Cognitive Ability Tests for Employee Selection: Going Beyond the Resume

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The ultimate goal of recruitment is to find the best people to work with. Technical skills of an individual are readily available through a resume. But how about qualities that are not readily visible?

How good is a candidate at making efficient decisions even under great pressure? Or, will the candidate deliver stellar results at work even after 5 years?

A resume offers insight into an individual’s past achievements. A candidate’s history is important to understand his/ her work expertise. But an assessment of a candidate’s potential is crucial to determine his/ her ability to deliver future success.

A cognitive ability test for employment enables you to assess a candidate’s future potential for success. Many companies use cognitive ability tests for employee selection as part of their screening process.

Study shows that a cognitive ability assessment gives the most accurate prediction of an employee’s success.

This article will help you understand more about cognitive ability tests and their importance in elevating the efficiency of your hiring process.

What are Cognitive Ability Tests for Employee Selection?

Science defines cognitive ability as behaviors essential for adaptation and survival. Cognitive ability is also referred to as “general intelligence”.

An individual with excellent cognitive abilities is able to understand reason, and solve problems efficiently. The individual can think beyond visible realities and grasp even complex concepts quickly. He/ she also shows a willingness to learn and to use experiences as a learning tool.

Memory, and mannerisms whether inherent or acquired, are visible and basic elements of an individual’s intelligence. But there are other invisible aspects of intelligence. An insight into these aspects is essential to understand an individual’s ability to succeed at work. 

An individual’s ability to assess situations and understand the actions that need to be taken, is crucial. An individual must also demonstrate an ability to plan and execute it, to derive the desired outcomes.

A well-designed cognitive test for employment enables you to screen candidates for these invisible aspects of intelligence.

Cognitive Ability Test for Hiring: The Recruitment Perspective

Taken from a hiring perspective, cognitive ability tests help recruiters evaluate a candidate’s ability to complete everyday tasks. They also help recruiters determine a candidate’s ability to respond to complex problems efficiently.

Cognitive ability tests assess candidates for a core set of skills. These are the skills that enable them to complete the mundane and go beyond, to achieve the extraordinary. An ability to process information, make decisions, and solve problems with critical thinking, form the core skillset.

These assessment tests are referred to as cognitive tests because they evaluate the cognitive – mental or intellectual – functions of an individual. Cognitive functions of a human being include thinking, reasoning, memorizing, focusing, learning, problem-solving, and decision-making.

Cognitive assessments are classified under psychometric tests, which are scientific assessments common in an employment screening process.

A cognitive ability test for employment is a short duration test, ranging from 10 minutes to half-an-hour. Given the limited duration, it is easy to conduct these tests, even at short notice. These tests can also be spanned across any volume of candidate count.

Cognitive tests are timed, meaning candidates are required to complete them within the specified time. This timed approach evaluates candidates’ ability to think clearly under stress. 

Cognitive abilities are necessary for all jobs, which is why including them in your screening methods is crucial. The outcome of a cognitive interview intelligence test is scientific and proven. These assessments can help you increase your chances of a good hire.

75% of Fortune 500 companies are already using cognitive ability tests for employee selection. Now is a great time to include them in your screening routine to discover candidates with skills essential for workplace success.

Non-Cognitive Vs Cognitive Ability Tests for Employee Selection

While cognitive tests are crucial, evaluating candidates for their non-cognitive tests is also important. So, what are non-cognitive tests and how do they differ from their cognitive counterparts?

Non-cognitive skills are the soft skills an individual possesses. Qualities such as integrity, courage, motivation and people skills, are non-cognitive skills. Non-cognitive abilities are often a reflection of an individual’s attitude and personality. 

Cognitive skills are more associated with the intellectual faculties. They are referred to as hard skills. While non-cognitive skills do require an association with the intellect, such association is mostly indirect.

Extending on the earlier description of skills that amount to cognitive, one can include the following in this category:

·      Memory – An ability to recollect information from immediate storage faculties, or from one’s long-term storage faculties. For example, you can access the immediate storage to recollect your breakfast today. You may need the long-term storage to recollect a childhood neighbor.

·      Motor Skills –An ability to move one’s bodies, use muscles and handle objects with skill.

·      Spatial and Visual Processing – Visual processing requires an ability to understand visual elements and the information they deliver.

Spatial processing refers to acquiring a spatial perception regarding objects in relation to their surroundings. An ability to visualize is also part of spatial processing.

