EQ vs IQ: Which one is the better for predicting job performance

Occupational Psychologist Memory Nguwi discusses the merits of both measures of intelligence

There are many who claim that emotional intelligence predicts job performance better than intelligence but there is no scientific evidence to support that claim. Here is the science; holding other things constant, general mental ability (intelligence/cognitive ability) explains 44% of the variation in job performance. Emotional intelligence, on the other hand, ability-based emotional intelligence explains 5% of the variation in job performance, and personality based emotional intelligence explains 10% of the variation in job performance. This is according to a 2016 research paper by Frank Schmidt and others, which explores the validity and utility of section methods in personnel psychology and provides practical and theoretical implications based on 100 years of research findings.

Proponents of emotional intelligence as the panacea to predicting on the job performance have marketed this erroneous assertion so well that the generality of the population across the world believe this unsubstantiated claim. However, as a psychologist who has been doing and monitoring research in the area of employee selection, I know that this assertion is far from the truth.  There is currently a debate around whether there is such a construct called “emotional intelligence”.  There is a general consensus in the psychological literature that emotional intelligence is not measuring a new or emerging psychological construct but long established psychological traits.  Most of what emotional intelligence instruments measure are well-known personality traits. Personality, especially conscientiousness, explains 5% of the variation in performance across all jobs. If you add other personality factors in line with job requirements, the predictive power is likely to be high.  This may mean that if you measure personality as part of your selection process you are unlikely to miss identifying employees with problematic personality issues.

The contribution of emotional intelligence to job performance is there but the contribution is not close to what general mental ability contributes (44%).  The question, therefore, is; why are companies wasting so many resources investing in emotional intelligence tools when they make very little difference in predicting job performance.  Companies are better off investing in the tools for selection based on their usefulness. In practice, it makes more sense to combine all the useful selection methods or criteria in order to get the best results.  Based on their predictive power, and in order of importance, the following tools will be very useful when selecting employees; general mental ability tests, structured interviews, integrity tests, assessment centres, personality tests and situational judgement tests. Relying too much on one selection criteria will not give you the best results.

In making a choice on which tools to use, it is important to match the selection tools to the roles for which you are selecting people. While emotional intelligence explains less variation in performance than general mental ability, for certain roles you would need emotionally intelligent people. As an example, you would need your executives to have a certain level of emotional intelligence to function effectively. All your customer interfacing people need a certain level of emotional intelligence.

Memory Nguwi is an Occupational Psychologist, Data Scientist, Speaker, & Managing Consultant- Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm.