How the Labor Dept. Hires MBAs

Its MBA Fellows Program is a door to a career in the agency open to 15 grads a year. The program's overseers explain the way it works

Dennis Sullivan has been director of the Office of Workforce Planning & Diversity for the U.S. Labor Dept. in Washington, D.C., since 2001. Sullivan heads departmentwide recruitment efforts for Labor's MBA Fellows Program, a two-year rotational program open each year to 15 graduates of accredited MBA programs who are interested in government work.

Sharon Ratliff-Gross is the supervisory human-resource specialist in the office. She has held her current position for four years, and as part of her duties, she serves as the program manager for recruitment and outreach activities for the MBA Fellows Program.

Kim Green is the director of the department's Office of Continuous Learning & Career Management. With over 25 years of human-resources management experience, Green oversees career management and training within the program.

Labor's MBA Fellows Program accepted its fourth MBA class in June, 2005. Sullivan, Ratliff-Gross, and Green recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi and provided insights to how the program works. Following are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: What is the MBA Fellows Program?


It's a two-year rotational program that allows participants to complete assignments in various departments, such as the Department of Labor Statistics or the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Each assignment lasts about six months. Participants also complete at least one three-month placement in a regional office.

The Secretary of Labor thought it was a high priority to bring in people with more business, quantitative, and analytical thinking skills. Even though we're managing multibillion-dollar budgets, until recently, the department had a very low percentage of people with business backgrounds.

Q: What happens after the two years?


We try to convert each of the participants into permanent hires. We've retained 9 out of 13 in the first class and 14 out of 16 in the second class. We're getting great retention on the program -- about 89%.

Q: What are you looking for in a successful candidate?


In the interview, we judge a combination of things: project experience, as well as personal attributes and skills. Our department also looks at teamwork and analytical skills.

Sullivan: Another thing we're trying to bring into the department is project-management skills. We're looking for people who can take on a project and run with it.

Q: How do you market the program?


We target about 300 accredited business schools. We have a package and a letter that we send out to them.

Ratliff-Gross: We also provide our Web link, so that students can go on anytime for information. We also get numerous requests from schools to do informational sessions on campus, and we've done those at about 10 or 12 schools.

Q: Where do most of the fellows come from?


The 60 fellows we've brought on board have come from 44 different schools. We're getting broad exposure on the university level, with people from all areas of the country.

Ratliff-Gross: Locally, we'll go to American University Kogod School of Business, Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, The George Washington University School of Business, University of Maryland, College Park Smith School of Business, as well as the College of William & Mary School of Business. We target many other schools outside of the Washington, D.C., area.

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