·      Executive Functioning Skills – Skills that enable an individual to set and achieve goals such as reasoning, planning and decision-making, fall in this category.

Non-Cognitive skills include:

·      Interpersonal Skills – This category includes qualities that make getting along with others easy and inspiring. An ability to communicate, listen, share and motivate are some examples.

Interpersonal skills are crucial in a workplace environment to get everyday tasks done. They are also crucial to lead a team or an entire organization toward success.

·      Self-Belief – A belief in one’s own talent and self to accomplish a goal or overcome adverse situations. Self-belief is also the belief that success or failure comes from one’s behavior with his/ her environment and the self.

This skill is crucial for developing self-awareness and working positively with one’s environment to achieve success.

Cognitive ability tests are never a standalone criterion for hiring success. These tests must complement non-cognitive tests to derive holistic insights into a candidate’s profile.

Why Perform Cognitive Ability Tests for Employee Selection?

Also referred to General Mental Ability tests, cognitive tests are a measure of an employee’s memory, perception and reasoning. These skills are important at the workplace to adapt to changes and succeed in a competitive environment.

A hiring strategy that involves cognitive ability tests for employee selection ensures that you use a scientific and unbiased approach. These assessments deliver multiple benefits, including:

Eliminates a Blind-Fold Approach

With a cognitive test for job interview, you are using science-backed assessments to screen candidates. These assessments evaluate a candidate’s intelligence and evolution of mental faculties. There is no room for bias based on race, gender, age or other factors. 

83% of jobseekers state diversity of a company is a priority when considering a job offer. With a blindfold non-directional 

screening approach, you may be losing top talents.

Adding cognitive assessments to your hiring is a starter toward building a recruitment process with maximum objectivity. Make your employer brand attractive for top talents. 

Helps you Counter Talent Shortage

Talent shortage is global recruiter challenge. Hiring strategies involving cognitive assessments can help companies increase their immunity to talent shortage.

With cognitive assessments, companies hire candidates based on not only their current skills, but also their potential. For example, a candidate that shows a tendency to learn can be trained for skills for the future.

With a skilled workforce willing to learn and be trained, you need not rely on the market for talents. You also need not suffer low-quality outputs or loss of projects for lack of required talents.

Enables you to Build an A-Team

The correlation between high cognitive ability and high job performance is 84%. Whether an employee can succeed at work, can be accurately predicted using cognitive assessments.

With modern workspaces evolving constantly and rapidly to market dynamics, the need for a future-centric workforce is greater than ever. With their accurate capability predictions, cognitive assessments help hire candidates with potential skills that guarantee success.

You are hiring candidates with a potential for problem-solving, clear decision-making, and a proclivity for learning and adapting. These skills are invaluable in the modern workplace. They help nurture a workforce willing to achieve your short-term goals as well as long-term vision.

Hiring inclusive of cognitive assessments helps create A-teams with technical expertise and a capacity to grow your organization through challenges.

Facilitates Employee Growth and Improves Retention

Cognitive assessments give you insights into employee competencies waiting to be discovered. When you provide opportunities that challenge employees to learn, discover, grow and thrive, you are creating brand ambassadors. 

Employees that love working with you are less likely to leave you.

Gives you an Enhanced Competitive Edge

Cognitive assessments help you build a workforce willing to learn, adapt, and commit themselves to high performance.

A workforce that is nurtured on the strength of constant learning gives you the best leverage against competition. This is because a constantly learning working is a constantly-adapting and evolving workforce. Such teams put your organization 

at the forefront of innovation and way ahead of your competition.  

Saves Hours and Dollars on a Wrong Hire

A wrong hire can cost you thousands of wasted dollars and workhours. Cognitive assessments are short tests that tell you more about a candidate in minutes than an interview that lasts hours.

As a result, you will be able to quickly identify promising talents. You can invest time in progressing to the next step of hiring with the candidate. 

You get to improve the efficiency, speed and quality of hiring with well-developed cognitive ability tests for employee selection.

Cognitive assessments can be used across a range of jobs. You can prevent a wrong hire across job verticals. They are also an affordable assessment tool for recruiters.

Elevates Candidate Experience

Cognitive assessments are designed to be easily understandable. They carry simple instructions, which can be easily understood by candidates. As these assessments are of short duration, you are not demanding too much time from candidates. This respect for their time elevates candidate experience.

Study shows that 50% of jobseekers refuse a job offer with a company if the experience is poor. Allow for a better candidate experience with short and precise cognitive assessments.

