If you complete a summer internship at Goldman Sachs, you'll probably get a job offer at the end of it. Over the past four years, the firm has converted around 70% of the interns in its popular 'investment banking division' into full-time hires. In most cases, an internship is therefore a route into a job. In 30% of cases, however, it's not.
As with the economist who blew his interview with Goldman because he wanted to be an academic, some ex-Goldman Sachs interns are regretful of their wasted opportunity to work for banking's biggest brand. "Around 50% of us got offers," says Alex Holt*, a former Goldman intern who completed an off-cycle internship a year ago. "I was pretty disappointed when I didn't get one, but I learned a lot from their feedback."
"The summer I was at Goldman there were very few conversions," says Neil Leithwaite*, an ex-Goldman M&A intern. "It was just after the financial crisis, and they weren't able to make offers immediately. They wanted us to wait for a month or two, but in the meantime I received an offer from another bank and took that instead. It seemed too risky to wait. I never even found out if Goldman wanted me."
"In my year, the conversion rate was very low," says James Ashurst*, another ex-Goldman intern who spent a summer rotating between equities desks at the bank four years ago. "It almost seemed that they hired a fixed number of people and then waited to see what the business climate was like and extended offers accordingly."
Goldman Sachs declined to comment for this article, but Ashurst said the interns who received offers when he was there were the most "committed and smart". "It seemed to me that they want you to show a certain level of commitment and if you're not prepared to show that commitment, you won't get an offer," he says. In some cases, this commitment means accepting that you might be doing unexciting work, says Ashurst. "Don't come expecting that you'll be trading a book from day one," he says. Regulatory restrictions mean interns don't trade - at most, you might get to book trades for other people.
In retrospect, Holt says he wishes that he'd been more, "aggressive" during his Goldman internship. "I should have made more of my achievements," he reflects. "It was pretty annoying to complete a project with someone who did very little work but who got a job offer at the end of it. I should have stood up and said I did all the work - instead of just shutting up about it."
Ex-Goldman interns also point to the importance of networking. Hiring decisions at the end of the internship are made on the basis of mini 360-degree assessments using feedback from everyone you've worked with. To get an offer, therefore, you need to impress not only your bosses, but your peers. "There was a formal assessment at the end of the internship," says Ashurst. "It's a bit of a scaled-down version of the annual review they use for full-time staff. You need to get some good feedback from all the desks you've been on."
Does it matter if Goldman doesn't make you an offer at the end of the internship?
Maybe not. All the ex-Goldman Sachs interns we looked at have gone on to get interesting jobs elsewhere. Leithwaite says that while he was at Goldman he was bombarded with invitations to meet rival banks. This made it easy for him to get an alternative job offer while Goldman delayed. He has no regrets about his decision to go elsewhere, and now works in the promised land of private equity.
Holt says the feedback Goldman gave him at the end of his internship proved valuable in informing what he should do when he left university. "My manager advised me to study an MSc in finance, which I've now started," he says. "He also pointed out that I need to make my work emails more business-like."
Ashurst said it was remarkable how many people in his intern class decided they didn't want to work for Goldman when they graduated anyway. "A lot of people just figured it wasn't for them," he said. "That kind of surprised me."
Maybe the interns who rejected Goldman will have second thoughts later on. A recent study by Wharton Business School suggests that if you do manage to get a job offer from Goldman Sachs, you should take it, even if you don't want to stay long term. If you spend five years working for Goldman at the start of your career, Wharton found that you will earn an average of 15% more mid-career, even after you've quit. Ex-Goldman interns could spend some time reflecting on that too.
*All names have been changed to protect the identities of the ex-interns.