General Electric’s Financial Management Program: An Insider’s Guide on How to Break In
Nicolas was a Financial Analyst at General Electric where he explored the world of Corporate Finance. He is now a CFO and Partner Wild is the Game.
Have you ever found yourself applying for a job, but also having no idea why you’re applying?
I’ve seen it a lot.
Sometimes, if the company is seriously understaffed and needs people ASAP, you can get away with it.
But you really can’t get away with it when you apply for corporate finance rotational programs, such as GE’s Financial Management Program.
Unlike banks, which largely have the same set of “values” (make money!), normal companies have different values and cultures… and they prefer different candidates.
You can learn the process of applying for a job perfectly, but if you’re not the right person for the role, none of that matters.
In Part 1 of this series, we looked at what it’s like on the job in the GE Financial Management Program, including pay and exit opportunities.
In Part 2 today, you’ll discover how to break in, including:
- What the “perfect candidate” for FMP roles looks like, and how to figure out if it’s for you.
- What the recruiting process looks like, and why assessment centers are even more critical than in IB interviews.
- Why making corporate finance your “Plan B” if banking doesn’t work out is a recipe for disaster.
- Insider information on the recruiting process from someone who went through the whole thing successfully (me!).
These tips are intended for the Financial Management Program at GE, but the criteria and the process are very similar for corporate finance graduate programs at other F500 companies.
So if you’re interested in corporate finance at Apple, Exxon Mobil, Wal-Mart, or any other company that size, here’s what you need to know:
Part 1: Are You the Perfect Candidate?
Before you submit any applications, you need to figure out if your profile matches what the company wants.
Here are some of the points that GE cares about:
The royal path to the FMP is a finance or accounting degree at one of GE’s “target schools” with a GPA above 3.5 (or equivalent, such as 2:1 or better in the UK).
You can compensate for a lower GPA with networking and impressive leadership experience, but if your GPA is below 3.0 it will still be extremely-difficult-to-impossible.
GE regularly recruits people with engineering degrees, so you don’t necessarily need accounting or finance classes, though they certainly help.
If you are coming in with a non-finance degree, though, you need to showcase your interest in finance somewhere on your resume – if you look like a pure engineer who wants to code all day, you will not get interviews.
GE is looking for candidates who are “made of more.”
Corporate finance team members are typically less “Type A” than investment bankers, but FMPs are the most “Type A” of the corporate finance bunch.
They are more ambitious and outspoken than average, and they usually have at least one leadership entry on their resume that makes them stand out.
FMPs also tend to be willing to work more than average, so if the thought of a 50-60 hour workweek scares you away, you’re not a good fit for the program.
Being “international” is a just a plus in the US, but in Europe this is a key requirement. You’ll have to travel a lot and interact with people from different countries, so not having any experience abroad is a big drawback.
You need to have excellent spoken and written English since this will be your main language wherever you are in the world.
But speaking another language on top of English will give you more of this “international” flavor they’re seeking.
It can also be a huge advantage to speak Italian when you are trying to convince the Italian controller to send you data!
Excel and IT Skills
As an FMP you will be doing a lot of work with Excel and IT systems, so you need to be good with both.
Interviewers won’t give you a hardcore Excel test, but they might ask you questions about the projects you’ve completed using Excel.
Commitment to Your Country
I’m not talking about patriotism here!
If you come from a “developing” region like Eastern Europe, Africa, South America, or Asia, you need to be committed to going back to work there.
GE is not recruiting you so you can get a job in London after the FMP – they want you to go back to your country and build a pipeline of future local leaders.
If you have most or all of these qualities, great… but the job still might not be for you.
So before you hit the “submit” button on your application, consider the following points first:
Is This Your Plan B for Banking / PE / Something Else?
If you’re only using FMP as your backup plan, you are going to hate it.
FMP is for people who can picture staying in corporate finance, or a related area like risk, for the next 10 years.
So if you’re applying just to get a better eventual job in corporate finance, or to get into a Top 10 MBA program and then to get into banking, you should reconsider your plans.
Are You Flexible?
Flexibility is key for future FMPs.
Not only will you relocate every 6 months, but you’ll also have to relocate quickly.
If you are in a relationship, it’s tough to have no visibility at all on where you’ll be next month – so make sure you are OK with that.
Besides the location, you’ll have little control over what type of rotation you do next, so you have to accept what comes your way and make the best of it.
Overall, FMP is not for you if you’re a control freak who needs to have the next 24 months all planned out.
Can You Persuade Other People?
As an FMP, you have exactly ZERO formal, hierarchical clout.
This means the only way to get data or get your projects implemented is to convince other people to do it.
That’s why you need to be great at pitching your ideas and nagging people until they cave in and do what you need. If you don’t have that skill set or you hate doing it, FMP is going to be a very long 2 years!