Cognitive Ability Tests for Employee Selection: What Skills are Tested?

Cognitive assessments are not focused on testing candidates for what they already know. Instead, they evaluate candidates on what they do not know. These assessments analyze how candidates think under specific circumstances. This objective makes measuring cognitive abilities complex.

The process is made simpler in recruitment with assessments focusing on some key cognitive elements. Candidates are tested for their:


This cognitive assessment tests candidates for the span and depth of information retention and recall.

Is a candidate capable of retaining information? How fast is a candidate able to recall information? What is the volume of information the candidate is able to recall?

This segment of cognitive assessments gives recruiters insights into the memory dimension of a candidate’s cognition.


Cognitive tests evaluate the capability of a candidate to pay attention for longer stretches of time. It is also an evaluation of a candidate’s ability to pay attention to details. Being detail-oriented is crucial for jobs such as content development, customer service, product development and software development.

Jobs that demand attention to details need sustained focus from candidates. Without such attention, errors can happen, which can be costly for the company.  

People that pay attention are able to focus deeper. This ability for deeper and extended focus enables them to distinguish diversions from actual work. They are therefore more successful at executing actions that are necessary without wasting time and resources.


Processing refers to the action of consuming information and comprehending it for further use. These cognitive tests measure a candidate’s speed to take in information and the ability to consume information in different formats. Content formats can be visual, contextual or spatial.

Individuals with excellent processing abilities are able to grasp information faster, learn quickly and apply their learnings for progress.


Reasoning tests determine the ability of a candidate to analyze derived information with reason and form a conclusion. Reasoning is crucial at a workplace to make better decisions, solve problems with more clarity and set realistic goals. 


There are more aspects involved in problem-solving than the terminology may indicate. Problem-solving is not about solving problems alone. It is also about a candidate’s ability to observe his/ her environment and identify elements that need improvements. Problem-solving also extends to forming a plan and executing it as well.

Some problems are common to workplaces while some may result from new developments. No matter the source, a candidate must be able to identify these problems before they escalate, and solve them proactively. 

Testing for problem-solving enables recruiters to understand the way a candidate goes about solving problems. For example, a candidate may employ a self-reliant approach with less dependence on others. Another candidate may go by his/ her intuition, but may want to include the team in decision-making.

An insight into a candidate’s method gives you more criteria to form a hiring decision. For example, some roles may demand an independent player while some need collective input. With information handy, you can make a well-informed hiring decision.   


This cognitive skill is important to be able to adapt to changes at workplaces. Modern workplaces are constantly evolving. Employees that are open-minded find it easier to adapt faster to evolving workplaces.

Adaptable candidates are empowered with a broad perception that allows them to view things from others’ points of view. 

They are able to change their behaviors quickly to suit the new environment. Adaptability can thus lead to an innovative and productive atmosphere.

Executive Functions

Executive skills or executive functions refer to a wide range of mental skills. These are essential for successful task completion at work and in daily life. Employees with well-developed executive functions exhibit a goal-oriented behavior.

Executive skills are crucial at the workplace to:

·      Be disciplined

·      Analyze information

·      Set goals

·      Focus on priorities 

·      Manage time efficiently

·      Maintain excellent working memory

·      Develop self-control

·      Have control over emotions

·      Manage people

·      Behave with empathy

Candidates that exhibit excellence at executive functioning are organized in approach, not easily overwhelmed, and follow a goal-oriented behavior. Such employees can be trusted with big projects. They adapt to changes faster and with great finesse.

Different Types of Cognitive Ability Tests for Employee Selection

Cognitive ability tests are of different types. Candidates may undergo a single type of test. He/ she may undergo combination tests for insight into a wider range of cognitive skills. The type of tests chosen depends on the range of skills expected for a role. The format and questions change according to the type of cognitive tests chosen by recruiters.  

Verbal Reasoning

This assessment evaluates a candidate’s ability to understand text and gather key information from blocks of text. A candidate is usually given content in the form of text. A set of true or false statements are given for the candidate to answer.

A candidate with high verbal reasoning will be able to evaluate the accuracy of the given statements. He/ she exhibits an impressive comprehension skill. The applicant employs this skill to associate the information within the text with the statements to arrive at an answer.

This test gives an insight into a candidate’s depth of understanding by reading written text. It also enables a recruiter to evaluate an applicant’s efficiency in executing written instructions at work.

Numerical Reasoning

This type of assessment requires candidates to extract information from numbers. Candidates are required to identify numerical patterns or mathematical operations to derive required information.

