More Grads, But Cognitive Ability Declines

The good news: recruiters should see an increase in applicants with college degrees and high school diplomas; the bad news is that those applicants might not succeed on the job. A study conducted by Wonderlic, Inc. reveals a steady decline in the cognitive ability scores associated with specific education levels. The analysis compares a decade of occupational norms from a sample of over 200 employers, 2,000 jobs, and 100,000 applicants to comparable occupational datasets from previous normative studies.

“What we can take from this study is that employers can no longer presume that a candidate with a certain education level will necessarily have the cognitive ability to take on-the-job tasks,” says David Waldschmidt, director of Research and Development with Wonderlic. “Cognitive ability measures a person’s ability to be trained and to learn, along with their ability to solve problems. The more complex the job, the more the employee must learn on the job everyday and the greater the relationship between cognitive ability and job performance.”

Cognitive ability is measured through administration of a series of questions with varying complexity, often structured as analogies. Waldschmidt says that more students are graduating from high school and that more high school graduates are moving onto college. Given the increase in educated candidates, there’s a larger variance of aptitude among the graduates, so degrees and diplomas are no longer sure-fire indicators of cognitive ability.

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As a solution to the challenge, Waldschmidt suggests that recruiters analyze each job they are required to fill in order to understand the tasks and the characteristics that are necessary for success, along with the learning requirements for the position. Collection of that information will determine the need for cognitive ability, and when coupled with the required knowledge areas and personality traits, recruiters will be able to build a total applicant capability profile for each job they fill. Using exit information from terminating employees, closely monitoring turnover stats and re-surveying jobs are ways to uncover problem areas and ascertain if the skills of the applicant pool are generally fulfilling the job requirements.

“Recruiters may need to look to additional sources and a larger applicant pool to fill their needs and secure candidates that have the appropriate level of cognitive ability for the positions.” says Waldschmidt.

Leslie Stevens writes for human capital and business publications. She was a senior manager in the staffing industry for more than 20 years and understands how talent acquisition contributes to the bottom line. She likes it when readers share their opinions, innovative ideas, and experiences about overcoming obstacles while fighting the global talent war.

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2 Comments on “More Grads, But Cognitive Ability Declines

  1. The above article couldn’t be more true. This is why a number of organizations (whether targeting a local or niche group of students) have taken their recruitment initiatives to a national level. The only problem to overcome is the relocation insensitive or “want” for a student join an organization. This is something that one has to take into consideration when recruiting on a national level. This can be overcome by getting infront of students consistently throughout the academic year. Promoting the companies brand and opportunities through various media such as career fairs, seminars, on campus publications and websites. The goal should be to stay consist so that your organization will be recognized on campus.

  2. I agree that a college degree today doesn’t provide the same level of candidate as it did years ago. But, improving recruiting efforts to find better talent within our current college graduate pool will not solve the problem.

    The companies I’m working with these days are looking internally at their management teams, job structures, and on-boarding processes to ensure they work with, not against the realities of Gen Y’s perceived shortcomings.

    Moreover, they are being honest about their generational prejudices and learning how to build a company that is more than ‘Gen Y friendly’ (a short-sighted approach to the problem). Instead, they are creating environments that foster the success of multi-generational teams.

    Recruiters’ jobs are only going to get tougher if companies continue to expect them to find the ‘perfect’ candidate from a pool of talent that doesn’t meet their expectations already. Until the generations learn to understand and appreciate one another in the workplace, finding good help will continue to be tough.

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