to Work: An Opportunity
of Previous Efforts
Many anti-poverty programs have failed because of the misguided notion
that simply providing jobs and training will somehow break the poverty
cycle. What they are neglecting, however, is determining whether individuals
have what it really takes to succeed - whether they possess the essential
motivations, potential and personality strengths needed to perform well
in a particular position.
In our assessments of nearly two million individuals for over 25,000
companies worldwide, we have found that regardless of experience or background,
people who are matched to jobs, based on their inherent personality attributes
and motivations, and are then given the appropriate training to do that
job, will succeed.
This "job-matching" process, in our view, is the key to breaking
the vicious welfare cycle.
When assessing the potential of individuals who are trying to make the
transition from welfare to the workplace, one of the first hiring myths
that has to be debunked is the reliance on experience.
As human resources professionals, we are all aware that, traditionally,
experience has been one of the key criterion used to measure job candidates.
Resumes are initially scanned for those ideal candidates who have the
most directly-related experience. If it is a sales job, for instance,
the traditional approach is to seek applicants who have sales experience,
preferably in selling the same product or service.
Since most people trying to make the transition from welfare to the workplace
lack extensive experience, they have traditionally found themselves trapped
in a revolving door.
But consider for a moment: we have found that 55% of the current sales
professionals have absolutely no ability to sell. Another 25% have sales
ability but are selling the wrong product or service. The remaining 20%
are doing precisely the right jobs for themselves and their companies,
and, invariably, are the ones who make 80% of all sales. And our studies
indicate similar trends in management, customer service and myriad other
positions. For too many people, twelve years of experience is just one
bad year repeated a dozen times.
So, why rely so heavily on experience in the hiring process? Aren't we,
in fact, simply encouraging the re-circulation of mediocrity?
Rather than relying upon what someone has done or on the superficial
impressions that can come across in an initial interview, success can
be better predicted by assessing the potential of individuals, then further
delving into their capabilities in a follow-up, in-depth interview.
To succeed in sales, for example, an individual needs to start out by
having three essential qualities: empathy, ego-drive and ego-strength.
As a starting point, salespeople need empathy to accurately sense the
reactions of prospects and clients. Then they need what we call ego-drive,
or the motivation to persuade people, to bring others around to one's
point of view. And finally they need ego-strength, or the ability to
bounce back from rejection. When people possess these three qualities,
regardless of their experience, we have found that they will enjoy sales,
be motivated to sell, and, in fact, perform very well.
enough, we have found that twenty-five percent of the
general population, regardless of what they have done
in the past, have excellent sales potential. They possess
the same inherent qualities shared by the very best
sales professionals. This has enormous implications
when considering people who are trying to enter the
Similarly, to succeed in management, individuals need certain fundamental
personality characteristics. They have to start out with the ability
to focus and motivate others. Then, depending upon the position, they
must be able to see the big picture, be willing to take calculated risks,
and to make decisions. They must also be assertive, be able to delegate,
be considerate and fair, communicate well and command respect. Of course,
other qualities may be required depending upon the particular position.
But individuals need to possess these qualities as a starting point in
order to manage effectively.
And, the most successful customer service representatives, for example,
are driven to please others. Just as a salesperson is driven to hear
others say, "yes," a customer service representative needs
to hear someone say, "thank you." The best customer service
representatives are also conscientious, secure, flexible, outgoing, and
adept at solving problems.
In essence, we've discovered that people succeed because of who they
are - not because of what they have done. Finding successful job candidates
means looking at people in a whole new light. Potential is more important
than experience. And testing for potential has enormous implications
for people who are trying to make the transition from welfare to the
Back in 1965, we were provided with the opportunity to put this assessment
approach to the acid test. Caliper was given a grant of $198,000 by the
then existing Office of Economic Opportunity to place "chronically
unemployed individuals" in San Juan, Puerto Rico in professional-level
sales jobs. Obviously, none of these individuals, who by law could not
be earning more than $1,800 per year, met any of the stereotyped criteria
that companies normally utilized in making hiring decisions. None were
experienced or adept at hiring interviews. Many were minorities, some
were physically disadvantaged, and slightly over half were women. The
project was designed to assess the basic personality attributes and motivations
of each individual and determine whether they were suited for sales positions.
To accomplish this goal, we had applicants take the Caliper Profile,
a comprehensive personality assessment instrument developed to assess
an individual's primary motivations, strengths, and areas that could
be developed. In effect, each applicant's potential, as assessed by Caliper
and by an intense follow-up interview, replaced the typical criteria
that obviously could not be brought to the table by applicants from an
Those individuals who possessed the potential to succeed in a sales job
were then enrolled in a one or two week work preparation training program.
During this time, participants received counseling to help prepare them
for the job interview.
Prior to the interview, the participating companies' human resources
executives were provided with the results of the personality and skills
assessments, so that they had a clear understanding of why we were recommending
a particular individual.
