Suitability diagnostics

Aptitude diagnostics is a critical task for every organisation in order to position the company for the future: Identifying people’s potential, determining the suitability and fit of employees and applicants for current and future challenges and planning their development in a targeted manner.

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  • Aptitude diagnostics is the branch of psychology that deals with the aptitude and fit of people in a professional context, i.e. tasks in companies.

  • The aim of aptitude diagnostics is usually a mixture of personnel selection (“is the person suitable for a certain position?”) and development (“how can the person be promoted to successfully fill a certain position?”).

  • There are numerous, often computer-aided methods of aptitude diagnostics, unfortunately more dubious ones than serious ones. It is difficult for companies and applicants alike to assess the quality of individual aptitude assessment procedures.

  • In future, the aim of aptitude diagnostics will be less to select personnel and more to consider aspects of fit. In times of an increasing shortage of skilled workers, companies will be less able to choose between several applicants and will instead have to consider how they can offer future employees a suitable working environment.

Definition: What is aptitude testing?

Aptitude diagnostics deals with the suitability and fit of employees in a professional context. In most cases, aptitude diagnostics are used to predicting professional success can be predicted.

Aptitude diagnostics is part of the psychological field of business psychology, also known as industrial, occupational and organizational psychology or industrial psychology.

Prediction of promising behavior by determining the interaction between person and situation Graphic

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Management Diagnostik

Our consultancy focuses exclusively on management diagnostics and can draw on benchmark data from over 30,000 executive assessments.

Making the right management staffing decisions. Recognize competencies and potentials of managers. Avoid bad investments due to miscasting.

Everyday diagnostics

Every person is to some extent aptitude diagnosticianbecause every professional (not just managers) assesses the professional suitability of other people – be it colleagues or new employees during recruitment (job interview).

Even if psychological laypersons sometimes have quite good abilities to assess the potential and suitability of an applicant with their gut feeling this is more a case of luck than the rule.

Psychological aptitude diagnostics

Psychologically sound aptitude diagnostics are characterized by the fact that they are based on (scientifically) well-founded instruments is used. In addition, psychological aptitude assessment follows a specific, defined process of data collection and assessment, so it is a Objectifiable, structured procedure.

Subjective aspects such as gut feeling are not completely ignored, but an attempt is made to objectify them.

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Areas of application of aptitude diagnostics

Identification of individuals who have the potential to excel in certain areas

This includes two different situations:

  • The aim is to identify the most suitable person for a particular task from among several candidates, i.e. to select the best applicant from several candidates. This is about personnel selection as part of the recruiting process.

  • You diagnose employees who have already proven themselves on the job and who have already demonstrated certain skills and competencies. The aim is to identify those who have potential for further tasks (so-called “potential diagnostics“)

Orientation in the search for professions that match your own skills

This variant of aptitude diagnostics is called career counseling. Here, people in a vocational orientation phase (e.g. school-leavers or unemployed) are helped to find a career that matches their inclinations, values and skills.

In management, too, there are sometimes situations in which managers want to complete a management assessment on their own initiative – in the sense of a personal assessment. Not necessarily to look for a new job, but sometimes simply to get an overview of their potential and to get a neutral, objective picture of themselves in order to look for suitable tasks within or outside the company on this basis.

Identifying individuals who need additional support or guidance to reach their full potential

This is about developing people – so the focus is not on evaluation or even selection, but on personal development. Here, too, it is not a question of selection for a specific position, but rather of what support a person needs to be able to fill a position competently.

How do HR managers benefit from aptitude diagnostics?

Aptitude diagnostics is a core competence of every HR professional. HR professionals are considered the experts in the company for the use of tests, assessment centers and interviews.

The HR department helps managers to determine the requirements for positions, provides the methods and measurement tools to carry out sound diagnostics and advises managers on the selection and development planning of employees.

The support of personnel decisions belongs to the area of suitability diagnostics and is a genuine HR competence.

What aptitude diagnostic procedures are there?

Requirements analysis

Every aptitude assessment process begins with an assessment of the requirements. Development-oriented processes, which are not only about selection but also about identifying potential, also start with the question “Potential for what?“. The definition of requirements is the foundation of every aptitude assessment procedure.

What skills, characteristics, values and aptitudes are being sought? What behavior is necessary to successfully complete a task? What is the nature of the team in which someone is to work in the future?

Intelligence tests

Cognitive performance tests are an important building block, as most people now know that intelligence is one of the most important characteristics for professional success. Unfortunately, intelligence tests are not used as frequently in Germany as in other countries because acceptance among managers, employees and stakeholders is not always high.

Personality tests

Ever since the “Big Five” personality model (see illustration) was published in the 1990s, we have known that personality traits are just as important for professional success as intelligence. Integrity tests in particular are a good predictor of career success in many areas.

