Identify High Potential Candidates: Assessing the 3 Important Cognitive Abilities




Among the list of many things employers seek in their candidates is intelligence. Also known as cognitive ability or general mental ability, intelligence is defined as “the relative speed and accuracy with which the brain processes complex information” (Smith & Smith, 2005). As such, cognitive ability is a strong predictor of training success or speed of learning new and complex material or information. For many industries and organizations, cognitive ability is statistically proven as strongly correlated with successful job performance.

Unlike functional skills (e.g. Photoshop skills, business writing, accounting) that are learned or acquired, cognitive abilities are innate to a person from childhood to adulthood making it difficult to train and improve. Thus, employees with relatively higher cognitive abilities will most likely be the fastest to acquire new skills and learn new concepts—making them the most ideal candidates with the highest potential for job success.

Below are the 3 most important cognitive abilities that matter in most work environments. Understanding these cognitive abilities in relation to job roles can help employers identify candidates with the highest potential for performing well at a job.


1) Verbal Reasoning

Verbal reasoning refers to a person’s ability to understand complex written arguments and make accurate decisions on the basis of such information. Employees with high verbal reasoning can easily understand relatively complex written material such as research information, reports and correspondence.

Some jobs that require high verbal reasoning skills include executive assistant, journalist, publisher, writer, marketing or mass communications, researcher, market analyst, sales representative, proof reader, recruiter, editor, telemarketer, teacher, call center agent.


2) Numerical Reasoning

Numerical reasoning refers to a person’s ability to understand and make decisions on the basis of numerical information. Employees with high numerical reasoning ability will find it easier to understand information presented in tables, figures and graphs. In today’s modern work place full of data, having this aptitude is nearly considered a basic and must-have skill. Manipulating data is just one, interpreting data and identifying patterns or trends to make corresponding decisions is another useful skill that many employers seek.
Some jobs that require high numerical reasoning include accountant, economist, jobs in finance, bank accounts executives, real estate brokers, insurance agents, statisticians.


3) Logical Reasoning

Logical reasoning refers to a person’s ability to pick up trends and patterns within data and to apply these patterns to solve a problem. Logical reasoning test scores should provide an indication of how well someone will learn new information and integrate this with her existing knowledge. It can also provide an indication as to how well she is able to work with strategic ideas and intangible concepts.
Some jobs that require high logical reasoning include computer programmers, software engineers, accountants, database designers, lawyers, analysts, jobs that require quick-thinking and decision-making.

Aside from the 3, other cognitive abilities that may be critical for other job roles are:

  • Fault finding – a person’s ability to identify faults in systems. A person with high fault finding ability will tend to be accurate in locating faults in systems & diagnosing problems.
  • Mechanical reasoning – a person’s ability to understand mechanical systems and the effects of physical forces on elements within a system. It indicates how well the candidate will be able to perceive and understand relationships between physical forces and mechanical elements in practical situations.
  • Spatial reasoning – a person’s ability to mentally visualize shapes and rotate objects. It provides an indication of how well the candidate is able to mentally rotate two dimensional representations of three dimensional objects.

Many recruiters today opt to assess competencies – key sets of skills, abilities and personality components – that predict job success. Measuring cognitive abilities together with personality and skills assessments provides recruiters with an in-depth insight into a candidate’s full potential profile, allowing them to see a holistic candidate picture.