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How to ace an internship at Goldman Sachs

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If you want a full-time position at Goldman Sachs, your best opportunity is to get accepted to their summer internship program. From there, you’ll need to impress both with your ability to do the job at hand and your capacity for networking. They are equal parts of a successful internship, says Erika Coleman, vice president of campus recruiting at Goldman Sachs.

We talked to Erika about the intern evaluation process, formal training and her best advice for aspiring analysts. Her responses are below.

Can you share the number of people who applied to your summer internship program and the acceptance rate?

We can’t offer detailed numbers at this time, but speaking anecdotally in terms of applications numbers, we’ve seen steady increases in those who are interested in working here for the past several years. People who attend our events are genuinely excited to learn about Goldman Sachs and the opportunities here.  Our application rates are high and trending upwards, and our acceptance rates continue to be high for both analysts and associates.

One of the big narratives being discussed in recent years is the war between Wall Street and Silicon Valley for top recruits. From Goldman’s perspective, how has that competition evolved over the last year? Where does Goldman’s reputation stand amongst top students? Are you back to pre-crisis?

When thinking about the competitive landscape, rather than focusing on how we compare to one specific industry, we try to keep in mind all the different options recent graduates consider when starting their careers.  We invest our resources to ensure that we provide a compelling experience for a student who is looking to work, and more importantly, learn, in a dynamic and team oriented environment.

How much of the internship program is training and how much is accomplishing critical tasks?

Goldman Sachs is comprised of 15 different divisions, so the type of training an intern receives depends on which division he or she is joining. In addition to the formal training that many interns receive during the first week of their internships, we also provide learning opportunities throughout the 10 weeks.

Each division creates 10 weeks of programming for their summer analysts and associates, in addition to giving interns access to the wide array of courses available through our internal learning organization, Goldman Sachs University.  But our interns do work on projects that impact the firm and our clients with tangible results. That’s the best kind of training in our mind.

How do you evaluate interns, both informally on a day-to-day basis and at the end of the program?

Formal feedback is provided to interns throughout the summer. We evaluate interns on many of the same competencies that we measure for full-time employees, including their technical proficiency, teamwork and leadership.

Outside of formal performance reviews, informal feedback is critical at Goldman Sachs. Whether it’s from managers or team members, we stress the importance of providing real-time informal feedback at different points throughout the internship.

How many interns do you typically offer full-time positions?

We have space for every person who is successful to have a full time role. The majority of our full-time hires are sourced through our internship programs so the professional development of our intern class is very important to us.

Is it all work? What other activities do interns take part in?

We would like to dispel myth that we don’t want interns to have fun. They’ll work hard during their time here, but we also coordinate events for them to get to know other interns and team members and the culture of the firm. For example, our Salt Lake City interns participated in a scavenger hunt where they had the chance to explore the city, we’ve done cooking classes, bowling events, and this summer hosted World Cup viewings.

All interns also participate in our firm’s Community TeamWorks volunteer initiative. Apart from the formal events we organize, many activities are coordinated organically by interns or employees, like morning runs and weekend events. We think it helps them learn how they will have to balance their full-time careers with life outside of work like anyone else at Goldman Sachs.

Building a network and meeting people versus doing the job: how important is each and how do you best pull off a combination of the two?

One thing that we emphasize at the start of the program is that you have to be very good at your day job but you also need to make an effort to think about more than what is happening at your desk. Networking is not only about building relationships, it will also help you learn how your team fits into the broader organization and allows you to start to putting all the pieces together about Goldman Sachs – how we generate revenue and how we support our clients. That in turn helps the interns perform better at their day jobs.

We recognize it can be difficult to manage that combination. Learning that delicate balance is part of the process of having a successful internship. A big part of the internship is getting exposure to all parts of the firm – the people and the businesses. In the same ways that we assess our interns, they are assessing us as well. They need to take the time to ask themselves: “is this the culture and lifestyle that I want.” Networking can facilitate their ability to answer that question.

The internship is nearly over. They want a full-time job at Goldman. What should they do? How should they communicate it and to who?

The conversations about future opportunities and goal setting start closer to week one, as opposed to week ten. Interns should be thoughtful about their goals from the beginning of the program. Throughout the internship, we give interns guidance, feedback, and advice on how they can be successful and reach the goals they have for the summer. It’s appropriate for interns to have conversations about full time opportunities with managers, mentors and the recruiting program managers who are all involved in the program to provide the support that we know interns need.

What are the one or two most important pieces of advice you’d give to an intern who wants a full-time position at Goldman?

One of the most common mistakes I warn interns against during recruiter office hours or informal catchups is to not be afraid to ask questions.  Interns can be reluctant to show their managers and teams that they don’t have all the answers. We understand that interns will naturally need guidance, and we reinforce that not only is it important to ask questions, but we expect it.

I also remind them to spend less time stressing and instead jump right in to the experience. They were hired for a reason and we want them to add value to their teams and solve problems for our clients. Interns should see themselves as vital, contributing members of the team. We want Goldman Sachs interns to have a real sense of what it is like to be full-time employees at the firm.

And along those same lines, they should really take time to enjoy themselves and keep track of what they are working on and learning on a regular basis. Ten weeks will go by so quickly and those notes will help the interns see on paper everything that they’ve worked on and achieved.

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