How do you go about hiring a finance staffer? As when filling any position, you selectively screen résumés. You conduct a traditional one-on-one interview and subject candidates who survive that cut to multiple additional interviews. You thoroughly examine their technical skills. Perhaps you run them through a battery of cognitive and behavioral tests.
But if you don’t also require applicants to make a live case-study presentation to a panel of evaluators, you probably aren’t hiring the best talent that’s out there. Another way to make that point: You probably should emulate CSX Corp., the Fortune 500 railroad company.
According to research conducted in 2012 and 2013 by CEB, the member-based corporate research and advisory firm, only 32 percent of large companies use case studies as part of their process for hiring finance professionals. But even among those, none stands out the way CSX does, CEB contends. “Very few organizations have the kind of detailed, case study-based approach that CSX does,” says Kruti Bharucha, a CEB senior director. “In fact, we haven’t seen any other company that does it in such detail.”
CSX began working on its current finance-hiring program in 2004 and has been continually tweaking it since. Since 2007 it has used the same case study for each candidate for finance jobs — those in the corporate financial planning and analysis area and those dedicated to providing support for the company’s various business lines. (There is a different hiring process for accounting positions.)
The railroad’s CFO, Fredrik Eliasson, was one of three CSX executives that created the program in a bid to make the finance function more relevant. “We had very smart people, but our influence was limited back then,” Eliasson tells CFO. “It was clear to me that it wasn’t enough to be able to analyze and understand the key economic drivers of our business in order to make better economic decisions. We also had to be able to go into staff meetings, at both senior and lower levels of the organization, and articulate why we had to change.”
The railroad industry, notes Eliasson, had a lot of 30-year veterans who had been doing things the same way for a long time, whether it was dispatching trains, repairing locomotives or putting down track. Technology and processes had to change for financial reasons, putting a premium on finance’s communication and influencing skills.