Predicting career success. For many decision-makers in German executive suites, this dream could have been a reality long ago – at least when it comes to decisions around staffing or targeted HR development measures. Because there are ways and means, scientifically founded and valid, to predict the professional success of applicants and to assess them fairly and objectively in this context with the help of evidence-based research and evaluated studies. So why does the common German CEO, especially in small and medium-sized companies, resist established methods and scientific findings?

In the search for clues, one encounters a general rejection of testing procedures in most management levels, which have been common practice in other European countries and in the USA for decades. Reasons for this are difficult to grasp. Furthermore, decisions for and against applicants are based on gut feeling, subjective perception, incorrect evaluation bases, general sympathy or on demographic factors such as age, gender or origin.

The consequences are as well known as they are problematic: miscasting, especially of specialist and management positions, can quickly be responsible for a poor working atmosphere, dissatisfied employees, higher turnover, higher training costs, stagnating sales and regular backfilling. The costs of a re-staffing are many times higher than those of an aptitude diagnostic procedure, not to mention the time factor.

The lack of acceptance of scientific testing procedures such as an intelligence test, which has been proven to provide almost identical validity for predicting professional success as an assessment center that lasts several days and is several times more expensive, could be an important point and reason for the fact that only 6% of respondents in a study (EARSandEYES, 2010) consider the use of intelligence tests in the course of personnel selection processes to be useful. Just 2% of German companies use intelligence tests in personnel selection processes (Schuler, 2014). Just to clarify: Our direct neighbors, the BeNeLux states are clearly above this with almost 55%. Admittedly, studies, some of which are 10 years old or older, are not particularly representative, but they do illustrate the fundamentals of German decision-making practice to some extent and provide a starting point for a more in-depth, scientific discussion.

Pseudo-scientific test procedures, on the other hand, continue to enjoy great popularity: assessing the suitability of applicants, for example, on the basis of their use of language or their writing by means of supposedly intelligent algorithms, is then something like justifying one’s decision by reading the cards or making it dependent on whether the applicant’s ascendant was favorable at birth. The secret of these pseudo-scientific methods is not studies that have been conducted, a comprehensible evaluation, or solid quality criteria (objectivity / reliability / validity), but colorful concepts, smart app connections, and resourceful salespeople that naive decision-makers fall for again and again.

So one wonders what needs to happen to make real science sexy again. Maybe intelligence tests and the like need a new, colorful garb; maybe those who sell them aren’t sexy enough themselves. Germany is in any case a developing country in this context.

The benefits are obvious: the sensible use of test procedures such as an intelligence test, a personality test, a leadership or concentration test creates advantages which, if you think about it very carefully, should actually have been lived practice and a matter of course for a long time. Companies find employees who are up to the task, employees are neither under- nor overworked and can be deployed according to their strengths. Interference factors critical to success can be minimized or excluded. Sales can be increased and staffing costs reduced in the long term.

As in most cases, the dose determines the poison. A test score or related opinion about an applicant should never be used as the sole basis for a staffing decision. In addition, a comprehensive requirements profile should always be available for evaluation and relevant differentiability. A structured interview must also be an integral part of the staffing strategy, as must an objective review of the application documents (resume, references, etc.). Due to the fact that application documents do not follow a standardized form, this is admittedly difficult. The introduction of a biography questionnaire that all applicants complete could provide a quick and straightforward remedy.

The fact that the German corporate landscape now tests wildly in personnel selection processes or in the course of targeted personnel development measures is unfortunately just as unwise as the use of graphological assessments and the like. It is important that the use, but above all the interpretation and classification of test results, the preparation of expert opinions or the selection of suitable procedures, is left to those who know how to do it. At this point, selectively trained employees in the HR department can already provide long-term added value within the recruitment processes. The project-based consultation of specialized (business) psychologists also provides a fast and competent, but above all, resilient basis for decision-making.