Self-rating is a popular way to measure emotional intelligence in the workplace. Under lab conditions it's been shown that these ratings vary depending on what your (imaginary) objective is: to give a 'true' picture or to successfully win a job. A new study translates this lab finding to the workplace, finding that applicants for jobs really do rate themselves higher on EI than counterparts already working in that organisation.
The study compared scores for 109 job applicants with 239 volunteers, matched by department and managerial level. They rated themselves on four classic components of EI: self emotion appraisal, others emotion appraisal, use of emotion, and regulation of emotion. Applicants significantly outscored incumbents in all areas, on average rating themselves more than a standard deviation better. The areas of greatest divergence were in use of emotions and regulation of emotions, which have much in common with the Big Five personality traits conscientiousness and emotional stability, which we know job applicants have a higher tendency to inflate.
On all but one of the components, applicant scores were significantly more bunched together than incumbent scores, which could be seen as additional support that they were manufactured, with candidates homing in on scores that were solidly good, avoiding suspicious high or unhelpful low scores.
The study is important because in other areas of research, score discrepancies can be found in the lab, due to different explicit instructions, that don't seem to surface in the real world, suggesting the overt nature of lab conditions can exaggerate or even manufacture differences. Yet here the effect is found again, suggesting that if we do want to rely on self-report to assess EI we should recognise that this inflation may take place, and that relying on the normative data that accompanies these tests may lead us to unrealistically high appraisals of candidates.
Lievens, F., Klehe, U., & Libbrecht, N. (2011). Applicant Versus Employee Scores on Self-Report Emotional Intelligence Measures Journal of Personnel Psychology, 10 (2), 89-95 DOI: 10.1027/1866-5888/a000036