The success of the initial program led to an additional $300,000 to fund
the program for a second year. In total, out of 1,700 "chronically
unemployed individuals" who were assessed, we were able to place
350 people in professional sales jobs with oil companies, mutual fund
houses, radio stations, newspapers, business forms operations, etc. A
chronically unemployed woman who baby-sat for my son became the first
woman ever to be licensed to sell mutual funds on the island of Puerto
Rico and she came back six months later to hire five people from a subsequent
class to work for her. This is but one example of many success stories
that could be cited.
There was one major frustration, however. While we did place 350 people
in sales jobs, there were another 1,350, many of whom had ability, but
who simply did not possess sales dynamics. We felt they would have been
ideally suited to many jobs, but we did not have those jobs available.
Many had the assertiveness, interpersonal skills and empathy to be good
supervisors. Others had excellent service motivation and detail ability,
enabling them to do well in customer service positions. Others had the
personal organization, conscientiousness, and self-structure to coordinate
projects for positions such as a traffic manager. Others showed the kind
of dexterity that clearly would have allowed them to do many manual tasks
at a high level of proficiency. And still others had the mathematical
skill, detail ability and numbers orientation to do excellent work in
finance. Without these jobs available, however, we were unable to place
many capable people.
Then, two years later, one of our key clients, Oppenheimer Management,
Inc. asked if we could help find fifteen minority individuals to fill
back-office positions. We received sixty-eight referrals from the New
York City Department of Welfare, who we assessed to determine, among
other qualities, their levels of conscientiousness, flexibility and detail
ability. We were then able to place the fifteen people who Oppenheimer
requested, and with Oppenheimer's permission, placed an additional thirty
individuals with a number of other New York City companies in a wide
range of jobs. Out of sixty-eight referrals, we were able to successfully
place forty-five "hard-core unemployed" individuals.
With these two programs as background, we applied for and received a
$2.88 million grant from the United States Department of Labor under
the "JOBS" program to place "hard core unemployed" individuals
in fifty-five job categories in New York City. This was followed by a
grant of $4.69 million to continue the program.
Over a two-year period, we assessed some 7,000 "hard-core unemployed" individuals
and were able to place over 3,000 of these people with fifty-two New
York City companies. While there has been no way to follow these individuals
over the years, and while there were some heart-breaking failures because
of social pressures and circumstances which some simply could not overcome,
the successes were significant. We know this: within two years, less
than three percent of the individuals placed had to be terminated specifically
because of an inability to perform well.
Space does not permit a recitation of the hundreds of case histories
that we have available; however, one of those closest to me personally
might serve to represent the rest. A young man, let's call him Ralph,
fell asleep one morning while taking our battery of tests. We immediately
feared drug involvement, but it turned out that he had worked in a bar
until 4:00 that morning and literally came to us at 7:30 a.m. with no
sleep. In any case, he was interviewed, tested brilliantly, and was sent
to Gimbels for an interview. He was hired in spite of a long series of
arrests between the ages of 18 and 42 and a fair amount of imprisonment.
The tests and interviews revealed exciting, up-end potential, and they
took the chance. Ralph received 5 promotions within 2 years, and when
our baby daughter was born, my wife received flowers and a note from
him saying, "To a new life, from a life you saved."
Diagram for the Future
The key to the success of these efforts is based on the simple proposal
that all human beings have fundamental weaknesses, but most also possess
important strengths. In assessing anyone, whether they are a welfare
recipient or a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, weaknesses can invariably
be uncovered, as can major strengths. More often than not, success depends
upon whether, through planning, opportunity or perhaps even luck, individuals
are able to play to their strengths and are not forced to attempt the
futile task of filling a job demanding qualities that are in fact their
Most welfare recipients, for a multitude of reasons, have not had the
opportunity to play to their particular strengths. The reason the programs
described earlier worked so well is that they were designed to cut through
the superficial background factors to uncover those nuggets of strength
in each individual that were buried under the debris of discrimination
and the welfare cycle. Then, when those key strengths were uncovered,
training could be specifically applied to maximize those strengths and
relate those core strengths to the functional requirements of the job
to which they were matched. There was no attempt to push people into
jobs for which they were fundamentally unsuited in the hope that training
could perform magical wonders. In such instances, we preferred not to
place an individual, rather than to add still another defeat to an already
the welfare cycle and tapping the enormous hidden human
resource reserves that exist in the current welfare population
will require a partnership between industry and government.
Industry must offer a wide range of jobs, and be willing
to replace their usual hiring criteria, including experience,
with the one criterion that marks job success - the basic
appropriateness of the individual to the job.
Funding should involve a partnership between companies offering jobs
and government agencies that help subsidize the selection and pre-job
training components of such a program. This blueprint will take a tremendous
commitment, but can work. If government and industry work together, view
the welfare population as a rich source of talent, and accord this population
the same opportunities that are provided to the middle-class - looking
at each person's basic ability and matching that ability to a specific
job - the poverty cycle can indeed be broken.
We know from our experience, that most people want to get off welfare.
They want to work. They want the ego-satisfaction of knowing that they
can make it in the mainstream of society, and that they can attain the
self-respect that stems from doing a job well.
Assessing talent and applying training to match that talent to appropriate
jobs provides an opportunity to finally break the welfare cycle.