EI as a job performance predictor

Q: Is it true that a major problem with the idea of EI is that studies have failed to show that EI predicts job performance above and beyond the “Big five” personality dimensions or beyond  ‘g’, the shorthand for core intelligence?

A: That criticism was made early in the history of EI, but has been weakened by new findings. EI is a young concept – it was proposed first just two decades ago, by Yale psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer, in an obscure psychological journal. I wrote Emotional Intelligence 15 years ago, calling wider attention to the concept. It’s only in the last decade that sound research on EI has accelerated – including good studies on how well EI predicts job performance. Early reviews of the question did not have that much data to base their answers on.

Now, though, the picture is coming into better focus.  A new meta-analysis finds, for instance, that EI definitely adds a significant increment to job performance over and above intelligence or the “Five Factor Model” of personality. (That analysis was published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior in 2010; lead author Ernest O’Boyle, School of Business, Virginia Commonwealth University.)

The very best answer to this question, though, is years away. That would be based on a longitudinal study following a large group from childhood into their adult years, with sound measures done at baseline and repeated regularly, with job performance as an outcome measure in the later rounds of data collection.

As for me, I feel the most interesting data would also make a distinction between the ability of EI and IQ to predict 1) what job someone ends up in (here my money would be on IQ as the stronger predictor of whether, say, you ended up slinging burgers or a surgeon), and 2) who is most successful in their job once they get it (I’d look to EI as the stronger predictor here).