Performance tests

This refers to all tests in which the candidates have to “perform”, i.e. demonstrate certain knowledge, skills or abilities. Intelligence tests also count as performance tests, but they are also used to measure specific aspects of performance such as spelling skills, knowledge, concentration, multitasking or manual skills.

A special achievement test is, for example, the driving license test (even if the scientific validity of this test has not been proven).

Special questionnaires

Grafik zum Eignungsdiagnostik Big-Five Persönlichkeitsprofil
Big Five personality profile

In addition to personality tests, there are also questionnaires on other topics such as interests, preferences, working methods, role in a team or leadership behavior.


The most frequently used aptitude assessment method is probably the interview. Even those who select applicants without professional aptitude diagnostics will not forego the recruitment interview. Interviews are a strange instrument because their quality as a diagnostic procedure depends heavily on the interviewer.

In order to make the interview more “objective”, the interview questions and the evaluation of the answers can be organized according to a predetermined grid – so-called “structured interviews or semi-structured interviews“. Sometimes, however, completely unstructured interviews are superior to structured interviews because they allow a better rapport to be established with the candidate.

Strukturiert oder unstrukturiert - Abbildung eines laufenden Interviews
Structured or unstructured - interviews

Assessment procedure

This includes all questionnaires that collect self-assessments or assessments of others in an open, direct form – e.g. self-assessment questionnaires, supervisor or colleague assessments or 360° feedback.

Simulative procedures

In simulative aptitude assessment procedures, the candidate is placed in a situation that resembles situations in their future job or simulates their requirements. Classic examples are group discussions or role plays, which are used particularly in assessment centers. Case studies, mailbox exercises and negotiation exercises are also part of the simulative procedures.

Assessment Center

Assessment Center is just a generic term for combining various of the instruments listed above. Candidates are observed and evaluated by aptitude diagnosticians and managers.

Suitability diagnostics

Discover, observe and evaluate candidate potential through aptitude diagnosticians & managers.

How can suitability characteristics be classified?

Cognitive abilities

From Meta-analytical studies it is known that general mental abilities are a very good predictor of career and educational success. But there is more to cognitive skills than intelligence. In real life, for example, it is not only important to be able to analyze relationships quickly, but also to find your way in complex, dynamic contexts – this is called the ability to think in a networked, complex way. But creativity, prioritization and decision-making are also cognitive skills.

Academic skills

While an academic degree used to be seen as a stepping stone and guarantee for a stellar professional career, attitudes towards academic titles have – fortunately – changed. Education, previous experience and formal qualifications are playing an increasingly minor role in an ever more dynamic world.

The principle that has become established in the start-up world often applies: “We are hiring for attitude, not for experience.” (Loosely translated: We hire applicants for their attitude, not for their experience).

Motor skills

Motor skills play an important role in some professions, not only in manual trades, but also in highly skilled and academic jobs (e.g. surgeons, pilots).

Hand-eye coordination is particularly important for these professions – this can be measured using appropriate tests (usually computer-aided).

Social skills

Dealing with other people is an important suitability criterion in personnel selection. The basic prerequisite for dealing competently with others is knowing and dealing with oneself.

In summary, recognizing, controlling and understanding the emotional world of oneself and other people is called emotional intelligence. Social skills also include communication skills (listening, questioning, making oneself understood) and the ability to deal with conflict.

Personality traits

In aptitude diagnostics, the development of certain personality traits allows similarly good predictions of professional success as cognitive abilities. In the Big Five personality model, extraversion, conscientiousness and emotional stability have emerged as particularly important personality traits.

However, even those of the Big Five personality dimensions that generally show little connection with professional success can be very relevant for some activities – such as the “agreeableness” dimension for service professions.

What are the ethical and scientific standards?

Ethische und wissenschaftliche Standards in der Eignungsdiagnostik

There are many people and procedures in the field of aptitude diagnostics that do not meet professional standards.

The quality of the procedures is often in inverse proportion to the claims made by test providers in their advertising.

It is difficult for non-experts to recognize which personnel selection instruments and personnel development meet scientific requirements.

An important ethical principle is to make personnel decisions (whether for selection or development) only on the basis of scientifically sound methods. However, there are still numerous less valid procedures in practice, such as DISG, Myers-Briggs (MBTI), Insight or Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI). Even if the DIN 33430 of the Diagnostics and Testing Board provides important indications of the reliability of procedures, it is no guarantee of this, because DIN 33430 is essentially a process standard is. For example, there are methods that are certified in accordance with DIN 33430, but which are still not considered to be scientifically sound.

DIN 33430 is like a technical certificate for a piece of MP3 music: the certificate checks whether the bit rate is correct, the recording is not overmodulated and the entire frequency range is well reproduced – but it does not check whether the artistic quality of the music in the MP3 file is good or bad.