Do You Have a Big Picture View?
A lot of your tasks will be “monkey work”: you’ll be doing reporting, consolidation, data reconciliation, etc.
So if you just focus on that unsexy perspective, you’ll be miserable.
You need to understand the big picture and how your “menial” tasks fit into the whole process: it’s the only way to have a good time and become a better analyst.
Do You Love Networking?
Networking is very important for landing the FMP offer (see below), but once you’ve won your offer, you need to keep it up because you’ll have many opportunities to meet finance leaders.
If you enjoy meeting people and building relationships, FMP is great because every 6 months you’ll work with a different team. If you can stay in touch with everyone, you’ll build a strong network by virtue of those rotations.
If networking comes naturally to you, you’ll thrive; if you’d rather sit in a cave and work by yourself all day, not so much.
And Do You Love Excel Even More?
You will be spending 60%+ of your time in Excel, so you need to love it.
Excel and VBA macros are the best way to add value early on, and if you can build solid, automated processes, people will be very impressed.
Part 2: The FMP Recruiting Process
So you’re convinced that the GE FMP is in your future, and you’re close enough to the “ideal candidate” to have a good shot… what’s next?
Here’s a rough outline of the process:
- Step 1: Network with current FMPs in advance.
- Step 2: Apply online or on-campus – yes, you still need to do this. And you still need a customized resume/CV and 3-4 short essays.
- Step 3: Do a 30-minute first round interview with HR to determine whether or not you’ll advance to the assessment center and/or next round of interviews.
- Step 4: If you’re in Europe, Africa, or Asia, do the assessment center, which might consist of 4-6 interviews with finance managers and HR, along with group games or group case studies; if you’re in the US, it will just be additional interviews.
- Step 5: Win the offer… if you’ve done well in Step 4.
The biggest difference is that more of your success depends on the assessment center.
Unlike in IB / S&T / other interviews at the big banks, you will not go through multiple rounds of interviews before the AC – so you really need to be on your “A game” that day.
Also, doing an internship at GE gives you a big advantage in winning these roles – more so than if you completed an IB internship at a bank and wanted to convert it into a full-time offer.
If you can do an internship in a division with an ex-FMP manager, you’ll have a much better story for interviews (“I’ve worked with people who did the program”) and you’ll get to attend a ton of networking events to meet leaders in other divisions at GE.
I’ll focus on the key differences in the recruiting process for FMP in each step below:
Step 1: Network Your Way into the Financial Management Program
You already know from the hundreds of articles on this site why alumni / LinkedIn / other networking is so important, and it’s still important for FMP roles – and the only way to get interviews if you’re not at a target school.
Networking actually works better for these roles because:
- FMPs receive fewer “networking” emails than investment bankers and they have more free time, so you’ll get a higher response rate and more time on the phone with them.
- You don’t necessarily need to come up with “creative” questions because FMPs take fewer networking calls; asking about the job itself, typical career paths, etc. are all fine.
- If the FMP is any good at his/her job, he/she will have more influence with the head of FMP than a junior banker would have with his/her MD.
So once you have spoken with least 10-15 solid contacts, start reaching out and asking directly for referrals to participate in their recruiting process.
Of course, you also still need to apply online, which leads us into Step 2:
Step 2: Customize Your Resume and Write Your Essays
I’m assuming you already have the resume templates and all the resume advice offered on this site; here’s what I’ll say beyond that:
- Focus on Money Saved – Your job as an FMP will be to improve, automate, and simplify processes, so you should highlight anything similar from your past work experience.
- Insert GE Values Everywhere You Can – The 5 GE values are “External Focus,” “Clear Thinker,” “Imagination & Courage,” “Inclusiveness,” and “Expertise.” So you should rephrase work experience entries and insert these words wherever you can.
- Be Prepared for HEAVY Background Checks – Don’t even think about “hiding” your GPA, padding your resume, lying about dates, etc. – it is guaranteed to backfire. A F500 company does far more thorough background checks than a 5-person boutique bank.
After you have your resume, you’ll need to write short essays answering questions like “Why should we choose you for the program?” or “Describe a time where you had to step up and lead others.”
These are very similar to the competency questions given by banks, and the same ‘STAR’ (Situation, Task, Action, Result) structure applies.
My #1 recommendation is to reference the discussions you had when networking to write these essays, and, if possible, to get a current or former FMP to review your essays as well.
Step 3: Prepare for Interviews
Previously, I wrote about how to prepare for more “general” interviews on M&I with a six month plan.
Here’s how FMP interview preparation is different:
- Your Story: Instead of saying, “Tell me about yourself,” they’ll say, “Tell me how your whole life has prepared you to be an FMP,” or something else much more specific. So you CANNOT use a generic ending like “I want to become a trusted adviser or an investor.”
