Cognitive vs Behavioral Assessments - What's the Difference? |

Everyone brings different abilities and traits to the workplace. To make the most of everyone’s potential and value all team members, we can utilize a growing range of assessment tools to help us understand everyone’s capabilities. Some of these assessments look at cognitive abilities and some assess behavior, providing insights into individuals that are crucial at the point of recruitment and for employee development.

So, what’s the difference between cognitive vs behavioral assessments, and when and why should we choose one over the other? Let’s start by breaking down what each of these assessments does.

Unpacking cognitive assessments 

Cognitive assessments review a person’s cognitive abilities. Cognitive abilities are those core mental skills a person relies on to perform both basic and complex tasks, including problem-solving, memory, reasoning, attention span, and comprehension. To measure a person’s aptitude in these areas, cognitive assessments test a person’s verbal, non-verbal, and numerical skills within a set time. The split of these testing areas may be different depending on the job role, as specific cognitive abilities may be more desirable than others.

In the workplace, cognitive assessments can be used to predict job performance. This is vital when looking to make a hire or set an employee on a development pathway, and is especially useful for understanding if someone is a good fit for a role that demands critical thinking, complex problem-solving, or decision-making under pressure.

Cognitive assessments can be used to identify candidates’ intellectual capabilities, supporting Hiring Managers in putting people in roles where they can thrive and contribute towards an organization’s success. They can also be used to craft personalized development programs - when we understand someone’s cognitive strengths or are aware of their weaknesses, we can see where it makes sense for them to progress and set out the steps to get there.

Exploring behavioral assessments 

Behavioral assessments, on the other hand, aim to uncover an individual’s personality traits and behaviors and how these influence their interactions in the workplace. This can include assessing their communication style, leadership style, ability to work in a team, and approach to conflict.

We can use a behavioral assessment in the workplace to identify cultural fit (particularly in the recruitment process), potential for leadership, and communication preferences. Employees can use this information to improve their approaches or acknowledge the different needs and strengths of their team members. Hiring Managers and team leaders can refer to behavioral assessments to aid hiring decisions, improve team dynamics, and better support individual team members.

At the point of recruitment, behavioral assessments highlight whether a candidate has values that align with the company’s own and how well they might fit into a particular team. Behavioral assessments can be used to support ongoing employee development, showing where targeted coaching could be of benefit to someone’s potential to progress within the organization. They can also be used to formulate team-building strategies.

Cognitive vs behavioral: Understanding the differences

Cognitive assessments measure mental capabilities, and behavioral evaluations reveal more about a person’s core traits and preferences. So, when it comes down to cognitive vs behavioral, it’s useful to remember this: cognitive assessments show us what a person can do, and behavioral evaluations show us how they will go about it.

These two assessments complement each other well. When used in tandem, they offer a holistic view of a person - put the two approaches together and we can understand both their abilities and their potential to fit in with our organization.

That doesn’t mean we’ll always want to use both types of assessment. Cognitive assessments may be more useful earlier on in the hiring process to rule out those who don’t have the right skills for the role. Behavioral assessments can come later, or not at all, to work alongside the hiring team’s evaluations of a candidate. When making a choice of cognitive vs behavioral, it’s important to keep organizational goals and specific role requirements in mind. For example, we might not consider a cognitive assessment useful for a creative role like a designer as it won’t show us their creativity, but a behavioral assessment will show us how they’ll fit into the design team.

Best practices for implementing assessments 

One of the easiest ways to integrate cognitive and behavioral assessments into HR processes is to set up access to an easy-to-use platform on which to perform the assessments. Thomas offers support for both cognitive and behavioral assessments.
Once your results are in, they must be interpreted accurately as any decisions made based upon these insights have a bearing on team dynamics and individual career paths. Thomas can support with professional interpretation of these assessments, displaying them in an easy-to-understand format that allows for informed decision-making.

These assessments should always be used fairly and objectively. Used well, both cognitive and behavioral assessments can promote diversity across an organization, as individuals are hired and advanced for their abilities and traits and not their background.

Leveraging Thomas’ expertise

Thomas offers both cognitive assessments and behavioral assessments. Our tests and platform have been developed using people science to help organizations make informed decisions about talent management. We are experts in using the information gathered through behavioral and cognitive assessments to create bespoke training programs. We can also teach your HR team to understand the results of evaluations for maximum long-term benefit. All of our assessments can be customized to meet your organization’s needs and objectives, ensuring outcomes that are relevant to your workplace.

The future of assessments in the workplace 

Understanding cognitive vs behavioral assessments and when to apply them is only the beginning of the future of people science in the workplace. It’s important to stay abreast of the latest developments in HR technologies and assessment tools and to keep adapting to changing workforce dynamics.

Learn even more about science-based solutions for your workplace by exploring Thomas’ comprehensive suite of tools, assessments, and resources. Remember to take a holistic approach to leveraging these tools. It’s not always cognitive vs behavioral, there is often an advantage to be gained in using both in collaboration for recruitment and employee development.

Utilize cognitive and behavioral assessments to truly unlock the potential of your employees and foster a culture of growth and success in your workplace. Speak to one of our experts today to get started.