From the Professional Association of Psychologists (BDP) has drawn up ethical standards for participants and candidates in aptitude assessment procedures – interestingly, DIN 33430 does not contain any statements on ethical standards. The BDP describes the following standards for aptitude diagnostic procedures:

  • The applicants/candidates/participants will be informed in advance about the objectives of the procedure.

  • It is communicated who receives the results.

  • It must be explained to the applicant what the assessed criteria are in an aptitude assessment procedure.

  • Only test procedures should be used that are appropriate to the purpose of the examination in terms of content and methodology; there must be a demonstrable connection between the tested characteristics and the requirements (of the activity).

  • Applicants have the right to view and have the results of aptitude assessment procedures explained to them.

Critical view

In scientific aptitude diagnostics, there are various criteria for assessing the quality of aptitude diagnostic procedures and processes:

  • Objectivity. This describes the extent to which a procedure is independent of the situation or the person of the assessor or psychologist. If procedures are carried out and evaluated online, it can be assumed that the procedure is highly objective.

  • Reliability. This describes how precisely an instrument measures certain characteristics or abilities. A common approach to checking this is to run the instrument again after some time. If the time between the measurements is not too long, the result should be the same both times. This can be compared to a scale – if you place the same object on it several times, it should always show the same result.

  • Validity. The reliability of a method only describes how accurately an instrument measures – but not what it measures. This is described as validity. There are various ways to assess these: you can compare the results with those of other instruments – a numerical reasoning test for pupils should show similar results to the grade in mathematics, for example. You can also test the extent to which an instrument predicts behavior or future performance.
    Some case studies are an example of how methods are reliable but do not always measure what they claim to measure (not valid). These are designed to measure how well someone can recognize and analyze economic relationships under time pressure. However, as some case studies simply contain a lot of irrelevant information, they measure reading speed rather than economic understanding.
    Another aspect of validity is social validity. This describes how well a procedure is accepted by users and candidates. For example, interviews have a high social validity, while some non-transparent procedures or exercises and time pressure have a lower one.

  • Ultimately, usefulness is the most important criterion. How easy is the procedure to carry out? What is the ratio of effort and cost to benefit? Does it help the company to make better decisions?

How do you recognize effective diagnostics?

As described above, it is difficult for laypersons to assess the quality of aptitude testing procedures. If in doubt, you should seek the advice of a psychologist, preferably from the academic field. The already mentioned test board is also a good point of contact for advice and information.

Sound aptitude diagnostics should be carried out by psychological experts who specialize in this field. Many consulting companies offer aptitude diagnostics alongside other services (such as training, organizational development or personnel consulting/search) – which can certainly lead to conflicts of interest.

Read more about this topic here.

Even if DIN 33430 is difficult to digest for non-psychologists, the checklists at the end of this book offer good help for HR managers to confront the providers of test procedures with the criteria mentioned there.

How do I prepare for aptitude assessment procedures?

In general, a good way to prepare for an aptitude assessment procedure as a candidate is to think about yourself, your abilities, strengths and weaknesses. To do this, you can get feedback from people close to you (“What do you like about me? And what do I sometimes annoy you with?”) or carry out a self-assessment test – such as the questionnaire to diagnose your personal management profile.

Suitability diagnostics

Preparation for the aptitude assessment procedure as a holistic process.

Tests of cognitive abilities

Even if you cannot improve your mental performance in the long term, you can optimize your performance in cognitive performance tests: first of all, you should (if you have the choice) take the test while you are rested and early in the morning.

It also helps to practise on similar tests, performance definitely improves with practice because it helps to understand the principle of these tests. Practicing also reduces anxiety before the test.

Tests of motor skills

Performance in motor tests is highly dependent on practice. Therefore, if you know that such a test will be used, you should prepare yourself intensively. Word has already spread in many areas that practice improves performance, so almost only applicants who have practiced for months in the flight simulator on their home computer come to the airline selection tests for prospective pilots.

Personality tests

You cannot and should not prepare for personality tests. On the contrary – the spontaneous and honest answer is usually the best. Any attempt to present a desired ideal image in the test usually leads to poorer results.

Performance tests

The same applies to performance tests as to motor tests: performance can usually be improved by practicing.

The future of aptitude testing

In the future, aptitude diagnostics will have to adapt to the changing needs of applicants and the demographic situation: instead of “aptitude“, it will be more about “fit”, as companies often do not have a large selection of applicants. In many areas, applicants do not have to look for a potential employer, but companies and recruiters apply to future employees.

Even if the environment of aptitude diagnostics changes significantly, the cornerstones will remain the same: Cognition, motivation, personality and social skills will continue to determine the suitability and fit of people in the future.