Can a personality test - one originally intended for married couples - solve the talent shortage that is currently vexing the PR industry?
Can a personality test - one originally intended for married
couples - solve the talent shortage that is currently vexing the PR
Let's not get carried away. That's not what the Council of Public
Relations Firms is claiming for the new personality-screening tool for
Rather, the new test - or 'profile,' as its creator, Empowerment
Concepts, calls it to avoid any suggestion that someone could pass or
fail - was designed at the Council's request to help firms assess the
likelihood that job candidates from other professions have what it takes
to make it in public relations.
Empowerment Concepts, a nine-year-old San Francisco firm that produces
similar tools for a wide range of industries, calls its product the
'Rembrandt Portrait.' 'What we're trying to do is identify the potential
of the person,' says Dr. Michael Santo, chairman and CEO of Empowerment.
'The profile is what we call a 'screen-in tool' not a 'screen-out
tool.'' That means it's designed to be given to candidates a firm might
be seriously considering, not something to hand to every applicant who
walks through an employment-office door.
Santo notes that his Rembrandt has had rave reviews in other fields.
Of the more than 500,000 people who have taken it since 1991, 93% who
showed the right traits for a given profession have succeeded when
hired, while only 48% of those who did not score well have met job
Santo created the profile for PR by testing 16 PR pros - identified as
high achievers by their firms - sent to him by the Council. Their
results showed that traits like being able to multitask and work
independently were possessed by successful PR people.
The test will be available to CPRF member firms for dollars 125 and
non-member firms for dollars 200 per candidate. The fee will go to
Empowerment, which will provide an analysis of results within an
Lynn Casey, chair-elect of the PRSA's Counselors Academy, which is
working to create an online orientation program for non-traditional
hires, thinks the new test is worth a try. 'Any proven process that
results in quicker identification of high-potential candidates will be a
good thing for this industry,' says Casey, also COO of Padilla Speer
Council president Jack Bergen thinks PR firms need such a tool to
overcome lingering doubts that people from other lines of work can't cut
it in PR. Agencies have 'seen somebody not make it in the past, and that
becomes the touchstone' when considering hiring from outside the
business, says Bergen, who served in the military before coming into PR.
'I think it's crazy for us to miss out on the talent out there coming
out of government and elsewhere.'
The test in action
Christine Boehlke, co-CEO of San Francisco-based Phase Two Strategies,
has been using Empowerment to test potential hires for several years and
is so happy with the results she recommended the firm to the
'We swear by it,' she says of personality profiling. 'We consider that
test to be, plus or minus, in the high 90s (percent)' in successfully
predicting whether candidates will do well at the firm.
PRWeek took the Rembrandt Portrait for a test drive, and found it easy
to use and challenging at times, but it's not too difficult to ascertain
which character traits the test is probing for. The test favors
impulsive, innovative decision-makers who can multitask and get
enjoyment from influencing other people. Introverts who take a
methodical, structured approach to their work will score poorly.
While they haven't had a chance to try Rembrandt, other pros agree the
business needs to draw from a wider pool of potential candidates. In
today's tight job market, agencies are looking wherever they can to find
Feinstein Kean Healthcare, a Boston-based Ogilvy subsidiary, routinely
looks to academia to hire new staffers to deal with its biotech and
pharmaceutical clients, says VP Gretchen Schweitzer.
Ogilvy is doing so much hiring from nontraditional fields that it began
a new training program this year dubbed PLATO - Partners Learning and
Training Ogilvy, says Angela Scalpello, director of training and
The program includes 12 workshops on such PR topics as effective
communications and PR business basics. Employees attend a new workshop
every two weeks for six months.
While not using a test to screen candidates, Scalpello says she
routinely asks candidates 'behavioral focus questions.' That might mean
asking someone for an example of when he has been persuasive in his job.
Ogilvy beefed up its staff from 441 to 699 last year, so it's always
looking for new sources of capable potential PR pros, Scalpello
Bob Kornecki, EVP/central region president at Edelman, has 340 PR people
in Chicago but wants to add 35 more. He has three full-time people
working on recruitment. Edelman has expanded its Midwest recruiting from
Chicago to places like Minneapolis and Des Moines. Bergen estimates most
firms have staffing deficits of 10%-15%.
Kornecki is part of a group of Chicago-based firms that have agreed to
work with the Council to target other industries for recruitment efforts
(PRWeek, May 29). The Chicago group decided to work together on
recruitment from other businesses to stop 'stealing from each other,'
Besides, he adds, 'there are only so many people willing to leave' one
firm for another. Indeed, Empowerment's Santo says people willing to
job-hop within an industry often aren't the best performers: 'You're
getting the marginal performer who's just looking for a sunnier place to
Al Wann, past chairman of the IABC and someone involved in filling PR
positions in his role as head of the Washington, DC office of the Cantor
Concern, says he's seeing more calls by PR firms for mid-level people
with a good sense of how business works.
Who needs a PR background?
'I don't think having a traditional PR background is necessary anymore,'
he contends. As for Rembrandt, he says 'any tool that comes online is
worth looking at,' but in the meantime, when he's trying to fill a PR
position, he looks for candidates who are creative, have a good sense
for business and can write well. One drawback of the Rembrandt Portrait
is that it does not test writing ability, although it does ask some
Frank Wylie, professor emeritus at Cal State Long Beach, spent 32 years
in PR with Chrysler and agrees emphatically with Wann's assessment: 'You
want people who think widely, who think outside the box.' He routinely
hired people from outside PR when he was at Chrysler and even broke some
gender barriers in his day, putting a woman in charge of PR for
Chrysler's New York office in the mid-1950s.
PR firms shouldn't get hung up on whether a candidate has been in the
business before, Wylie says. But he also thinks the industry needs to do
more to make PR attractive to people thinking about career changes.
'Unless the field looks attractive, there's not a great deal of reason
to go there,' Wylie says. No test, no matter how good, is going to
The Council seems to realize that. Kornecki and other Chicago firms are
already working on a project for the council to determine how to attract
candidates from such fields as healthcare and hi-tech. Their efforts
will form another part of the Council's efforts to broaden the potential
job pool for the business by giving it a road map for the PR business to
do some PR of its own.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU: SAMPLE TEST QUESTIONS
1. Choose the one you think is most TRUE or most LIKE YOU.
- Sometimes tense and anxious
- Will persist to the completion of every job I start
- Steady rather than dynamic person
- Likes large gatherings
2. Choose the one you think is most TRUE or most LIKE YOU.
- An extremely reliable individual
- Can get emotional
- Prefers small groups to large
- A group leader
3. Choose the one you think is most TRUE or most LIKE YOU.
- Am usually intense
- If someone gets ahead of me on a line, I will speak up
- Will not rearrange a plan for a small saving
- A 'set-price' policy is better than bargaining
4. If you are sure your opinions are right, it is OK to state them as
- I strongly disagree
- I agree somewhat
- I agree
- I strongly agree
SOURCE: Empowerment Concepts.