What's the Importance of Cognitive Ability in Your Career?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 21 November 2022

Published 20 May 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Most interviewers may evaluate your cognitive ability before giving you a job or considering you for a leadership position. A cognitive ability test can help interviewers to determine your ability to reason, think critically, process complex information and make vital decisions. Therefore, it's good to look for a job that aligns with your cognitive strengths to perform excellently. In this article, we'll explain what cognitive ability is and give tips on how you can improve your cognitive ability.

What is cognitive ability?

Cognitive ability refers to a person's mental potential to understand and perform a variety of tasks, both simple and complex. These include all aspects of mental functioning such as reading, thinking, learning, paying attention, reasoning and remembering. These mental aspects work together to process the information you come across every day and allow you to complete your job effectively.

Applications of cognitive ability

Cognitive ability encompasses several mental skills that your brain uses to interpret and apply information. These skills include problem definition, goal analysis, constraint analysis, planning, forecasting, creative thinking, idea evaluation, wisdom and making sense.

Related: What does a cognitive psychologist do? A complete guide

Below are some ways that cognitive skills apply in life and the workplace:

Sustained attention

Sustained attention refers to your ability to focus or keep doing a particular task for a long period. It is the skill that allows you to complete various tasks in your workplace. If you have sustained attention, you can stay motivated until you are sure that you have completed your task. It comes in handy when you need to work on long-term goals. This skill can be helpful to programmers, novelists, visionaries and people who want to achieve long-term company goals.

Divided attention

Sometimes you may need to perform several tasks, especially if the tasks are related. Having divided attention can help you handle them successfully without making mistakes. The skill enables you to concentrate your memory on your initial task. After taking a break, you may continue with your original work or concentrate on another task. For example, you could continue working on a current project while not forgetting about the ideas for an upcoming project. A strong divided-attention skill can help you make fewer mistakes in your work, and you will have less trouble multitasking.

Selective attention

This skill is most useful when you are working in an environment with many distractions. It allows you to focus your attention on the single task you are handling, despite the distractions that surround you. It helps you decide where you will focus your attention when you have several choices and allows you to keep focused on that task. For example, you can choose to finish writing your email rather than checking notifications on your phone or chatting with coworkers. With a strong selective attention skill, you may not get distracted easily.

Related: How to Improve Your Attention to Detail

Working memory

Working memory, or short-term memory, helps you keep and retrieve the information that you currently need in your memory. For example, you could be working on a project and don't need to keep checking the instructions to remind yourself of the next step in the series. You also have a strong short-term memory if you can perfectly remember the points from a conversation you had recently.

Long term memory

This skill allows you to remember information that you came across in the past. It could be the discussion points from a meeting that your department had last week or even the name of a colleague that you learned two years ago. This type of memory allows you to remember and put prior learning into practice. With a strong long term memory, you can remember things that happened a long time ago.

Processing speed

This skill is essential when you need to perform tasks quickly and accurately. A high processing speed allows your brain to interpret information swiftly and apply it to the task you are working on. Strengthening this skill allows you to have more productivity in the workplace as you can complete tasks efficiently and effectively. For example, when speaking to a customer, you can identify their needs quickly if you have a high processing speed.

Auditory processing

Your brain relies on auditory processing to discern information you acquire through hearing. Auditory processing is a practical skill that you can apply to listen to colleagues, customers and leaders in your organisation and productively use what you hear to offer an appropriate response.

Logic and reasoning

There are many types of problems you might encounter daily that require logical thinking. You can apply logic and reasoning to get solutions for your problems and also generate ideas. For example, you need this skill when you have to identify a customer's needs and engage in problem-solving to get practical solutions. You also apply the skill when analysing data and compiling reports. You can improve your logic and reasoning skills by spending more time on creative hobbies, practising questioning and socialising with others.

Related: Inductive and deductive reasoning: examples and differences

Visual processing

Visual processing is applicable when interpreting anything you see. The skill allows you to proofread documents, analyse designs and make sense of other forms of data represented visually, like tables and graphs. You can also read maps or remember things you have read. To improve your visual skills, practise speed reading to pick out essential information.

How to improve your cognitive ability

Your cognitive ability can be improved in several ways. Below are some steps you can use to improve your cognitive ability:

1. Avoid stress

Lowering your stress levels can help you have more focus and pay more attention to your work. You should try to avoid stressful situations and do things that help you reduce stress. At your workplace, for instance, you can take a brief walk around the office or building. You could also put on your headphones, if you have some, and listen to your favourite music.

If you are at home, you can try to practise mindful meditation or yoga. Mindful meditation techniques include focusing on your breathing while sitting in a quiet environment and reflecting on your thoughts. The practice not only helps you to calm down but also improves your concentration and grows your attention related skills.

Related: What are stress relievers? 10 effective stress relievers

2. Exercise your brain

Like a muscle, you can exercise your brain to improve its function. Many activities offer targeted exercises for the brain and improve relevant cognitive skills. Reading a book before you go to bed is one activity that helps to strengthen your brain. Playing Sudoku or crossword, among other types of puzzles that you enjoy, is another way to exercise your cognitive ability. You can also try to play a game that engages your mind, such as chess, or write a story that helps you relive a particular event.

The benefits of challenging brain activities are many. You could also try to meet and beat your expectations to become more active in your work and challenge your mind. This can help you improve your focus, memory, processing and reasoning skills.

3. Nurture your body

Having and maintaining great physical health can have a lot of benefits to your mental health. This can include any of the things that directly contribute to your physical well-being. You can drink a lot of water and eat a balanced diet to ensure that you are properly nourished.

You should also try to get at least seven hours of sleep each night that ensure your brain and body get enough rest. Sufficient sleep helps to improve your cognitive abilities which will help you perform better at work. When you get enough sleep, your brain also has sufficient time to process and keep memories, meaning that your memory will be enhanced.

4. Practice to focus

Actively focusing your mind as you go about your day-to-day activities can help you strengthen your memory and attention skills. You can start by removing various types of distractions in your workplace. Then, you can time yourself and see how long you can work without losing focus or concentration on the task at hand. One of the best ways to implement this is to put your smartphone away or wear headphones if your workplace allows it.

The other way to improve your focus is by engaging multiple senses as you perform a duty. You can read a customer's concern out loud or try to memorise a poem. You may use several senses to capture the same information, hence increasing your chances of being more attentive.


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