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How to Hire Influential Finance Staffers: A Case Study

Big railroad company CSX wins points for a unique hiring process that heavily uses a case study to find staffers with strong persuasion skills.

Know What You’re Looking For
CEB was impressed with the groundwork and planning CSX put into its hiring program. As the company’s  goal was to hire finance professionals with communications and influencing skills, it started out by coming up with a set of 13 desired communications behaviors.

But not all of them are valued equally. They are ranked by the extent to which they can be learned through training and how critical they are to communicating insights. In fact, those behaviors deemed difficult to train for are the same ones thought of as providing the potential for great insight, and vice versa ­­­— sort of a “nature-vs.-nurture” struggle in which nature wins out.

CSX has identified five behaviors it considered most important:

  • Articulates views in a clear and concise manner.
  • Anticipates questions and prepares appropriate responses or answers.
  • Uses narratives, like stories and analogies, to communicate messages.
  • Presents compelling arguments to support positions.
  • Constructively challenges business partner assumptions and goals.

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Because CSX has done hundreds of case-study interviews since 2007 using the same case, the finance executives who sit on the panels have become adept at identifying those behaviors during the presentations, says Pelkey. When new people become involved in the evaluation process, it takes them about 10 to 20 interviews before they acquire that intuitive sense as well.

CSX also has a scorecard tool designed to take as much subjectivity out of the evaluation process as possible. Candidates are graded on the quality of their assumptions, analysis, presentation and final recommendations. There are several questions under each of those four areas, each of which counts for a certain number of possible points. The points are added up and the total equates to a final grade on a four-point scale.

Virtually nobody has scored a 4.0, Pelkey notes. Most candidates that get hired record between a 3.0 and a 3.5.

“We find that many people get stuck in the minutiae,” says Pelkey. “They’re like, ‘Here, let me show you 60 different ratios.’ It’s just to show that they know how to calculate them, which may or may not be meaningful. It should be, how do you take the financial information we’ve given you to drill down to only what’s important for the case, and then persuade us to your recommendation?”

Of course, good persuaders might influence people in the wrong direction. Pelkey says CSX is looking for candidates who can operate in the middle of a spectrum. “At one side are people who drink the Kool-Aid, that whatever the business wants to do is always in the best interests of the company,” he says. “At the other side are people who think decisions should always be managed based on what the calculations say. We want somebody who is more balanced, who’s going to challenge assumptions and create dialogue.”

One thought on “How to Hire Influential Finance Staffers: A Case Study

  1. This is really an eye opener. Good way to find the right finance guy especially for accounting purpose.

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