Assess your cognitive ability and showcase it in real terms to optimise your job opportunities

What is cognitive ability?

We've all heard that playing Sudoku, completing a crossword, or even partaking in aerobics classes can boost the brain. But what is cognitive ability? While there's no need for long and complicated scientific explanations, be assured that you certainly have a lot of it; proven by the fact that you're reading and taking in this article, for a start.

Let's spell out a cognitive ability definition and explore how cognitive ability can be used to your advantage - when applying for roles, securing promotions, or taking that exciting step in a different career direction. The Collins English Dictionary defines cognition as “the mental act or process by which knowledge is acquired, including perception, intuition, and reasoning.” Cognitive ability, also known as “general intelligence,” is how we perceive the world and act within it. Basically, it's the set of mental processes we go through pretty much all the time we're awake, whether we're conscious of them or not.

For example, take the simple act of answering the door - there's perception (you hear the doorbell or knock on the door), making a decision (whether you want to answer it or not), use of gross motor skills (opening the door, presuming you did take the decision to answer it!), language skills (talking and understanding language), and social interaction (swiftly interpreting the tone of voice and body language of the person standing there and interacting appropriately).

If you're a school leaver, with little or no experience in the world of work, focusing your CV on your cognitive abilities is a must as they will highlight those skills that are vitally important for getting on in life.

Cognitive ability examples

While cognitive abilities pervade across your everyday life and, most of the time, they come naturally or you don't even realise you're using them, it's worth taking a moment to decipher what they are and how they can help in that initial stage of your job search when applying for roles.

  • Attention - this is the ability to stay focused on a particular action or thought, while managing competing demands

  • Visual and spatial awareness - processing incoming visual stimuli in order to understand the spatial relationship between objects, as well as visualise images and scenarios

  • Memory - incorporates your short-term / working memory (with limited storage) and your long-term memory (which has unlimited storage)

  • Language skills - these allow us to translate sounds into words and reply accordingly

Executive functions cover a wider range of skills that enable goal-oriented behaviour such as being able to plan and complete targets. These include:

  • Flexibility - being able to swiftly change to the appropriate mental mode that is present at the time

  • Decision making - coming to decisions based on problem solving, incomplete information, and the emotions of both ourselves and other people involved

  • Problem solving - defining a problem, coming up with appropriate solutions, and then choosing the right one

  • Sequencing - breaking down complex actions into bite-sized units and then prioritising them in the correct order

  • Theory of mind - possessing an insight into the inner world of others

  • Anticipation - predicting what's going to happen based on pattern recognition

  • Emotional self-regulation - identifying and managing your own emotions to achieve a good performance

  • Inhibition - withstanding distractions and any internal urges

Is cognitive ability the same as your IQ?

According to SharpBrains, your intelligence and cognitive functions are related but not exactly the same. The key thing to remember here is that cognitive abilities are skills and mental processes that are generally required to carry out tasks on a daily basis, and are to do with the way you learn, pay attention, and remember, rather than any knowledge you've acquired. Your IQ (Intelligence Quotient) measures your ability to easily learn and understand concepts, resolve problems, and deal with new or difficult situations.

How to enhance your cognitive ability

While cognitive ability can decline with age, the great news is that decline can be delayed or slowed down. So how can you improve your cognitive ability? Let's delve into some of the ideas, then you can work out for yourself which ones are best for you.

Brain training

Training your brain has become so on-trend, with countless brain training exercises to complete online or in books. There's controversy about whether they do actually make a difference, with different studies citing different outcomes, according to MedicalNewsToday. However, they aren't going to do any harm and they're fun to do.

Physical fitness

This is the idea of having a healthy mind in a healthy body. Staying physically active not only keeps your heart fit and your muscles in great working order, it can also improve hormone function which enhances your memory and improves motor skills and coordination.  

Challenge yourself

Boost your reasoning and analysis skills by taking on experiences that are outside your comfort zone. Exposing yourself to new ideas can spark different ways of thinking, communicating, and problem solving. This, in turn, can lead to improving your memory and reasoning / processing skills while speeding up your ability to process information.

Sleep well

Getting quality sleep every night should never be underestimated, as it gives your brain the time to repair and regenerate by processing all of the information you've learned throughout the day.

Reduce stress

Try meditation or mindfulness to reduce stress. This will allow your brain the time and space to perform daily functions more efficiently and effectively. Be kind to yourself by carving out time each day or week to put away work, turn off devices, and truly relax.

Eat healthily

There is some evidence that enjoying a Mediterranean diet, stuffed full of simply cooked food of plant-based meals, olive oil and fish, with reduced meat consumption, can help towards lowering the risk of dementia.


Forming and retaining connections with other people is vital for keeping your brain active and feeling more engaged with the world around you. Volunteering or joining groups of similar minded people helps with cognitive function, with those partaking in productive and meaningful activities with others tending to live longer, with enhanced moods and a real sense of purpose.

Here are six ways in which you can improve your cognitive function over time:

  1. Learning a new language can boost mental agility

  2. Listening to or making music activates numerous areas of the brain, including those that process emotions, memory, and movement

  3. Playing games, such as cards and board games, makes use of memory and strategic skills

  4. Travelling to different parts of the world creates new experiences that build those all-important connections between the neurons in our brains

  5. Becoming a culture vulture, by burying yourself in new books, reading poetry, taking in museums, or checking out a foreign film, stimulates your brain - the more unusual and challenging, the better

  6. Completing puzzles challenges the brain, as they force you to solve problems, perceive patterns, and complete complex sequences

How to include cognitive ability traits in your CV

While you can't boast about excelling at brain teasers or answering all the geography questions at the local pub quiz on your CV, there are ways and means in which you can include cognitive ability and strengths in your job application.

Converting cognitive abilities into CV-friendly words, which can be weaved into your professional profile or skills section, works. Words and key phrases such as decisive, perceptive, effective communication, problem resolution, and relationship building will all work wonderfully, as long as you can back them up with hard evidence in an interview. If it's taking you a long time to find a job, tailoring your CV, by including cognitive skills that match the brief, can help enormously and should become second nature throughout the job searching process.

Being able to seamlessly insert cognitive ability traits into your CV takes time and effort. Let the professionals take the job off your hands and apply their knowledge and expertise to do just that. Check out our free CV review and see where it takes you.

Recommended reading:

Related Articles: