Goldman Wants You Even If You’ve Been Unemployed Five Years

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You may have left the workforce years ago, perhaps to have children, or you opted to bow out during the financial crisis. Now you’ve recharged your batteries and you want back on Wall Street.

So you dust off your resume and lower your standards, knowing how difficult it is returning to finance after a long hiatus, especially now when technology and regulations seem to evolve almost daily. Surely, the prestigious banks wouldn’t be interested in you, right?

Not so fast. Goldman Sachs has a program that can put you on the fast-track to vice president.

Launched in 2008, Goldman’s Returnship Program takes people who walked away from the workforce and gives them a chance to sharpen their skills in a live tryout of sorts. The program, which operates in New York, New Jersey and Bangalore, India, hires between 50% and 60% of returnees into full-time jobs at the firm.  Those who don’t stay use the skills learned to find other positions on Wall Street, say company execs. The program is open to anyone who has been out of the workforce for two years, including former Goldman employees.

As you’d expect, Goldman isn’t interested in any bum off the street. They want talented leaders who left their jobs on their own volition, for whatever reason. The bank sees it as an opportunity to mine a hidden talent pool that others neglect, says Galit Pearlman, vice president and program manager of the Returnship Program.

Similar to an internship, the 10-week program offers training, mentoring and a venue to network. It’s also a full-time, paying job.

“Returnees have real jobs, on real teams, with real accountability,” Pearlman says.

The size of each Returnship class varies on need. The 2013 Americas class has 19 returnees across New York and Jersey City. The programs kicked off in mid-January and will wrap up in March. Dates for the 2014 program have yet to be scheduled, but Goldman plans on posting information for 2014 on the GS Career site around September.

Those who are accepted into the program – men and women who have been out of the workforce anywhere from two years to more than a decade – are placed in divisions that need talent, under senior leaders who act as both managers and mentors. Most past attendees are women.

When not working on specific projects, returnees take part in workshops, learning Excel, business writing and new software packages used on today’s Wall Street.

“We recognized that we can’t just hire people and put them back at the desk,” says Tami Rosen, the divisional human resources head for the investment management division and a senior sponsor of the program. “People change, technology changes, so we know that we have to give them the skills they need to be successful.”

New Paths

Returnees aren’t required to re-enter their previous career path; Goldman provides access to new fields within finance where skillsets can be adapted.

“The beauty of the program is that it takes people with great backgrounds and leadership and gives them an opportunity to get back to work, or to take transferable skills and have a fluid career in a different field,” Rosen says.

Nor do people in the program have to have a background in finance, Pearlman says. Those with a history of client-facing jobs can adapt their skills into a product and project management role, for example. Several former Goldman employees used the program to get jobs in divisions of the company in which they had not previously worked.

Past returnees currently hold roles within the firm as business analysts, compensation analysts, trading assistants, salespeople and marketing specialists, among other positions, Rosen says.

As might be expected, to get into the program it helps to have friends already working at Goldman. Employee referrals are the firm’s best source of candidates, Rosen says, and the company doesn’t pay referral fees.

Vice President

Elyse Goodman, 43, a returnee who spent nearly two decades working in private wealth management at firms like Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley, walked away from her financial planning career at Morgan in January 2009 to spend more time with her husband and two children, now aged 15 and 12. “I was working 24/7,” she says.

After 18 months, with her children in school full-time, Goodman got the itch to go back to work, but didn’t want to go back to wealth management. Through a friend who works at Goldman, she heard of the Returnship Program and applied.

“There is a risk you take [leaving the workforce]. The longer you are out, the harder it is to come back because of changes in marketplace,” Goodman says. “But to be able to come in interview, tell your story and find that your skills are valuable and that you can still leverage them was exciting.”

Goodman was accepted into the program in Sept. 2010 and eventually found her way into a new line of work – on the client services team – where she is now a vice president.  She says she finds the new division more strategic and dynamic; she’s managing relationships, products and operations.

Building Confidence

The key to the program, outside of building technical skills and a network of people with similar experiences, was a newfound sense of confidence, Goodman says.

A lack of confidence is often what deters those who are trying to re-enter the workforce from finding a job, says Hallie Crawford, an Atlanta-based career coach.

“They discount their skills and experience,” Crawford says. “A lot of times it’s a mental obstacle that they have to overcome.”

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