How to break into ‘The Firm’, by those who’ve done it before.
1) Interview again and again (and again)
Most front-office banking jobs involve a handful of interviews. Jobs at Goldman involve a dumper-truck full. We spoke to one former executive director at the bank, who joined as an associate back in the late 1990s. He had 47 interviews for the role.
“Back in those days, there was a real feeling that hiring by consensus was the way to go,” he says. “Two people tried to veto me and I had to re-interview with them and convince them that their initial assessment might not have been spot on.”
Now that Goldman’s grown a bit, he says the number of interviews isn’t quite so extreme, but neither are they down to single figures just yet: “I’d be surprised if any lateral hire got away with anything less than 15 interviews.”
Another ex-Goldmanite tells us the bank performs cross-checks between different interviewers to make sure your story holds up. “If you are not consistent in your stories, you will not get hired,” he tells us. “You will probably not find out why.”
2) Exude enthusiasm
If you manage to get a job at Goldman you’ll almost certainly spend more time in the office or on a plane than you will elsewhere. The demanding interview process is therefore equally a means of ascertaining your appetite for the demanding job and the degree of delight you’d feel were you only to land it.
“The key thing to surviving the interview process is enthusiasm,” says our ex-Goldmanite. “If you don’t have a technical advantage, then you’re a commodity candidate and total enthusiasm and hunger are key. You’ll also need to come across as incredibly hardworking – that’s what they’re trying to find.”
3) Find a sponsor
David Schwartz, a former head of HR for the European investment banking division at Goldman turned headhunter at US firm DN Schwartz & Co., says the majority of candidates who interview at Goldman at anything above associate level have an insider on their side.
“At more senior levels, most people who interview at Goldman are there at the invitation of the firm,” says Schwartz. “People in the firm know who their competitors are and know who’s good, and will invite them to come around for a chat. It’s virtually impossible to come into the firm on a lateral basis unless that’s the situation.”
It may also be possible to get an interview after ingratiating yourself with existing employees (if you know any). “Work out who you know there and make your interests known,” advises Schwartz.
4) Perform surgery on your CV
It’s no good applying to Goldman if your CV is looking a bit peaky. One ex-MD says the bank will instantly bin anyone who makes spelling or grammatical errors. On a similar note, he says your CV will stand out if it suggests you’re an interesting person rather than a City drone. “They like action people and people who have done a lot of stuff, eg Duke of Edinburgh’s Award,” he says.
And if the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is too far in your past? It will help if you’ve taken a few risks of the entrepreneurial variety.
5) Accept defeat
Both Schwartz and the ex-director say Goldman isn’t great at breaking bad news. According to the ex-director, this is one reason for interviews running out of control: rather than a rejection letter, a candidate receives another interview invite.
Schwartz says internal sponsors can come in here, too: “It can take individuals a lot of time and effort before they realise that they haven’t made it. But a sponsor will be upfront and honest with you.”