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Are cognitive assessments really the best predictor of job performance?

May 23, 2023
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Hiring new employees can be tough — but you don’t need us to tell you that. Finding the perfect formula for hiring new employees is the age-old question that has been haunting hiring managers for decades. In their quest to answer this, in lieu of psychic powers or a crystal ball, companies have to find other measurements and metrics that will allow them to make the best decisions for their organisation. And now they think they’ve found it.

In recent years, the use of cognitive assessments has skyrocketed. It’s no surprise — research shows that 76% of companies employing over 100 people are now including a cognitive assessment in their recruitment process. So, what makes cognitive assessments such a great tool to use in your hiring strategy?

What are cognitive assessments?

Cognitive assessments, also known as cognitive ability or aptitude tests, are a data-driven tool used by employers to make more informed decisions in the hiring process of new employees. They measure a range of abilities, from problem-solving skills to verbal reasoning capabilities.

These assessments are built to measure and help employers evaluate a candidate’s cognitive abilities, such as their memory, attention to detail, and the ability to learn new information. They don’t test what a candidate knows — instead, they test how they think. Think of it as an intelligence test that’s tailored to job-seeking.

Why are cognitive assessments the best predictor of job performance?

Because of their nature, aptitude tests are an objective and reliable method of predicting job performance, making them the best predictor of it. There are plenty of reasons why this is the case:

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1. Cognitive assessments are scientifically valid

In 1998, psychologists Schmidt and Hunter found that cognitive ability assessments were the strongest single predictors of performance at work. The results of their seminal research have been continuously verified, with the most recent study from 2016 showing that these assessments are even more predictive than previously believed. They were proven to be particularly useful when it comes to highly skilled or managerial roles.

Having such robust, scientific data pointing at the validity of these assessments is a clear indication of their success, and should make them absolutely essential for any hiring manager. This makes perfect sense, as other studies show that cognitive capability is a predictor of the ability to deal with unexpected situations, identify problems quickly, and react fast — all important traits that are required to be successful in many roles. So, science approves!

2. Cognitive assessments teach you what CVs can’t

Anyone who’s ever hired an employee knows that a CV paints a very distorted picture of who they are. What can a piece of paper containing information about experience or education — two factors we already know tell us little about the potential success of a candidate — really tell us about a human being and their capabilities? Not much.

In reality, someone’s education or previous experience are not going to impact how well they do at their next company. While CVs could be useful initially (when used right!), they don’t show you the most important components of a thriving employee. Someone who can think on their feet, digest information quickly, and produce results doesn’t necessarily need to have experience — they can learn on the job. Cognitive assessments test exactly these abilities, so it’s obvious that they’d be better than simply relying on a CV.

3. Cognitive assessments are fair and objective

Can we let you in on a little secret? You’re biased. Whether you’re more likely to hire people who look or speak like you (or went to the same school as you), or have any particular characteristic which you consider more successful, we all have biases — consciously or unconsciously. That’s why only 8% of all directors in the UK are from BAME backgrounds, for example. This means that many companies are not hiring the best person for the job, but a set of characteristics they find appealing. Not particularly useful, is it?

Aptitude tests can help you to avoid this bias, and increase the likelihood of making the right decision — and we mean, truly the right decision, not just what you think might be the best pick. They were tested on millions of people from all backgrounds and have been adjusted to truly show, in an objective way, who is the most capable out of your candidate list. Of course, there are many other factors that should be taken into account, but seeing these results clearly can curb the impact of bias.

4. Cognitive assessments help you get the most out of interviews

While cognitive assessments are the best single indicator of job performance, luckily for most hiring managers, you don’t have to actually rely on only one factor. Most recruitment processes consist of more than just one stage, and even though an ability assessment will tell you more about the potential performance of a candidate than a CV or an interview, you could use all three (or add more indicators) to help you make a more informed decision.

But even when it comes to interviews, cognitive assessments can help you. If you know where the strengths and weaknesses of your interviewee lie, the questions you pose and the information you’re trying to deduce can be more specific and helpful than going in blind. This will enable you to ask questions about how they deal with the deficiencies you recognised using the assessments, or try to understand more about a candidate’s thinking process to determine whether they’ll be a good fit for the team.

For instance, if a candidate’s test results show a deficiency in verbal reasoning, you could ask them to prepare a presentation, or ask them to give you an example of a time when they had to digest complex information and explain it to others.

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Should I use cognitive assessments in my hiring process?

The short answer is yes. There is a plethora of scientific evidence that cognitive assessments are the most effective tool at predicting job performance, so using them in your hiring process is a no-brainer.

However, while important, ability and performance are not the only elements that matter when hiring, so aptitude tests shouldn’t be the only factor you’re relying on when making a decision. That’s why many companies choose to include personality tests, as well as structured interviews, in their recruitment process.

How can Thrive help?

Thrive’s market-leading assessments enable organisations to accurately predict whether a candidate will be successful in a role by testing both personality and cognitive ability. Our platform offers job specific assessments across 200,000 roles, and also allows organisations to personalise depending on their unique culture and role requirements — which is completely unique in the market but necessary for making an informed decision (think about it: an accountant and a sales manager would require different abilities and skills to perform their job well, so you should test specifically for these). It’s a quick and affordable way to increase retention and engagement.

But it doesn’t stop there. Where Thrive has measured a risk in the assessment results, you receive interview questions written by a leading psychologist to help you structure interviews which are personalised to the candidate's seniority and job role.

“Since using Thrive, the quality of candidates making it through the shortlisting phase has been a much greater quality, whilst also supporting de-biasing the process at the same time…. I’ve already recommended Thrive to a number of colleagues and would recommend anyone looking for this type of solution to take a look.”


If you’re interested to hear more about how Thrive can help you pick the best people for your business, book a demo with us today to start your free trial.

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