When James Trant got the offer to join the analyst program at Goldman Sachs, he wasn't sure what to expect. "I was absolutely delighted, but also slightly apprehensive," he says. "There are lots of misconceptions about the firm. People would say, "Well done!", but also, "Good luck""
Goldman Sachs came out as the ideal place to work among the students we surveyed. This is testimony to the strength of bank's brand among young people, who ranked Goldman highly for pay and challenging work. But with popularity and brand ubiquity come an element of notoriety. "There's a misconception that Goldman has a brutal culture," says Trant. "In fact, it's a much more open culture than people realize. When I arrived, what really struck me was how down-to-earth people here are - not at all flashy or egotistical."
Trant started out in Goldman's investment management division before switching to investment banking last year. He now works in the firm's consumer, retail, healthcare and real estate team. This kind of cross-divisional move in the first few years at Goldman isn't standard, but can happen. "I decided I wanted to move across to banking and started meeting a lot of people internally from last January," says Trant. "I moved in the summer."
Trant says young people want to work for Goldman Sachs because of its reputation for excellence. "Young, ambitious people want opportunities. Goldman Sachs will provide that. They will push you and challenge you in new ways that put you outside your comfort zone." Goldman people may be down-to-earth and non-egotistical, but Trant says they're also highly driven: "Everyone you work with here is incredibly motivated. The pace of work is very fast - people expect things quickly, and to a high standard. It can be tough, but it's also very rewarding. When you're at university, you want to work for the best places and Goldman Sachs offers the best opportunities in finance. "
As an analyst in the investment banking division, Trant has benefited from the measures Goldman's taken to make life better for its young people. Every week, he's compelled to stop work at 9pm on a Friday - irrespective of whether he's staffed on a live M&A deal. He'll also get promoted to associate earlier than before: Goldman's analyst program now lasts two years instead of three.
"Before I moved into the investment banking division, I was a bit skeptical that I'd get Saturdays off - I thought there would always be exceptions, but it's something that's taken really seriously. I haven't worked a single Saturday since joining in August. It makes a real difference - I leave on Friday at a decent time and go out for a few drinks. Saturday is then usually brunch, going to the gym and watching sport.
"People like to avoid working Sundays at all costs if possible," adds Trant. "I sometimes come in or login from home for a few hours to take the pressure off on a Monday. It's personal preference. I probably do some work two Sundays a month on average, depending on the project."
The so-called "Saturday rule" and "accelerated analyst program" are the hallmarks of Goldman's new approach to its most junior staff, but Trant says there are also elements which have been less well-discussed. One is Goldman's attempt to make the job more interesting...The other is the new system of continuous feedback which allows for appraisal of everyone on a project- including vice presidents and (we assume), managing directors.
"There's a lot of emphasis on using technology to make things more automated," he says. "As a result, we spend less time on PowerPoint and more time on interesting work. It means we get less bogged down in nitty gritty things and have more time for making strategic contributions."
More interestingly though, Goldman's new appraisal system (known as OngoingFeedback360+) allows juniors to flag situations where senior staff have overworked juniors through project mismanagement. In this sense, it's similar to an initiative introduced by Barclays in 2014. "After every project, we have the opportunity to rate how things went in terms of efficiency and whether everything ran smoothly. People tend to be very honest about this," says Trant.
And if you want to work for Goldman too? Trant suggests you set aside any misconceptions and "go for it." "It’s a challenging environment but you will be working alongside some really driven and motivated people. I've made some real and genuine friendships and haven’t looked back since joining."
Needless to say, getting into the firm isn't easy - only 4% of internship applicants get a place. Trant says you need to be very considered at the application stage; "Really think about your application. Goldman Sachs doesn't put you through numerical tests or assessment centres when it's hiring you. There's far more emphasis on your cover letter and interview. You need to really understand the firm and think about why you'd be a great fit."
"My interviews at Goldman Sachs were more like a free-flowing conversation than a tick box exercise," he concludes. "One of the best pieces of advice I had during the process was from a GS interview. He told me to be myself, to relax and go for it. I'd agree: This is a great place to work. What have you got to lose?"
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