China outsourcer expands IQ test to US workers

A Chinese IT outsourcing company that has started hiring new US computer science graduates to work in Shanghai requires prospective job candidates to demonstrate an IQ of 125 or above on a test it administers to sort out job applicants.

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A Chinese IT outsourcing company that has started hiring new US computer science graduates to work in Shanghai requires prospective job candidates to demonstrate an IQ of 125 or above on a test it administers to sort out job applicants.

In doing so, Bleum is following a hiring practice it applies to college recruits in China. But a new Chinese college graduate must score an IQ of 140 on the company's test.

An IQ test is the first screen for any US or Chinese applicant.

The lower IQ threshold for new US graduates reflects the fact that the pool of US talent available to the company is smaller than the pool of Chinese talent, Bleum said.

In China, Bleum receives thousands of applications weekly, said CEO Eric Rongley. Rongley is a US citizen who founded Bleum in 2001; his career prior to that included stints working in offshore development in India and later in China.

The company employs about 1,000 and hires about 1% or less of the people who apply for jobs there. "It is much harder to get into Bleum than it is to Harvard," Rongly said.

Shanghai-based Bleum has been recruiting new computer engineering graduates in the Atlanta, Chicago and Denver areas. If a student meets the minimum requirement on an IQ test, he then take a skills test, similar to the hiring process Bleum follows in China.

Bleum has already hired its first US recruits - a group of five people who left for Shanghai this month, said Rongley. They will work in China for year and then return to the US to work.

Many employers do measure intelligence to cull candidates from pools of applicants, but they typically call the exams aptitude tests, said Dennis Garlick, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of an upcoming book called Intelligence and the Brain .

An IQ of 140 is extremely high, representing about the top 1% of the population, said Garlick. But he said that even though some studies have shown a correlation between IQ and job performance, IQ is a "crude assessment tool" when it comes to sorting out job applicants.

IQ tests tend be inaccurate at the upper end of the scale as the questions become more complex and it becomes "debatable what is a correct answer," he said.

IQ is also an indirect measure of job performance; a high IQ doesn't necessarily mean a worker will achieve a certain level in job performance, "because an IQ test measures abstract reasoning in a general context, and on-the-job performance requires abstract reasoning in a specific context," said Garlick.

But for a person who does score high on an IQ test, "you can reasonably say that the person is likely to be able to understand typical abstract concepts as they are applied in business, understand instructions, follow them, and then generalize them in a new situation," said Garlick.

Mark Finocchario, national director for recruiting at the Eliassen Group, said that his IT staffing and recruiting firm in Wakefield, Mass., administers technical skill tests, but not IQ tests, for some clients. The importance of the skill tests varies depending on the client. Most clients view the skill tests as academic and rely mostly his firm's assessment of a candidate's experience. "Experience is huge," he said.

For its own employees, Eliassen uses what it calls an EQ test, which measures how an employee may operate in a stressful environment, as well as their sense of social responsibility to the team, said Finocchario. The EQ test "provides a measuring stick on how someone will adjust," he said.

Rongley believes that higher-IQ IT workers are more productive. "The point is not that they are typing faster, but they are finding a faster solution to the technical problem," said Rongley.

Moreover, unlike many of the larger IT offshore development companies, Bleum is focused on long-term engagements with its clients, not on one-time projects. Over time, it hopes to hire 100 to 500 U.S. workers to help support North American customers.

China's technology labor force is largely young; the massive government ramp-up in science and engineering education is a recent development, and the labor force doesn't yet have a broad pool of people with deep experience in technical disciplines. By seeking high-IQ employees, "we're compensating for the experience gap," said Rongley.

He also said said that the number of students seeking computer science degrees, which has dipped in the US, is on the rise in China.

"China has a much larger talent pool than India does, and it has much less demand for that talent," said Rongley, who added that the number of new computer science graduates each year is about 300,000.

India dominates the offshore outsourcing industry, helped by the fact that it has a large English-speaking population. The largest Indian IT vendors have in excess of 100,000 employees.

The impact of China's larger talent pool may be evident in an international coding contest conducted annually by TopCoder, a Glastonbury, Conn.-based software development service.

Last year, about 4,200 people took part in this coding competition, which includes events such as algorithm-writing contests. Of the 70 finalists, 20 were from China, 10 from Russia and two from the US. The top winner was Chinese. The contest is sponsored in part by the National Security Agency.

Bleum has a policy of requiring its employees to speak English, and many of its hires have already been through English-language programs widely taught in the schools. The company uses a system of levels for marking capability with English, with the highest level reserved for those who achieve accent neutralization, said Rongley.

"In China, for a long time now, anyone from eighth grade and above is being taught English," said Rongley. However, what those students don't have is an opportunity to practice, he noted, adding, "We create the environment for them to practice all the time."

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