Wanted: MBAs "With a Clear Direction"

Gallup's Jacques Murphy explains the importance of strong mental athleticism and why the firm has such a low employee turnover rate

Jacques Murphy is head of worldwide managing partners for The Gallup Organization in Atlanta, where he has worked for the past 20 years. After graduating from the University of Colorado with a B.S. in business administration, Murphy worked at Procter & Gamble (PG ) before joining the management consulting company.

Over the past 2½ years, under Murphy's management, Gallup has hired 70 students, a few of them undergraduates. "We're playing with people's lives, and we've got to take that seriously," says Murphy. "We have a responsibility to the individual and the company, and every decision is critical." He recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Francesca Di Meglio. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: How would you describe the culture at Gallup?


Fluid and fast-moving. We are totally committed to our clients and to each other as associates. We're a high-performance-oriented environment. We do not tolerate mediocrity. We look out for each other. We believe that you should have best friends at work, and we encourage that. We tell hires: "You've been hired because of who you are, so please don't try to be anyone else."

Q: How do you decide where to recruit?


In the past couple of years, since we started on-campus recruitment, our recruiters have looked at the programs -- both undergraduate and graduate, with a big focus on graduate -- and have met students, faculty, and placement-center administrators. We've begun testing which campuses tend to produce candidates with a higher probability of fitting in at Gallup. The schools range from private schools like Emory to state universities like University of Colorado.

Q: What's your strategy when you're on campus?


We network with professors and administrators in placement resource centers. We do a presentation for students about what Gallup has to offer. That's probably our most effective tool, aside from referrals, for finding talent.

Q: For what positions do you hire MBAs?


Candidates are able to look at one of two different tracks -- partner and principal. The partner track is for people who want to be the lead, trusted consultant for clients. The principal track tends to attract specialists, such as statisticians, in the specific sciences with which we work.

Q: What is the process for getting hired?


We invest a lot upfront to get to know the person. Each candidate completes the Clifton Strength Finder, a structured assessment that delivers a probability of success in a particular role at Gallup. It allows us to very rapidly process lots of applicants.

If the online assessment finds you will probably fit in at Gallup, you progress to an in-depth telephone interview, which can happen in one or two phases. It is a psychometric instrument, which means it also delivers a prediction about a candidate's probability of success based on their responses to a series of open-ended questions. After that, the remaining candidates are sent to the appropriate hiring manager group.

This thorough process is one of the reasons why we have a very low turnover rate. This year we've decreased our hiring plan because retention has been much greater than we anticipated.

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