May 13, 2019

The Jeopardy Champion and the Importance of Cognitive Abilities for Hiring

The Jeopardy Champion and the Importance of Cognitive Abilities for Hiring   

James Holzhauer’s cognitive abilities appear to be near the 100 th percentile out of all US citizens.  He’s crushing his opponents and Jeopardy rarely brings on someone who is anything but exceptionally smart.  

Does this mean he can be good at any job?  No, but the odds are very high that he can succeed cognitively at almost any job.  His personality is not ideal for all jobs. 

Why is understanding Cognitive Abilities so helpful and important with hiring? 

Understanding Crystallized and Fluid Intelligence will help answer part of this question.  In the big picture there are two components to job success from a cognitive perspective.  First, the ability to cognitively learn the job in a reasonable amount of time and second, being able to possess appropriate cognitive abilities to reason and solve problems that happen every day. 

"Fluid Intelligence involves being able to think and reason abstractly and solve problems.  This ability is considered independent of learning, experience and education."  

"Crystallized Intelligence involves knowledge that comes from prior learning and past experiences.  It is based upon facts and rooted in experiences.  As we age and accumulate new knowledge and understanding, crystallized intelligence becomes stronger." 1

For a 50 year old applicant, they should possess a high degree of crystallized intelligence.  For a 20 year old applicant, they will possess a lower amount of crystallized intelligence.  This is not much different than Emotional Intelligence scores.  For either candidate their fluid intelligence could be low, medium or high.  And that score does matter.  How much so depends on the position and what the company does.  When you are hiring inexperienced candidates for entry level positions, hiring candidates with appropriate levels of cognitive abilities is very important.  This can be more important with your hiring outcome than it is when you hire for many experienced positions.    If you have hired a candidate in the past who was unable to learn the job and trained very slow, in most cases, they were lacking appropriate cognitive abilities. 

When you hire for positions that require experienced candidates, their crystallized intelligence for the job and/or industry is very important.  Depending upon the complexity of the position determines what level of fluid intelligence is necessary for them to be successful.  How many times in the past have you hired a 10 year veteran who was unable to make it due to poor cognitive abilities?  It happens. 

If you’re hiring salespeople of any type from retail clothing stores to selling multi-million dollar deals, the complexity of the products and services that you offer, and the prospects or customers average intelligence, will determine what scores you should hire for on a cognitive assessment.  We know from previous studies on top performers in a variety of positions that some jobs require more brain power than other jobs.  Some companies in the exact same industry across the street from each other may require different results as well due to how they operate and management’s cognitive abilities. 

When an applicant says that they are a bad test taker.  In most cases, there is a reason for that in my opinion and experience.    Their cognitive abilities are lacking.  We hear this statement on occasion when speaking with clients.  In any case, their score still may be in the desired ranges for the job that they are applying for.  Companies are rarely seeking someone to score in the top 90 th percentile. 

The easiest way to improve hiring in many positions is to hire candidates with the right amount of cognitive abilities.  It’s a no brainer!

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1., Fluid Intelligence vs. Crystallized Intelligence,  Kendra Cherry  2019