In 1961, Caliper’s founder and CEO Herb Greenberg was tasked by a large US insurance company to find out whether or not there was a reliable way to assess the sales potential of job applicants. The four-year study resulted in the Caliper Profile – a personality assessment used to test anyone from insurance salesmen to NBA draft choices. A Chinese version of the profile made its debut in 2005. Mark Lawrence, Caliper’s managing director for Greater China, talked to CHINA ECONOMIC REVIEW about how well psychometric tests work to predict job success and how Chinese test takers are responding.
Q: What is the Caliper Profile?
A: It’s an assessment that measures 18 different personality traits. With a combination of these traits, we can predict certain behaviors in someone’s daily life or in the working environment. We can then decide whether or not one’s personality is suited to a particular position. The profile today remains pretty true to the original, but of course it has morphed a little bit. Obviously we have to be very careful when we’re pulling together the questions because they have to be based on local norms. In an emerging market like China, there is such a hunger for people, [but] when you look at the resumés and backgrounds of potential job candidates, they’re all very strong. This reflects the IQ element, but the biggest element is the EQ (emotional intelligence quota), which you can’t see.
Q: A job interview is how a company traditionally assess an applicant’s EQ. How do psychometric tests fit in with this?
A: Someone could go into the interview and be very assertive, have good empathy and sell themselves during the interview process. Over the years, you can become quite good at interviews. But the assessment might show something very different. With the profile, there is also an interview guide that gives very targeted questions to be asked during the interview.
Q: How do companies use the profile during the hiring process?
A: Some companies use a variation of the profile for potential applicants first, to screen out those that are nowhere near matched. Others go through the interview process, resumés and reference checking and then send candidates to us for assessment. You need to use the profile as part of the hiring process and shouldn’t make a decision purely based on an assessment.
Q: Are certain sectors or levels within companies that the profile is better suited for?
A: We have different formats with different series of questions. We have some clients that use the profile for every hire, irrespective of position. We have other products under the Caliper Profile which are more specific to certain job functions, such as sales, customer service, IT, software engineering and financial services.
Q: How do job applicants generally respond to being tested?
A: [In China], very positively. We get calls from applicants directly wanting us to share the results. We’ve developed an individual development guide as a separate product, which goes into more detail about one’s strengths and weaknesses and will recommend what’s best for your career development. For companies, it’s a good guiding path for how to motivate employees and how to move them through their career.
Q: Do you find that some companies themselves have a hard time defining what they are looking for in job applicants?
A: You may have a US company that has a very well-defined job description in the US, but they come to China and they want people who are more flexible. But this doesn’t suit Chinese culture. [Chinese people] want to know: Where am I, what’s my path, to whom do I report, where am I going to be in 12 months. So job descriptions with some organizations can be quite difficult to pull together and companies purposely try to keep things a bit gray so they have flexibility [with their employees]. The savvier companies in China now are bringing HR and business line closer together to make sure the job descriptions are very detailed.
Q: For cases where your job recommendation don’t work out, what are the usual causes?
A: A lot of the time the client doesn’t implement the advice laid out in the profile, particularly on the developmental needs of the individual. In China, because it’s such a hot market, most head hunters and hiring managers overemphasize a job. They promise applicants development and training, but it doesn’t happen. They are not supported well enough, so people leave. Another reason is, though an individual is fit for a position, he may not be fit for the whole team, especially his supervisor. You may have a very strong western manager who is very assertive and skeptical, low-empathy team members, and there’s going to be a conflict.