How To Measure Empathy When Hiring Salespeople

Job matching = data to measure personality in job candidates + data to measure personality in top performers + predictive analytics to create job matches

This is how Ideal Candidate matches salespeople to your sales role. In this series, “How Job Matching Works,” I explain the 16 personality domains we measure and the benefits you can gain by measuring them when hiring salespeople. In Part 1, I explained the personality domain of work ethic.

In this Part 2, I explain the personality domain: empathy.

What is empathy?

Empathy is considered to be central to a set of traits and abilities we call emotional intelligence. Simply put, being empathetic means being able to take someone else’s perspective (i.e., walk in someone else’s shoes). In more detail, being able to take someone else’s perspective requires being able to accurately perceive, express, and manage your own and other people’s feelings.

What correlates with empathy?

Customer focus is the name of the game in sales. If you can’t take your prospects’ and customers’ perspective and understand their needs and desires, well, you probably can’t convince them to buy.

So what does empathy correlate with when it comes to sales outcomes? Plenty.


A study by Jennings and Palmer found that sales reps who completed an emotional intelligence training program (developing skills in perceiving, expressing, and managing their own and other people’s emotions) increased their sales revenue by 12% on average compared to a control group.
empathy and sales revenue


Professor Momm and colleagues found that people’s emotion recognition ability is correlated with both their level of political skills (understanding others and using that knowledge to gain their trust and influence them) and interpersonal facilitation (helping and cooperating with your coworkers), which in turn is correlated with their annual income (money!)

empathy and annual income


A study conducted by Professor Verbeke and colleagues found a counterintuitive result: Salespeople with high levels of intelligence and low levels of people skills had the lowest sales performance. That means that intelligence has a positive relationship with sales volume but only for salespeople who are also high in people skills.

empathy and sales volume

How do you measure empathy?

Empathy can be measured in three ways:

  1. An objective-ability assessment that tests a person’s abilities.
  2. A self-report assessment that asks people to rate their own abilities.
  3. peer-report assessment that asks people to rate someone else’s abilities.

Research on emotional intelligence by Professor O’Boyle and colleagues found that compared to objective-ability assessments, self- and peer-reports predict more variance in job performance. This is important to note since objective-ability assessments tend to be longer and more expensive to use.

The takeaway

Measuring empathy when hiring salespeople is a given. Once again, the data show that getting people to rate their own level of empathy is one of the easiest, and most accurate, ways to predict sales success.

How do you measure empathy in your sales candidates? Let me know in the comments or tweet @recruit_smarter.

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Ji-A Min

Ji-A Min

Head Data Scientist at Ideal
Ji-A Min is the Head Data Scientist at Ideal. With a Master’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Ji-A promotes best practices in data-based recruitment. She writes about research and trends in talent acquisition, recruitment tech, and people analytics.
Ji-A Min