The Many Faces of GE

Steve Canale is manager of recruiting and staffing services for General Electric (GE). He says the current generation of undergraduate students is the smartest he's seen, and it is more attuned to family, values, and social responsibility than those in the recent past.

A 26-year veteran of GE, Canale has managed both MBA and undergraduate recruiting for over four years (see BW Online, 1/18/05, "MBAs, Check Egos at the Door"). He has worked in at least four different businesses within GE, including sales and marketing, business development, information technology, and operations. Human resources is his latest function, a role for which he says his diversity of experience has prepared him well. Canale recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter, Jeffrey Gangemi. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

The Many Faces of GE

Steve Canale


How extensive is GE's undergraduate recruiting program?

On the undergraduate level, GE has seven distinct leadership development programs. These are all two-year rotational programs in different functions, including finance, information technology, human resources, engineering, operations, sales, and marketing. On a global basis, we hire about 1,300 to 1,400 students yearly into these programs, which we consider our future leadership pipeline.

How is hiring going this year?

It's a great time to be graduating. The job market is definitely in the favor of the current class, and many students have multiple offers (see BW Online, 12/30/05, "A Heady Job Market for MBAs"). Our hiring numbers are up this year by about 10%, but the number of students we recruit doesn't fluctuate much more than that in any given year. It's just so strategic for us.

What schools do you target for recruiting?

Over the years, we have established relationships with 39 key "executive schools" within the U.S. These are our target schools, and we invest many resources to maintain a constant presence at those schools 12 months a year, not just during recruiting season. These schools change from time to time. For example, we recently added Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Southern California [to our roster]. Other schools we have great relationships with are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Purdue University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Notre Dame. We also target smaller schools like Boston College and Virginia Tech.

What's the interview process like?

At our 39 target schools, we post interviewing schedules in the career services office. At a school like Purdue, we'll get about 3,000 résumés, and over a two-day period, we'll interview about 300 students for various positions. The next round includes an invitation to one of GE's sites.

There, candidates go through a more rigorous full day of three or four interviews with various people. We'll measure different skills on that day, depending on what program you're interviewing for. If you're an engineer, you're probably going to have many more questions regarding your technical aptitude. In all areas, communications skills are important -- both verbal and written. The top performers will then receive a written offer.

What attributes do you like to see in an applicant?

Passion, a willingness to learn and continue to learn, and integrity are all important. GE does a great job communicating that there is no room for a lapse of integrity, all the way from CEO Jeff Immelt on down.

What are the leadership development programs like?

The training is a combination of formal classroom learning, remote learning, as well as on-the-job training. Positions typically consist of four rotational assignments. For six months, you may be within one function of sales and marketing doing pricing modeling or proposal development. For the next six months, you might be more on the customer or client side. There are formal exams in many classes to teach students some of the processes that may be unique to GE.

Do you favor any undergraduate majors?

For some of our programs, a business degree is applicable. For our financial management program, for example, students typically have majored in finance or accounting, economics, or math. Obviously, if you're hired as an engineer within GE and will be working on aircraft engines or medical equipment, we'll be looking for a background in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. You wouldn't be able to make it through the training programs unless you had those specific majors and background.

What is different about the newest generation of employees?

Sept. 11 has infused a greater appreciation of family values and social responsibility in the current generation. Students want to be part of a company that has a social conscience and is making the world a better place. This is also the smartest generation. They've grown up in a competitive world and know that performance is key. Their careers are important because they know it's going to be a big part of their life. They ask many tough questions. They want to know what the work is going to be like, how challenging it will be, how many evaluations they are going to have, and what kind of visibility they are going to have.

How's compensation?

Each of the programs has a different salary range. But as a general rule, students will be making more than $50,000 [per year]. Students within the leadership training program can expect salary increases every six months. After their two years, they'll rotate into a regular job, where they'll be assessed on an annual basis.

GE also provides full tuition reimbursement for those who wish to get their Masters. Learning and training are a big part of GE's culture, and as a company, GE invests over $1 billion a year in training. Students are attuned to benefits packages these days. We offer full medical, 401(k), and a pension from Day One.

How are you working to minimize turnover?

Our size and the diversity of our business portfolio are real strengths. I've been with GE for over 25 years, and I've been in four businesses. It doesn't feel like I've been with the same company for my whole career because of the different industries I've been in and the different experiences I've had. Years ago, we used to have a recruiting slogan, "Why join one great company when you can join many?" There are other large companies, but none of them offers as much diversity as we do.

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