass Yale's Emotional Intelligence Assessment," Business Insider, Vivian Giang, businessinsider.com, May 10, 2013