Does Cognitive Ability Predict Performance For All Levels of Job Experience?

There is a large body of research in I-O psychology supporting the finding that cognitive ability is a reliable and consistent predictor of job performance. Because of this, many organizations utilize tests of cognitive ability in selection systems. However, new research (Hambrick et al., 2023) addresses whether this well-established relationship holds for different levels of job experience. That is, is cognitive ability still a good predictor of job performance even when people have increasingly higher levels of job experience?


The present study used data from the 1980s which studied over 10,000 U.S. military personnel working in 31 different specialties. The researchers’ goal was to examine the relationship between cognitive ability (measured by a test consisting of mathematical and written knowledge), job experience (measured by time in military service), and job performance, which was measured objectively as specific tasks that participants performed correctly. The researchers used a combination of advanced statistical tools to analyze the results.

Overall, they found that cognitive ability remains a good predictor of job performance across all levels of job experience. That is, even with a larger amount of job experience (e.g., serving in the military for many months), cognitive ability was still important for successful performance. Interestingly though, jobs that required more manual labor did have a weaker relationship between cognitive ability and performance. The researchers suggest this may indicate that cognitive demands are lower in these roles, and other factors like physical ability are more important for performing those duties.


Organizations should still feel confident that cognitive ability is a good predictor of job performance, even as job experience increases. However, practitioners should still be cautious about the type of tasks and the type of jobs that cognitive tests are used for. This is because jobs that require lower cognitive demands may have weaker relationships between cognitive ability and performance. As always, selection systems should be designed based on a job analysis that takes into consideration the skills and abilities needed to perform successfully in that specific role.


Hambrick, D. Z., Burgoyne, A. P., & Oswald, F. L. (2024). The validity of general cognitive ability predicting job-specific performance is stable across different levels of job experience. Journal of Applied Psychology, 109(3), 437–455.

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