A Smart Girl Like You in a Job Like This? Matching Cognitive Ability

About the same time Abraham Maslow was introducing his hierarchy of needs,

The key to happy employees and effective workplaces: The right brain in the right place.

The key to happy employees and effective workplaces: The right brain in the right place. Photo credit: Allan Ajifo (Creative Commons)

educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom created another graduated triangle known as Bloom’s taxonomy. Bloom’s taxonomy looked at higher and higher levels of intellectual functioning, starting with rote memorization and working up through the ability to analyze information, synthesize information, and finally the ability to take divergent experiences and bits of knowledge and create something new. It’s that last bit, the innovators, who everybody is scrambling to hire right now. But the question is, what level of cognitive ability do you actually need for the job you have open? And how do you figure out where various candidates are on Bloom’s triangle?

I knew, for example, a company that was vetting candidates to work in a warehouse where they were responsible for reading an order form, then fulfilling it by going to various areas where goods were stored, pulling the number of items from the shelf that were listed on the form, and packing them all together in a box. The employer had candidates doing mathematical equations because math was involved. But doing mathematical equations is a completely different skill set from identifying items on a shelf, counting them and packing them so as to fulfill an order from a customer. A more accurate method to test the candidate would be to create a mock mini-warehouse, say setting aside a small corner of the space and having candidates perform a short fifteen minute or so task just like the job. This way the candidate knows what he will be doing eight hours a day and the hiring manager can assess whether the candidate can actually perform the job correctly.

On the other hand, if you need someone who can create fresh marketing campaigns for your organization, or new kinds of fundraisers or iterate product development so as to keep pace with changing consumer appetites, you need an innovator. Often, people with a lot of experience in the arena where you’re working are ideal because they’ve spent enough time in the job in various organizations, that they’ve experimented. They know some tricks of the trade and what’s been done already and what to look for when it comes to creating something new that will get customers talking. Frequently, the experience gives employees the tools to help them turn questions over in their mind and look at them from multiple angles, whereas someone fresh out of an MBA program might not know the market or the recent trends well enough to know what breaks the mold.

But experience doesn’t always have to be predictable. Someone might have experience in several different areas that provide a diverse set of perspectives. If that person is creative, is able to analyze and synthesize information, as well as curious and diligent enough to put some real intellectual muscle behind it, the candidate who has worked in several different capacities might bring the most innovative approach to problem solving. They can often cross-pollinate between industries or positions and devise solutions that someone stuck in a particular groove might not have ever stumbled upon.

The fact is, not every job you have is going to require an innovator. If you have a creative person doing data entry, you’re probably going to have a lot of turnover. And some people, no matter how much experience they have, are never going to get to a really creative level of cognitive functioning. So really understanding what kind of thinker you need to do the best job, and what kind of thinker will be happiest in that job, is crucial to matching candidates to positions. And if you’re not sure what kind of cognitive skill set you need or how to find someone who has it, contact us. We can help.

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.

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