Making a Home at Home Depot

The retailer recruits candidates who demonstrate leadership potential and can adapt readily to a fast-changing environment

Cindy Milburn is the senior director of staffing for the home-improvement giant Home Depot (HD ) at its headquarters in Atlanta. She has worked for the company since 1995, when she helped build a program for management development. About four years ago, Milburn began directing staffing for Home Depot and has been an integral part of the efforts to increase the company's visibility at B-schools.

In the last year, Home Depot has made a determined effort to further develop relationships with universities and recruit undergraduate and MBA students at 22 American schools. It will start recruiting at Canadian programs this year as well.

Home Depot hires 125 interns every summer, about 80% of whom are MBAs. Creating a pipeline for full-time hires is the primary objective of the internship program. After graduation, MBAs go into the logistics, operations, finance, marketing, or information technology. Some are hired for Business Development, a sector that deals with mergers and acquisitions. And about 40 specially selected MBAs head into the Business Leadership Program, a two-year training ground that includes the opportunity to rotate into various functions.

Milburn recently talked to BusinessWeek Online reporter Francesca Di Meglio. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

Q: How would you describe the culture?


Retail, by nature, is constantly responding to a changing business climate. If candidates are interested in being at an innovative and entrepreneurial organization that is fast-moving -- sometimes busy or chaotic -- then this is a great place for them.

Q: How do you decide where to recruit?


We looked at a series of things when evaluating universities: academic scores, placement in the rankings of various publications, average years of work experience students have, the gender and ethnic diversity of the class, and the geographic and physical location of the campus. We also look at prior connections that the company has had with the university.

Q: How do you build relationships with schools?


We rolled out a new process this year to make executive leaders captains for teams that will develop in-depth relationships with individual universities. They'll look for opportunities to serve as advisors to students or speak on campus.

Q: What skills should MBAs improve?


Leadership, communication, influence, and persuasion are things that could be improved. Another is realizing there is a difference between academic and practical [skills]. Certainly, in our industry, flexibility is another skill you must fine-tune. To operate in a fast-paced environment, you have to be willing to change.

Q: What are you looking for in an employee? A: Leadership, leadership, leadership. We look for leadership, both in terms of things the students have done on campus and in their professional life. We are interested in [candidates with] strong communication skills and the ability to influence people. We also have a series of competencies that we consider in our evaluation process, which includes rounds on campus and on-site.

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