Questions can be in the form of multiple choice or short-reply formats. Questions may also include tables, graphs, charts and sequences. Candidates need to decipher information from this data.

Logical Reasoning

This cognitive assessment requires candidates to understand sequences, patterns, shapes and symbols, and the information within them. An applicant with a high score is capable of dealing with abstract data and concepts. It also communicates the ability of a candidate to apply logic to abstract concepts and use them in real-world situations.

Individuals with good logical reasoning are good at critical thinking, risk analysis, prioritization and problem-solving. 

Diagrammatic Reasoning

This assessment uses flowchart-like diagrams to test a candidate’s ability to extract information from such format. Diagrams are depicted using functions of input, processing and output. A candidate is expected to understand the diagram and apply findings to given problems and arrive at a solution.  

Spatial Reasoning

This is an ability to visualize objects, forms and shapes and manipulate them to achieve derived results. Spatial cognitive interview questions examples include visualization of objects after application of specific manipulations.

Candidates are shown 2D and 3D shapes or objects. They are then required to visualize their transformations after certain changes are implemented.

Questions may also be in the form of computerized 3D images. Candidates are asked to build possible shapes and objects from these images. 

Spatial reasoning indicates an ability for strategic thinking. People with high spatial reasoning are able to view the bigger picture (the whole) from mere fragments.


Perception tests test a candidate’s memory, focus and retention power. A perception aptitude test for employment sample can be recalling details from an image or text shown earlier. 

Tests usually consist of text or images. Candidates are required to focus on the content for a specified time. They are then asked questions about the content they were shown.

Tests may also take the form of visual shapes or objects that need to be tracked through a series of distractions. Candidates may also be asked to view different shapes and rebuild them with different components at their accurate positions.

Perception tests evaluate the capability of a candidate to focus, grasp information, and use it accurately for effective decision-making. 


This is a crucial assessment that tests a candidate for his/ her willingness to learn, and the speed of such learning. As workspaces evolve, employees must be willing to learn new concepts and apply them to their daily tasks.

Candidates with a high learning curve can adapt to changing situations, attain skills faster, and apply them for efficient problem-solving.

Using AI-Based Recruitment Solutions for Smarter Hiring

Cognitive assessments facilitate data-driven hiring. Such analytics-based recruitment has been known to enhance hiring in significant ways, including:

·      Improved quality-of-hire

·      Reduced time-to-hire

·      Lower cost-to-hire

Given these invaluable benefits, cognitive assessments can be made integral to your hiring process. But setting up the process can be elaborate and time-consuming. An AI-powered automated recruitment process such as X0PA provides a timely and strategic solution.

X0PA is a SaaS platform that employs Artificial Intelligence (AI) for an automated and smarter recruitment. X0PA maintains high objectivity, and saves time and money, on hiring.

From sourcing to candidate screening, hiring, onboarding, and maintenance of talent pool, X0PA upgrades every phase of your recruitment. 

X0PA screening, in particular, is AI/ ML and NLP-based. These are smarter algorithms capable of assessing a candidate’s technical skills. They go beyond, delivering predictive analysis on the stability and performance of a candidate.

This means, you can screen candidates based on their likelihood of staying with your company for over 12 months. You can also assess a candidate’s future performance and his/ her likelihood to get promoted faster on job.

These are evolving algorithms. They learn your requirements consistently and adapt themselves to these changes and screen candidates accordingly. So, your hiring is always accurate and effective.   


Recruitment is complex as it requires selection of the right candidates from a vast talent pool. As an organization, you invest substantial cost and resources in your hiring process.

Research says that the cost of a hire amounts to $4, 700 on an average. A wrong hire can cost you at least 30% of your payment to the employee during his/ her first year. These are substantial costs to lose.

Cognitive ability tests for employee selection increase your chances of making a good hiring decision. Cognitive assessments give you a comprehensive insight into a candidate’s work competencies. You get to understand a candidate’s past, present and future success score.

Integrating cognitive assessments with your recruitment process empowers you with research-backed hiring tools and data-driven insights. This means you get to hire smart and bring the best talents onboard.

Author Bio:

A tech graduate with honors, Sierra Miller always seeks opportunities to understand the evolving role of tech in improving lives. As a recruitment professional, she is keen on learning about the role of tech in making hiring more holistic. She has written articles about tech-empowered recruitment landscapes and has reviewed multiple recruitment software products.

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