Princeton businesses use Herb Greenberg’s Caliper personality tests to hire the right employees.
By Michele Alperin
As founder and chief executive officer of Caliper, Herb Greenberg has a job that meshes perfectly with his own strengths and weaknesses, and he knows this for two reasons.
First, he has taken the Caliper Profile — his company’s proprietary personality assessment that identifies the potential, motivations and strengths of applicants and employees — 22 times, each time it has been revised. Second, he totally loves his job.
Greenberg, a Princeton resident who on June 12 received the Presidential Award from his alma mater, City College, has dedicated much of his life to connecting people to jobs that match their abilities and do not require personality characteristics where they are weak.
In its assessments of over 3.5 million people, in 18 languages and 12 countries, and the data it has gathered from 28,000 companies, Caliper has learned that only 20 to 25 percent of people love what they are doing.
“At least 70 percent of people currently working are not in jobs that best fit their personalities,” he said. “Some are completely misplaced; others are just not placed correctly — they are not awful at what they are doing, but they don’t love what they are doing and are only adequate.”
So why are they mismatched?
“Because of the way they were hired,” Greenberg said. “We hire them for all kinds of stupid reasons, like the grades they have gotten in a certain course.”
For Greenberg, it is important when hiring to look at people as they are — who they are inside — rather than what they have done, which can be accidental.
“It can be a big mistake that keeps getting compounded by people looking at what they have done as an indicator of what they should do,” he explains.
Greenberg, who lost his sight at age 10, learned early about the problematic ways that society assesses ability and the benefits of correctly doing so.
Having finished his doctorate in psychology with highest honors at New York University and accumulated a solid work history, Greenberg sent out about 600 letters applying for jobs. Of these, he received 85 responses he calls “virtual acceptances” — we love your background and want to talk to you; when can you come meet with us?
But when he called to set up appointments and noted that he was blind, the 85 narrowed down to 3, and he got no jobs. So, it didn’t matter that his blindness had nothing to do with his ability to teach.
“That’s where the world made it a disability,” he said.
Greenberg is not discounting the existence of disabilities — just putting them in context.
“My attitude is that everybody has a disability,” he said. “What ultimately matters in a work situation is the mix of disabilities and abilities. The key to success is the ability or the luck to do something that plays to your abilities and doesn’t require your disabilities.”
Interestingly, the Caliper tests revealed very different things about him and his son Mark, a Caliper vice president.
Herb’s profile rates him as strong on leadership, speaking and writing, intelligence and creativity, but he is poor at detail and, he adds, “my self-discipline leaves something to be desired.”
He also calls himself “an ignoramus around computers.” Although Greenberg is a successful executive, it is in a particular type of enterprise and position.
“If you were hiring me as a bank president or any kind of executive position that requires detail ability, coordinative skills and the ability to plan every move one makes, I would be a very bad hire,” he said.
His son has different strengths and a different role in the business.
“He’s as good operationally as I am bad,” Greenberg said. “He lets me do all the selling in the family, and I’m not a detail guy — he can do that. We do balance each other and genuinely like each other.”
Caliper advises companies on employee selection, employee development, team building and organizational development, using the Caliper Profile. At least two Princeton companies have successfully used the profile in their hiring.
Last August, Karin Siciliano, a resident of Ettl Farm in Princeton, started Performance Match Recruiting. Her business, which recruits salespeople, is based on an idea that her husband, Ed, and Greenberg came up with. Ed, chief sales officer at Marlin Leasing, had worked with Caliper and found that its process helped him strengthen his sales force and reduce turnover.
So Siciliano turned to other Princeton women at her stage in life, with kids elementary age — “women who have had really good jobs and then stopped for 10 years to have kids” — and hired six of them as recruiters.
Siciliano describes her company as being pretty much like any other headhunter, except that candidates are screened using the Caliper Profile personality assessment.
“Apparently people who like what they do are better at what they do,” she said, “and the test helps find out if you’re a natural and would really enjoy selling.”
Gund Investment, a Nassau Street-based firm that takes care of families’ financial affairs, including investments, taxes, accounting and real estate holdings, also uses Caliper’s services.
“We are a one-stop shop for families, and they want to be confident that the people we hiring will be here for awhile,” said Phil Miele, a controller at Gund. “One of the tools we use is Caliper to make sure we are hiring the right person. They have to fit into a very small office environment, and the employees themselves become like family.”
Greenberg’s parents were Polish immigrants who came to the United States in the early 1920s. His dad made orthopedic shoes and what is called the Murray Space Shoe.
“He designed it, but never got the credit,” said Greenberg. “All he got for it was a $110-a-week job.”
It was from his mother, a milliner, that he thinks he got his chutzpah. After being held up for three days at Ellis Island, she got annoyed and somehow got on a boat to Manhattan, stepped ashore and “walked away into the United States.”
After Greenberg lost his sight, he and his parents stood their ground and pressed for Greenberg to be a part of the sighted world — even though the overwhelming advice they got was that he should go to a school for the blind.
“I stayed out of school for a year (and the police even made a visit),” he said, “until they found ways to get me into schools without shoving me behind stone walls.”
Eventually he skipped grades, graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from City College in 1950 — he had gotten scholarships to a couple of Ivies, but couldn’t afford to pay for books — in psychology and sociology, and summa cum laude from his doctoral program in psychology at New York University.
His first job was as a placement consultant with the New York City Department of Welfare, and he sold life insurance, mutual funds, and wholesale furniture on the side.
Then he moved to Texas Tech University in Lubbock as associate professor of psychology, but he got sacked when people found out about the conclusion of his dissertation research on the effects of segregation on the personality — completed right as Brown versus the Board of Education came down in 1957: “Kids in integrated situations were more assertive, self-confident, and had better self-beliefs than kids exposed to segregated schools, even if the segregated schools had prestige,” he said.
Eventually he got a position at Rutgers, which expressed pride at being able to hire someone who was fired from Texas Tech for the reasons he was.
One day a Rutgers colleague stopped by to ask him how much he knew about psychological testing, because a large life insurance company wanted help locating a test that would help predict sales success more effectively. After poring over a couple of thousand tests, Greenberg and his colleague had to tell their client they could find no test that could predict sales success.
But they didn’t leave it at that. Realizing that a huge need existed, they spent the next four years creating their own test to predict sales success.
In 1961, with this tool in hand, Greenberg took a leap of faith, quitting his teaching job, then at Long Island University as well as his side jobs selling insurance and mutual funds. He borrowed $15,000, which he had no way to pay back, and he started Caliper on August 1 of that year.
For several months, they sold nothing, then when they were nearly broke, a General Motors executive said to them, “I don’t know if you’re the smartest liars I ever met, but maybe, if you’re such good liars as to create this, I’ll find out which division is hurting the most.”
It was Buick, and Greenberg had to borrow money to get to Detroit, but that break was the first step in developing Caliper into a large and successful company that advises companies on employee selection, employee development, team building, and organizational development.
Part of the Princeton community since 1971, Greenberg said he loves the town.
“In Princeton you can do anything — sit in a doctor’s office, wait in a voting line, go to a PTA meeting — go to any function and meet great people, people who want to think, want to talk and who are wonderful community participants.”
What makes Greenberg especially happy about the company he built is that it makes a difference in people’s lives.
“If one thing gives me great pride in what I’m doing and my company is doing, it’s that we are leaders in the fight to look at people in terms of what they are, not what they have done, and not what they are in terms of skin color, sex, or belief, but what they are as a human being and match that with what is needed in a job,” he said.