“Fit”: Aptitudes, Interests, and Fit With College Majors and Occupations

“Person-job fit” is a term from industrial-organizational psychology used to describe how well people fit into their occupational environments. Foundation Researcher Linda Houser-Marko suspected she could learn something useful by adding a person-job fit measure to clients’ follow-up surveys. In particular, she focused on the aspect of person-job fit that involves how a person’s abilities fit with the demands of their work in two studies addressing fit between people and their (a) college majors and (b) occupations.

The first of these, the results of which were presented in a poster at the International Society for Intelligence Research’s (ISIR) 2018 meeting, examined differences in aptitudes by self-reported college major as well as relationships between aptitudes and perceived fit with major. Data were gathered from follow-up surveys taken 5-10 years after testing at the Foundation, and an average of 5 years after respondents (N = 500, 56% female) had graduated from college. Respondents’ mean age at follow-up was 28 years (ranging from 19 to 49). Respondents retrospectively rated fit on a scale of not very much (1) to very much (5), and analyses focused on seven of the most popular college majors (groups ranged in size from computer science, n = 28, to business, n = 156; see accompanying figure). Selected standard battery tests were combined to form group factors of related aptitudes: Numerical (N), Structural Visualization (SV), Memory (M), and Speed of Reasoning (SR); these along with a Verbal score (EV) were further combined into general factor (g) scores. Two factors’ mean scores by gender differed significantly: SV (.50 vs. .08 for males and females, respectively) and Memory (.02 vs. .30 for males vs. females).

Mean levels of g and aptitude factors for each major are shown in the figure. ANOVA results indicated that majors differed in their average levels of g, SR, N, and SV. Probing for greater detail with post-hoc tests, Houser-Marko learned that computer science, engineering, and science majors were above the overall mean on g, N, SV, SR, and EV; art majors were higher on SR and EV; social science majors were better at EV; and communications majors were below the mean on g, N, and SV. M, the Memory factor, wasn’t above or below the mean for any of the majors.

Mean college major fit rating was high (3.78 out 5), which is obviously good. Because we’d expect that when a person thinks they fit better with their college major, their aptitude patterns would fit more closely with those in the figure, Houser-Marko correlated majors’ fit ratings with cognitive group factors. In several cases, expectations were borne out: engineering and computer science majors’ fit was positively correlated with SV; computer science majors also felt they fit better when they were better at SR and N. Houser-Marko found something she wasn’t expecting, as well; i.e. that arts and social science majors’ fit ratings were negatively correlated with the Memory factor! Stay tuned for updates on this finding; research is, as it fairly goes without saying, ongoing.

Next, Houser-Marko looked at the relationships between employed former examinees’ perceived occupational fit and their aptitudes (on five Foundation tests; see aptitude figure) and interests (see interest figure). In this study, which was presented in a poster at the 2018 Association for Psychological Science conference, Houser-Marko wanted to see what kinds of differences she could find among occupations. The sample (N = 635), as was the case for the ISIR study, was drawn from the follow-up survey group. Respondents were a bit older on average (34 years at follow-up) and their ages varied more (range = 14 to 60 years at testing). Occupational fields were self-reported in the follow-up survey, and the six most frequently occurring fields (ranging in size from arts/communication, n = 60, to business, n = 109; see figures) were selected for further study. Standardized aptitude and interest scores were adjusted for age, but Houser-Marko wanted to look at relative scores. To find those, she found each person’s mean on all aptitudes and their mean on all interests. Then she subtracted their scores on each specific aptitude or interest test from the corresponding mean.

The relative aptitude scores were compared for each of the occupational fields, with few surprises (see aptitude figure), although Foresight’s results continue to be among the more intriguing in the standard battery (Only educators have more of it—so is it creativity? Long-term planning ability? Skill in communicating effectively? Etc.). Mean ratings of person-job fit were, happily, relatively high, ranging from just slightly (3.1, finance) to well above (3.7, arts/communication and health sciences) the middle of the 5-point scale. As for college majors, Houser-Marko expected higher fit ratings would accompany higher levels of occupation-specific aptitudes, and tests revealed two marginal correlations: better-fitting people in arts and communication fields had higher English Vocabulary scores (r = .27) and fit in marketing and sales was better with higher Foresight (r = .20); stick a pin in this last one, Houser-Marko and colleagues will be pursuing it further in the future.

Results for relative interests by field also conformed to expected patterns (see interest figure). Exploratory correlations among interest scores and perceived fit turned up five more marginally significant gems, only two of which were “helpful” (marketers and educators fit their jobs better with more Enterprising interests; r = .32, .38). The other three told cautionary tales: woe be unto those with Realistic interests wishing to fit into health sciences fields (r = -.28); those with Artistic interests who choose to pursue a career in finance (r = -.29); and those in arts-and-communication whose interests lean Conventional (r = -.25). The stand-out here in terms of what the Research Department will likely look at next is that higher fit ratings in marketing and education indicate greater interest in Enterprising activities; here again, we see education is a fecund field for further study.