Learn more about your cognitive ability and how it can be the key to career success

When most people think about skills that they rely on for career advancement, their minds tend to focus on the types of hard and soft skills that they associate with their duties. That usually includes things like technical abilities related to their role, or interpersonal skills like communication and teamwork. Few, however, stop to consider how overall cognitive ability might be impacting their career development. That's unfortunate, since those elementary thinking skills can often play a vital role in determining how far your career advances.

In this post, we'll explore the concept of cognitive ability and how you can improve those vital thinking skills. We'll also explore some of the most vital cognition-related skills that employers value and provide some tips that you can use to showcase your cognitive abilities in your resume.

What is cognitive ability?

Cognition is an umbrella term that describes all of the various mental processes that the brain uses to acquire, retain, and apply knowledge. Everything that your mind works to accomplish is done through the use of your cognitive ability. As a result, your cognitive capacity has a direct impact on your ability to learn new information, commit that knowledge to memory, and use it to solve problems and carry out day-to-day tasks. You use your cognitive abilities whenever you focus on a topic, make a decision, utilize your motor skills, or use language to communicate.

Scientists have long debated the extent to which cognitive ability is innate and whether people can improve those abilities past a certain age. However, recent studies have suggested that there are ways to boost cognitive performance, even after people reach adulthood. So, while cognitive ability may decline as part of the aging process, new advances in science are discovering ways to improve everything from focus and memory recall to learning and problem solving.

What are the main types of cognitive skills?

To better understand cognitive ability, it's helpful to consider the main types of cognitive skills. For our purposes, we'll separate them into five distinct categories:

Memory recall: short and long-term

Memory skills are some of the most important abilities that humans possess. Without them, there would be no learning and no advancement, as every experience and scrap of processed information would be forgotten. Memory includes both short-term and long-term recall. The former relates to your ability to retain recently acquired information, while the latter refers to your capacity for cataloging and retaining information over time.


Your ability to pay attention is an important part of cognition too. That focus enables you to learn, process information, and apply other knowledge to create plans or resolve problems. Like memory, there are different levels of focus that range from the ability to pay attention to only one task at a time to a capacity for dividing your attention between multiple tasks.

Information processing

One of the most vital cognitive abilities involves information processing. No matter how well you pay attention or commit information to memory, those facts would be useless without the ability to process that data. Fortunately, the mind is able to process outside information received through both sound and sight, using other cognitive abilities to interpret that data and make sense of it all. Strong processing abilities tend to allow people to quickly understand new data as they encounter it and use that new information to resolve problems or develop plans.

Executive level cognition

One category of cognition that deserves its own explanation relates to those cognitive skills that can help you to engage in higher-level planning and strategizing. For example:

  • Mental flexibility - an ability that can help with adapting to new situations and paradigms

  • Anticipation - the mental ability to recognize patterns and predict likely outcomes

  • Decision-making - the ability to make sound decisions to facilitate problem solving 

  • Emotional control - the ability to recognize your own emotional state and regulate it to achieve your ends

  • Prioritization - the ability to break large tasks into smaller goals and determine which ones need to be prioritized for maximum productivity

  • Inhibition - a necessary talent for exercising self-control over base impulses

Problem solving 

Problem solving abilities relate to your capacity for applying knowledge, logic, and reason to analyze situations and create solutions that overcome identified challenges. These skills rely on other cognitive abilities like memory and focus, as well as information processing and certain executive level cognitive functions. 

Can your cognitive ability be improved?

As noted above, recent science suggests that these cognitive skills can be boosted - and not just for those suffering from early onset dementia or similar cognitive declines. As the world learns more about cognition, the emphasis on maintaining brain fitness and strengthening these mental processes will likely continue to increase over time. That's great news for everyone! Still, what types of solutions are available to help you improve your own cognition? The following tips can help:

Get some exercise!

Scientists have discovered that regular physical exercise can be an important tool for long-term brain health. Daily walks, light resistance training, or just playing fetch with the dog can all improve blood flow, stimulate the muscles, and aid in the maintenance of critical motor skills.

Play games that are designed to stimulate the brain

Most experts agree that your brain needs regular exercise to remain in top shape, in much the same way that your body needs exercise. Try to incorporate brain games into your routine, or even regular card or board games. This type of mental exercise can help to strengthen memory, pattern recognition, and critical thinking skills.

Eat right and get the sleep you need

Healthy living translates into positive results for your body and brain. Try to incorporate more whole foods into your diet and make sure that you're getting the fluids you need for optimal health. In addition, avoid depriving yourself of the sleep you need to stay at the top of your game.

Avoid stress as much as possible

Make a real effort to reduce stress from your life. Stress-relieving techniques can include things like daily meditation, stretching, listening to relaxing music, or just taking up a new hobby. Stress taxes both the body and mind and can lead to a variety of ailments.

Expose yourself to new ideas

Finally, make sure that you never stop experiencing new things. Read new books. Explore new hobbies. Challenge yourself to learn a new skill. When you were a child, your mind was constantly challenged with new information and new ideas, and that challenge encouraged constant growth and development. Learning can and should be a lifelong journey. Fortunately, exposure to new ideas can have a positive impact on your cognition too!

What cognitive abilities are employers looking for?

Today's employers need employees with strong cognitive ability. The problem is that you're unlikely to see many job postings that explicitly use the words “cognitive skills” in their descriptions. Instead, they may include references to skills like:

  • Adaptability

  • Strong communication

  • Active listening

  • Problem solving

  • Conflict resolution

  • Strategic planning

  • Technical writing

  • Teamwork

  • Creative thinking

  • Data analysis

  • Decision-making

All of the skills listed above involve the use of vital cognitive abilities, even if the employer never mentions cognition in the job description. Because these abilities are in such high demand, it's important to ensure that you not only develop your cognitive abilities, but learn how to showcase them on your resume.

How to include cognitive ability in your resume

So, how can you effectively highlight your cognitive ability in your resume? One thing you should not do is to include any claims that boast about your cognition. As with everything else in your resume, it's better to show than tell. In this case, you'll want to focus attention on your most impressive cognitive skills by including mention of them in your skills section and then making direct reference to them in the bullet points of your work experience section.

For the skills section, simply select two or three of the skills listed above and add them to your bulleted skill list. As always, make sure that you match the skill to the specific language used in the company's job description.

You can then add one or two of those skills to your work experience section, by including them as bullet points. Make sure to include quantifiable results that highlight the value that those skills provided for your employer. A resume example of cognitive ability could read: 

  • Led a team using creative problem-solving to develop a data analysis system that expedited the customer onboarding process, reducing onboarding time by 22% and increasing client retention by 12%

Progress your career by using your cognitive ability

While you'll need many different skills to succeed throughout your career, few will be as vital as the ones related to your cognitive ability. As a result, it's important to understand skills related to cognition, learn how to develop them to their highest levels, and properly showcase them in your resume for potential employers.

Do you feel like you could use some feedback to see if you've effectively highlighted your key cognitive abilities on your resume? If so, be sure to get your free resume review today and let our experts help you to ensure that your resume has the compelling narrative you need to land your next job.

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