Caliper Test: What Is It and Should You Use It to Hire?

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
November 5, 2021
min read

Work Sample Cheatsheet

What is a Caliper assessment test?

The Caliper test (also known as The Caliper Profile)  is a talent assessment designed to measure an individual's personality and cognitive skills in order to predict future job performance.

The test is usually used to screen candidates and is generally considered to be on of the most difficult personality tests you can use, which is why its usually reserved for senior roles of specialists.

When all candidates are highly skilled and experienced, personality and ‘fit’ is used to determine who gets hired.

Candidates are scored against the Caliper norm group - a sample of assessment takers who are meant to represent the wider population.

So, whilst this does contextualize scores, it also means that candidates scores are dependent on how other people performed.

Results are intended to give an overview of a candidate’s behavioural characteristics and cognitive abilities - such as strengths, weaknesses, motivators and stressors. 

Scores are grouped into three brackets:

  1. 60-99 – Natural fit
  2. 40-59 – Moderate alignment
  3. 1-39 – Weak alignment

What does a Caliper test look like?

The Caliper Assessment consists of 180 multiple-choice questions.

The test takes between 2-3 hours to complete, although there is no time limit.

Caliper personality test questions

Personality questions are used to test a candidates ‘fit’ for the role, team and organization they’ll be working in.

The ideal response will depend on the role and the culture of the hiring organization.

Caliper cognitive ability questions

The cognitive ability part of the Caliper assessment fall under two categories:

  • Abstract reasoning: these questions test candidates’ ability to understand and manipulate shapes by asking them to identify patterns in a series of shapes.
  • Numerical reasoning: these questions test math skills by asking candidates to identify patterns in numbers.

Caliper behavioural questions

The Caliper Profile also suggests using behavioural questions at the interview stage, to test candidates on their previous experience.

They usually take the form of ‘tell me a time when’ questions.

For an example: Please describe a situation that required you to manage and motivate a team member.

What does the Caliper Test get right?

The Caliper assessment is more predictive than using CVs

Predictive validity is a measure of accuracy used in science and psychology - it’s a means of quantifying how accurately an assessment can predict future behaviour.

When it comes to hiring, predictive validity means how accurately a test/assessment can identify people who will perform in the job.

If an assessment has high predictive validity, then this means candidates who score well will be likely to perform well if offered the job.

If we look at the results of the Schmidt–Hunter meta-analysis - a summarizes the findings of 100 years of research in personnel selection - we can see that education and experience are some of the least predictive assessments.

As you can see from the chart below, cognitive ability tests (whilst not the most predictive assessment available) are significantly better at predicting performance than a standard CV screening.

And is also less biased

Since a traditional CV screening revolves around scrutinizing someone’s background, this often leads to biased outcomes.

Our natural tendency to warm to those most like ourselves and resist the unfamiliar means that candidates from underrepresented groups are disproportionately overlooked.

How biases affect CV reviews

Looking to test ability over background is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

The more skill-based you make your hiring process, the fairer and more objective your hiring decisions will be.

What are the pitfalls of the Caliper Test?

Skills should come before personality 

The Caliper assessment is generally used under the guise that all candidates are fairly evenly skilled - and so you have to test for ‘fit’ instead.

But other than making assumptions based on experience, how do you know they’re all equally skilled without testing for these skills?

Whilst assessing someone’s personality may have some predictive power, it’s more biased and less relevant than simply testing for job-specific skills.

Looking at someone’s personality to decide whether or not to hire them is always going to be fairly subjective.

Who decides which personality traits are ideal for each role? And what if an outsider perspective is just what the role needs?

Given that a typical Caliper test and profile costs $265 per person, there are far more effective and cheaper means of shortlisting those who are most likely to perform well in the job (which we’ll get to shortly).

Caliper’s recommended interviews use backwards-looking questions

Asking questions about a time when someone demonstrated a certain skill or behaviour means that candidates who haven’t experienced a given situation before are at a disadvantage, regardless of how well they could handle it in the future.

It’s unclear whether they’re meant to just make up a time when something happened or come clean about their lack of experience.

Just because it hasn’t happened to them yet, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be equipped to deal with it.

Even for those who have encountered the scenario before, it’s still unclear whether or not they should tell the truth when the right answer is obvious.

Culture fit isn’t predictive of performance and is prone to bias

Company culture is subjective, and when framed as something that must be ‘fit into’ this often means that those who aren’t reflective of an organization's dominant demographic(s) are unfairly overlooked.

If you look at the study below, you can also see that culture fit doesn’t actually help identify the best people for the job.

A fairer, more predictive alternative to the Caliper assessment

Here at Applied, we use work samples to screen candidates.

Work samples are job-specific, hypothetical questions that take parts of the role and ask candidates to either perform them or explain how they would do so.

The idea is to simulate the tasks the job involves as closely as possible - without making any assumptions about candidates’ ability based on their background.

Not only are work samples the most predictive form of assessment according to the Schmidt-Hunter meta-analysis, but they also allow you to debias your screening process by anonymizing candidates.

Whilst someone’s experience may well make them the best person for the job, work samples allow you to test for the relevant skills, so you don’t have to resort to personality tests or culture fit.

How to create work sample questions:

  1. Take the role you’re hiring for and break it down into the essential skills a candidate would need to succeed.
  2. Think of a situation that would test one or two of these skills, should the candidate get the job.
  3. Ask candidates what they would do in that situation or simply get candidates to work through a mini case study e.g. drafting a sales email or prioritising tasks.
  4. Repeat to create 3-5 work samples.

Use a scoring rubric to data-proof your screening

Giving yourself criteria to score against will give you data to make decisions with - without the price that a cognitive assessment comes with.

For each work sample you create, use a  1-5 star scale - with a few bullet points noting what a good, mediocre and bad answer might include.

At the end of the process, you can then average out candidates scores to build a leaderboard.

Test for mission/values-alignment instead of culture fit

By looking for mission and value-alignment instead of culture fit, you’re able to find people who care about how your team works and the mission they’re working towards, without irrelevant noise influencing decision making.

  • Mission: Is this person bought into the purpose of our organization?
  • Values: Does this person share the beliefs that guide our decision making?

To test for these in the assessment process, you can simply add them to the list of skills you’re looking for.

Candidates' work sample answers can then be scored against how well they embody your values, as well as the particular skills required for the task.

Conclusion - is the Caliper assessment worth using?

If you’re using a Caliper Profile to make hiring decisions, chances are your process will be somewhat more predictive than a standard CV screening.

Testing candidates instead of using proxies like education and experience is always going to be fairer and more accurate.

However, work samples are a more predictive, unbiased and cost-effective means of finding candidates who will go on to perform well.

Whilst it does make the process easier, fairer and more automated, you don’t need a platform like Applied to use work samples - you can grab our Work Sample Cheatsheet here to get started.

Applied is the essential platform for debiased hiring. Purpose-built to make hiring empirical and ethical, our platform uses anonymized applications and skill-based assessments to identify talent that would otherwise have been overlooked.

Push back against conventional hiring wisdom with a smarter solution: book in a demo