What is Cognitive Ability?
Cognitive ability (also called general mental ability or general intelligence) refers to a person’s total mental capacity for cognitive operations such as abstract thinking, reasoning, learning, planning, and problem solving Opens in new window (Gardner, 1999).
Cognitive ability has long been viewed as an important predictor of individual’s career success. The major causal impact of mental ability on one’s career success has been found to be through the acquisition of job and career knowledge.
In other words, the reason that more intelligent people are more likely to achieve career success is that they acquire more job and career knowledge and acquire them in a more rapid manner.
In turn, this knowledge of how to perform the job and achieve career development causes individuals to be more likely to succeed in their careers (Schmidt & Hunter,1998).
Given the strong association between cognitive ability and job-and career-related knowledge, it is important to recognize that individuals with higher levels of cognitive ability may also have more career advancement opportunities and career options.
In other words, there is more variety in ways for individuals with higher levels of cognitive ability to achieve both subjective and objective career success.
Consequently, in terms of career development patterns, individuals with higher levels of cognitive ability may be more likely to purposefully change their career paths even when they are already in their mid or late career stages.
Different theories and models about cognitive ability emphasize different components and/or functions of intelligence. Naglieri and Das (1997) have presented a neuropsychological theory of intelligence that posits three major functional areas of intelligence:
- attention, and
- simultaneous or successive information processing.
There is no doubt that these three functional areas are closely tied to one’s job performance Opens in new window. The question is whether one of these functional areas may be more important than the others when individuals are in different stages.
Given the characteristics of different mid and late career stages, we argue that the planning function may become more and more important along one’s career development.
This is because when individuals move from the early mid career stage to late mid career stage, their job responsibilities are likely to evolve from tasks that require specific job knowledge Opens in new window, skills Opens in new window, and techniques to tasks that require more leadership Opens in new window and managerial functions Opens in new window, especially in white-collar jobs (Shultz & Wang, 2008).
Therefore, they are more likely to experience the need for strategic planning and coordination rather than intensive information processing Opens in new window and concentration of attention when their careers enter the later stages. This functional shift is also consistent with the reductions in cognitive ability that people experience when they grow older(Park, 2000).
Gardner (1999) also proposed a model of cognitive ability, which posits a number of intelligences, including the traditional linguistic, spatial, and mathematical dimensions in addition to interpersonal and intrapersonal dimensions, claiming that different dimensions have been important to people from different cultures at different individual development stages Opens in new window.
Gardner’s interpersonal and intrapersonal dimensions seem similar to some aspects of emotional intelligence Opens in new window, such as emotion appraisal and regulation of emotion (Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2000).
Given that emotional intelligence represents individual differences in ability and capacity to monitor and recognize one’s own and others’ emotions, and to use this information to regulate one’s emotions and actions, it is also conceivable that emotional intelligence may be particularly relevant to leadership and managerial positions where interpersonal concerns are important parts of the job.
In addition, as people continue to develop in their mid adulthood, their social networks typically expand rapidly, which require effective management (Super, 1990). Therefore, cognitive ability in interpersonal dimensions becomes essential in dealing with work and non-work related social relationships.
To the extent that a person’s non-work related social relationships are well maintained, it may allow the person to invest more energy to develop his/her career.
Therefore, we argue that when individuals move from the early mid career stage to later career stages, their emotional intelligence may become more relevant to their career success than in earlier career stages.