This paper explores Goleman's (1996) concept of 'emotional intelligence' in relation to recruitment to preregistration nurse education programmes. Current studies consistently demonstrate that emotional intelligence is the common factor which marks out individuals as leaders, innovators and effective managers. The role of the qualified nurse is evolving continually and 'portable' skills are the key qualities demanded by a health care system under pressure to compete. These include the ability to work effectively in teams, the ability to recognize and respond appropriately to one's own and others' feelings and the ability to motivate oneself and others. They are collectively termed 'emotional intelligence'. We believe we need selection processes that will determine levels of emotional intelligence in prospective candidates, as they could be a reliable predictor of success in both clinical nursing practice and academic study. Research indicates that emotional intelligence cannot be developed quickly enough through interpersonal skills training and therefore it is essential that nurse educators create assessment strategies that will identify emotional intelligence at recruitment.