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Companies are increasingly looking in top MBA programs for finance talent.

Indeed, “one of my biggest fears was that I would be bored, or that the pace would be too slow,” says Sienna Rogers, a Dartmouth MBA and former investment banker who is now on her second of three assignments in PG&E’s leadership-development program. She hasn’t found that to be the case, but it took a lot of convincing from some former classmates who had joined the utility a year before she agreed to join. Baron, too, had contacted about five people currently in the program before coming to the second-round interviews, including a Kellogg alum who put her in touch with the company’s director of federal environmental affairs and corporate responsibility.

Putting MBAs on special projects for top executives is another way to burnish a program’s reputation. Raytheon recently began this approach in response to feedback from current students, according to Judy Durkin. At PG&E, new recruits track the company’s competitors and regularly report to senior leadership on where the utility stands in the marketplace.

The size of a company’s finance program matters, too. In consultant Hanigan’s experience, the most successful recruiters are the companies “that generally reduce the number of hires they bring in,” she says, so that each one gets a proper amount of responsibility. That’s what Avaya did two years ago after realizing that most of the MBAs it had hired in 2002 had left the company three years later. Once hiring as many as 18 new graduates per year, Avaya found it became “hard to give meaningful assignments to each person in the program,” says Hong. Now, the aim is to hire only about 5 per year, so that the two-year development program has only 10 to 12 participants at any time.

The Final Cut

By 3 P.M., Baron and 24 other candidates have finished interviewing at PG&E. Now, Chris Johns, Steve Arnold, and 23 of their colleagues huddle around conference tables, waiting for each candidate’s scores to be tallied up. The group has split into two; each will discuss about half the candidates before joining up again to make final decisions.

CFO Johns leads the process, encouraging strong voices to make strong cases and timid voices to come forward. “I want to make sure we fully flesh out a concern before it turns into groupthink,” he says. That means even the top-ranked candidate isn’t immune from criticism, and first-year hires can play a crucial role. While the leading candidate seems to be a perfect fit, one executive recalls that he had an “edge” that could make him hard to work with. To help resolve the dilemma, the group brings in one of last year’s hires, who is also a former classmate of the candidate in question, for more details. Assured that the former classmate considers the candidate a good fit, the group decides to extend an offer — but only after Johns double-checks that interviewers who gave the candidate relatively low scores are on board as well.

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