Scientific aptitude diagnostics in personnel selection

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Aptitude diagnostics, also personnel diagnostics, is a collective term for psychological selection procedures that are used to test a fit between applicants and requirements at the workplace (Schuler & Hoff 2007).

The term aptitude diagnostics does not refer to a single test, but to various psychological selection procedures and approaches for measuring job-related competencies, characteristics, and behavioral tendencies.

The procedures have a common goal: Predicting if an applicant will be successful in a particular position. Consequently, aptitude diagnostics is closely related to the concept of potential analysis, whose aim is to make statements about the development opportunities of individuals.

Definition: Aptitude diagnostics

Aptitude diagnostics is the use of psychological selection procedures to assess a person’s competencies, skills, behavior and values in a professional context.

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Where, when and why are aptitude diagnostics procedures used?

Possible fields of application for aptitude diagnostics, including psychometric methods, are career counseling, personnel selection and personnel development. While career counseling and personnel selection are primarily concerned with determining the fit between the competencies of applicants and the requirements of a job, personnel development is primarily concerned with determining possible discrepancies between the current competencies of employees and the existing or future requirements in a job and identifying training and development needs. Similar to how a medical diagnosis forms the basis for subsequent therapy, psychological aptitude diagnostics thus provides the basis for career decisions, personnel decisions and personnel development measures.

Properly used, aptitude diagnostics is an important tool for personnel selection in order to make successful personnel decisions, define the development potential of employees and avoid wrong miscast.

What aptitude diagnostics procedures are available?

Without explicitly calling it aptitude diagnostics, you probably already use corresponding procedures. The assessment of application documents can also be an aptitude diagnostics procedure, as long as it follows certain predefined rules. DIN 33430, which specifies the requirements for scientifically based aptitude diagnostics, distinguishes between a total of five aptitude diagnostics procedures:

  1. Document analysis (e.g. checking CVs, certificates and references)
  2. Direct interviews (e.g. telephone and face-to-face interviews)
  3. Behavioral observation and assessment (e.g. role plays, work samples)
  4. Questionnaires based on measurement theory: (e.g. personality tests, integrity tests)
  5. Performance tests based on measurement theory: (e.g., intelligence tests, concentration tests).

Measurement theory based means that the tests and questionnaires have been constructed on the basis of a scientifically sound theory, usually from the field of academic psychology. The measurement-theoretical foundation of tests and questionnaires includes not only the scientific-theoretical foundation, but also the professional use of mathematical and statistical models and evaluation methods.

How do professional aptitude diagnostics work?

At the beginning of every scientifically based aptitude diagnostics, there is always the definition of the term “aptitude”. The central question is: Aptitude for what? This is because there is no overarching test for recording a general aptitude for a wide variety of activities. Instead, a requirement analysis must define concretely and as specifically as possible which competencies and characteristics applicants must have in order to be successful in a particular position. Such competencies, which are crucial for professional success, such as the ability to solve complex problems, empathy or adaptability, are described in a job profile defined. The job profile forms the basis for scientifically sound and successful aptitude diagnostics.

What should aptitude diagnostics measure? And what not?

Good aptitude diagnostics are characterized by measuring all requirements specified in the job profile objectively, reliably, and without measurement error (i.e., reliably), whereby the cognitive, personality-based, and behavioral-based characteristics specified in the job profile are directly related to professional success in the job (i.e., are valid). This definition also indicates what aptitude diagnostics should not or must not measure: Namely, all those criteria that are not directly related to professional success in the job. Examples are the political or sexual orientation of applicants. In addition, the procedures used should be fair, i.e., not systematically discriminate against any groups (e.g., on the basis of gender or nationality), and be characterized by a high degree of transparency. High transparency in this context means that applicants always know exactly for what reason which information about them is being collected, for what purpose and how long it is being stored, and what feedback they themselves can expect based on the test results. This is also referred to as social validity.

How can you recognize good aptitude diagnostics?

Qualitative and scientifically sound aptitude diagnostics are characterized by the use of psychometric procedures that meet the previously defined requirements, i.e. measure job-related competencies objectively, reliably, validly and fairly. If this is the case, no other personnel selection criteria (e.g. references, assessment center) allows an equally reliable prediction of the professional suitability of applicants. However, caution is advised. Only scientifically based aptitude diagnostics tests lead to meaningful and reliable results, and not all existing procedures on the market meet this requirement. Therefore, procedures should always be tested for objectivity, reliability, validity and fairness before they find their way into your personnel selection. While objectivity, reliability, validity and fairness are among the central quality criteria of classical test theory, the secondary quality criteria of economy and acceptability are also becoming increasingly important and should not be neglected when selecting suitable procedures and providers. This is because, ideally, the psychometric methods used are not only scientifically based and reliably predict the professional success of applicants, but are also cost-effective, can be used with little effort on the part of applicants and companies, and are accepted and popular among applicants.

To make it easier for you to find your way around the market, we have compiled a checklist of how you can recognize good aptitude diagnostics and what you should look out for when choosing a provider.


  • DIN Deutsches Institut für Normung e.V. (2016). Requirements for processes and their
  • Use in job-related suitability assessments – DIN 33430. Berlin: Beuth.
  • Diagnostics and Testing Board (Ed.). (2018c). Competently designing personnel selection. Basics and practice of aptitude diagnostics according to DIN 33430. Berlin: Springer.
  • Kanning, U. P. (2019). Standards of personnel diagnostics. Designing personnel selection professionally (2nd, revised and expanded edition). Göttingen: Hogrefe.
  • Schuler, H. & Hoft, S. (2007). Diagnosis of professional aptitude and performance. In H. Schuler (Hrsg.), Lehrbuch Organisationspsychologie (S. 289–343). Bern: Huber.
  • Schuler, H. & Kanning, U. P. (2014). Lehrbuch der Personalpsychologie (3. Auflage). Göttingen: Hogrefe.

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