Background Emotional intelligence (EI) has been associated with improved work performance and job satisfaction in several industries. We evaluated whether EI was associated with higher measures of work performance and job satisfaction in surgical residents. Methods We distributed the validated Trait EI Questionnaire and job satisfaction survey to all general surgery residents at a single institution in 2015. EI and job satisfaction scores were compared with resident performance using faculty evaluations of clinical competency–based surgical milestones and standardized test scores including the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and American Board of Surgery In-Training Examination (ABSITE). Statistical comparison was made using Pearson correlation and simple linear regression adjusting for postgraduate year level. Results The survey response rate was 68.9% with 31 resident participants. Global EI was associated with scores on USMLE Step 2 (r = 0.46, P = 0.01) and Step 3 (r = 0.54, P = 0.01) but not ABSITE percentile scores (r = 0.06, P = 0.77). None of the 16 surgical milestone scores were significantly associated with global EI or EI factors before or after adjustment for postgraduate level. Global EI was associated with overall job satisfaction (r = 0.37, P = 0.04). Of the facets of job satisfaction, global EI was significantly associated with views of supervision (r = 0.42, P = 0.02) and nature of work (r = 0.41, P = 0.02). Conclusions EI was associated with job satisfaction and USMLE performance but not ACGME competency–based milestones or ABSITE scores. EI may be an important factor for fulfillment in surgical training that is not currently captured with traditional in-training performance measures.