Welcome to the ‘Real Whirled’

Whirlpool’s early-career immersion program helps create a talent pipeline

By Erin Binney Dec 15, 2015
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BOSTON—When Whirlpool discovered over a decade ago that there wasn’t enough young sales talent in the organization, it did something unusual: It took a cue from reality TV. Building off the idea behind the popular MTV series “The Real World,” the appliance manufacturer introduced its Real Whirled sales immersion program, in which a group of strangers live together—minus the camera crew—and undergo intense preparation for a sales role with the company.

While the approach may be unconventional, the results are impressive: Whirlpool now has a diverse, multigenerational sales force that mirrors the company’s customer base, according to Ashley Czubak, organizational development and learning program manager for early-career sales programs. She described the Real Whirled program in-depth at The Future of Work conference on Dec. 8.

Program Details

Three times a year, eight recent college graduates arrive in Benton Harbor, Mich., where the global 100,000-employee company is headquartered, to participate in the 10-week Real Whirled program. Participants live in a two-story, eight-bedroom, eight-bathroom condo with four kitchens and four laundry rooms equipped with Whirlpool appliances.

During the day, they learn about Whirlpool products; at night, they go back to their home base and use those products. In one exercise, Czubak said, participants bake a cake and then promptly run it through the dishwasher. This is an experience they can then share with customers.

In addition to becoming intimately familiar with Whirlpool appliances, participants also learn facilitation and professional selling skills, develop their business acumen, and gain an understanding of the value supply chain through visits to manufacturing facilities and other locations.

The program’s content has evolved over time, Czubak said. In the beginning, for example, the main goal was to train people and fill roles. In 2009, however, Whirlpool started placing a greater emphasis on leadership development based on participant feedback. In addition, the program now develops participants’ facilitation skills rather than their training skills. That’s so participants can learn how to engage audiences instead of talking at them, Czubak explained.

Since its launch in 1999, the Real Whirled program has welcomed more than 50 classes and graduated over 430 people. Many of them stay at Whirlpool for years.

Recruitment and Selection

Whirlpool actively recruits participants at campus events and posts the opportunity on its careers webpage. Additional people hear about the program through word-of-mouth. Hundreds of people apply. To whittle down the applicant pool, Czubak and her team look for people who held leadership roles in college or who had responsibility for specific initiatives while in school. The selection committee picks about 12 people to interview for each class.

The interview process consists of four steps:

  • A pre-interview self-assessment. Applicants rate themselves on their ability to work effectively with others, demonstrate client focus and other qualities. Their answers shape the types of follow-up questions interviewers ask later.
  • A persuasive presentation. Applicants can use PowerPoint, Prezi or whatever other presentation platform they’d like to present on any subject, Czubak said. Popular topics include why Whirlpool should select them for the program and why everyone should study abroad. But the content isn’t important, Czubak stressed. What’s important is how the applicant engages with the audience: Is the person staying within the time limit? How is he or she setting the stage? What is the hook? Is there an opening slide? A conclusion?
  • A business-relevant case study. Whirlpool sends candidates a business scenario where something has gone wrong and asks them to prepare a three-minute presentation explaining how they would address the situation. This shows how they attack problems and how well they think on their feet, Czubak said.
  • Behavior-based interview questions. Candidates might be asked to talk about times when they had to work with a difficult individual, were able to bring out the best in others or had to change course mid-project. This “brings up an opportunity for us to talk about our values,” Czubak said, which include respect, integrity and teamwork.

About 75 to 90 percent of interviews take place virtually, Czubak said, so many candidates never set foot in the office until after they accept an offer to participate in the program.


Shortly after an offer is extended and long before participants move into the condo, Whirlpool begins working to retain them. “There’s no doubt people want to be engaged early on,” Czubak said. So Whirlpool helps these individuals connect with:

  • Real Whirled alumni. About 30 percent of the employees in the sales department are Real Whirled alumni, Czubak said.
  • Each other. Whirlpool sets up a LinkedIn group where future classmates can get to know each other. Many of the conversations happen organically. Sometimes Whirlpool provides discussion topics.
  • Senior leaders. Upper-management employees reach out to members of incoming classes via phone or e-mail to say hello and share their experiences at Whirlpool.

The company also provides pre-program book recommendations, communicates about the culture and sends swag. “Millennials love swag,” Czubak noted.

“The individuals who leave this program are 100-percent ready” for sales roles within the company, Czubak said. After they’ve been with Whirlpool for about a year, managers start talking to them about future roles with the company in an effort to keep them on even longer.

Erin Binney is a staff writer forSHRM.​

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