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Personality Testing in the Chinese Job Market

2022-10-27 1872 ATA Online

What’s your MBTI personality type?” you might be surprised by this question coming from a Chinese you just met for the first time. In recent years, Personality Testing has exploded in popularity in China and has become trending hashtags on social media. According to a report released by Global Times in April 2022, posts and topics related to personality testing have garnered over 1 billion views on China’s Sina Weibo (a social media app like Twitter) and acronyms such as ENFJ and ISTP for certain personality types also entered the vocabulary of young Chinese in their daily conversation.

In the Chinese workplace, the Occupational Personality Tests, which measure a candidate’s personality traits to project his/her role fitness and future performance, are also mushrooming for the last decade.

China market is getting mature for individual personality measurement to project job and cultural fitness

While the generic personality testing (e.g. MBTI, 16-Personality Factor, The Big Five, etc.) serves self-exploration or social functioning needs, orkplace personality assessments are being used for more formal measurement of individual respondents. In today’s China, completing such an occupational personality questionnaire is almost an indispensable part of the job application process, especially for hot positions in leading state-owned enterprises, national banking giants, or reputable firms among highly profitable industries (chemical & petroleum, tobacco, etc.)

At the same time, led by those well-known enterprises, small to medium-sized local companies are also reforming their recruiting schemes as followers. Instead of screening the candidates merely by their hard skills and educational backgrounds, more attention is now placed upon a candidate’s personality traits and potentials in workplace performance.

The wide option of such personality instrument in China’s talent market is evident. Last year alone, the total volume for occupational personality assessments delivered by ATA during the graduate recruitment exercises approached one million. In fact, since ATA evangelistic introduction of renowned workplace personality assessments to mainland China back in 2012, the range of publishers include Saville Consulting GroupSHLTalogy, etc., to fuel the market with tens of millions of tests being delivered.

Customized personality tests in the Chinese workplace: Why are generic tests not applicable?

Though it can save cost and effort to simply apply the generic/classic psychometric tests to talent selection, the direct borrowing of original questionnaires turned out to be ineffective or even invalid in the Chinese workplace context.

First of all, the high exposure rate of classic questionnaires like MBTI makes the test results less useful. A variety of websites provide personality tests for free (or with minor charge), the scoring rubrics of such tests has become public knowledge in certain communities. By taking multiple mock tests online and reverse engineer the rubrics, it is not hard to disguise their real personalities and to intentionally “match to” a desired job position.

Secondly, the global norms of generic assessments could hardly applicable to Chinese applicants or job types. Generic testing norms consist of the average scores of a varied population set in terms of ages, academic degrees, cultural backgrounds, etc., while the respondents of workplace personality tests are usually graduated adults at working-age. To cope with this, over the years, ATA has been working closely with stakeholders (test publishers, recruiters, etc.) to build up more targeted norms for China’s occupational personality tests, hoping to derive a new set of more applicable norms or even traits for this specified market.

Lastly, locally brewed personality instruments should adapt better to the Chinese market. Believing in “All things in moderation” as part of the ancient wisdom, most Chinese tend to stay neutral and avoid extremes when making choices, and this makes scaling questions (e.g., Likert Scale) useless as participants would always choose the middle part of the spectrum. To avoid such candidates response tendency, Chinese employers mostly prefer the ipsative versions of the tests, where candidates are forced to pick two statements from a quad and decide which one best describe them and which one is not.

Although a bit avant-garde in villages and suburbs, personality testing in talent recruitment is almost ubiquitous among well-known enterprises in Chinese cities and metropolitans. It seems that “short version quizzes”, “testing on mobile devices” and “interactive user experience (videos, animations)” are emerging trends, and the use of such non-cognitive instrument in talent recruitment market is bursting with potential.