That might work for some roles, but for FMP you need to explain why you’re interested in working at GE for the long-term and improving the company.
You might say something like, “I spoke with 5 current and former FMPs, and they mentioned work projects such as X, Y, and Z which really interested me – I want to work across 3-4 business lines, such as A, B, and C, and improve the company’s performance with those assignments, also getting to know different teams in the process.”
- Your Supporting Anecdotes: You should always reference people you’ve spoken with networking, but you should also prepare 1 story for each of GE’s 5 core values. They may not ask a specific question on this, but they do rate each candidate on each of the values above. And they’ll expect you to know key facts such as the CEO/CFO, the strategies of different business units, and even the high-level financial statements.
- Technical Questions: There aren’t any in the first round HR interviews, because they test you later at the AC (or in later interviews in the US) and because they expect to “train you” anyway. So you should NOT spend time memorizing how Depreciation changing by $10 impacts the financial statements, at least for first round interviews.
I would highly recommend scheduling a few mock interviews with current or former FMPs to get feedback on your story and see how well your “fit” responses line up with GE’s core values.
Your first interview with HR is a straightforward 30-minute call with questions like:
- Why the FMP?
- Why General Electric?
- Why do you think that you are a good candidate?
Be careful to “adapt” your responses to Human Resources: I’m being very nice, but I think you get my meaning.
One time I interviewed with an HR rep who was only 2 months into the job, and I knew more about the program than he did.
Step 4: Rock the Assessment Center
The Assessment Center is THE place where GE really selects candidates, at least in the EMEA region.
You start the day with a company presentation and a program presentation over breakfast.
If you’ve already interned there it’s pretty boring, but it can be a good time to prepare your own questions for interviewers; they always sound better when they start with “This morning during the presentation, the head of HR said…”
After breakfast, you’ll spend the entire day on everything below – which might happen in any order:
You’ll be quizzed on concepts such as debit vs. credits, the financial statements, how business decisions affect the statements, and so on.
If you’ve studied accounting these questions should be easy enough; if not, learn/review the basics beforehand.
Note that these are the only real “technical” questions in the FMP recruiting process.
You’ll usually go through interviews with 3-4 finance managers from different business lines at GE, as well as 1 interview with someone from HR.
The questions this time around are not that much different, except now everyone is evaluating you and comparing notes.
- Look up all your interviewers on LinkedIn that morning (you’ll gain access to the list of names then), and prepare specific questions for each person beforehand based on his/her background.
- Write down the names of everyone who interviewed you – they love to ask questions about whom you met with, whom you’ve spoken with, and so on.
Group Activity – Outside the US Only
While the interviews are straightforward, the group activity tends to trip people up.
Note that those group activities are only part of the Assessment Centers given in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
This “activity” could be anything from building a GE scanner replica with pieces of wood to a case study where you need to convince bankers to lend you money for a business.
The task itself is not complicated, so it’s more about how you interact in a group and how well you perform when 10+ people are observing you and taking notes.
- Address everyone in your group by their first names. Yes, you have to learn the names of everyone in your group for that day. And yes, they’re specifically watching to see if you do this.
- Try to take a “structuring” role such as the timekeeper or the note-taker. Don’t be the guy or girl who absolutely wants to be the “group leader” or it will backfire.
- Don’t forget it’s just a game. I saw people getting very angry during the group activity, which is a deal-breaker when it comes to getting an offer.
If you’re lucky, you might even get an individual “debriefing” where you have to comment on your performance and the performance of your group.
Lunch and Breaks
Lunchtime and breaks in your interview schedule are NOT “time off” – they invite current FMPs to lunch, so it’s a great chance to meet them and ask questions in a more casual environment.
They can give you tips on your interviewers, good stories to cite, and possibly even good recommendations if they like you.
Whatever you do, do NOT go to one of these breaks and just sit there by yourself.
Step 5: Did You Win the Offer?
If you won the offer, congrats!
You can’t really “control” where you end up, but you may want to reach out to your interviewers and ask them for tips and advice before you start.
If you weren’t so lucky, you could consider other options:
- Look at another corporate finance internship at a Fortune 500 company. If you can’t do FP&A at GE for your internship, doing FP&A at Apple or Exxon Mobil is close enough. Bonus points if you do the internship in the same industry as the GE division you want to join.
- Audit firms are also a good option. Working there shows you are interested in finance, and it helps you build a solid accounting foundation.
One advantage of doing an internship outside of GE is that GE employees who refer you will get a bonus of around $2,000 USD if you apply to GE and later get the job.
So an internship elsewhere can actually help your networking efforts if you play it smart.
I hope this two-part series helped you figure out if the FMP is the right first job for you.
If it is, you now have all the tools you need to network your way in and rock your interviews.
And if not, there’s always the Big 4, consulting, wealth management… or even equities in Dallas.
If you have any question or comments let us know below!
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