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Here’s exactly what it takes to get a job as a banker at Goldman Sachs, according to Wall Street recruiters, current and former employees, and the head of HR

Business Insider

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  • Goldman Sachs is the most prestigious investment bank.
  • We asked its head of human resources and career experts how to land a job as a midlevel investment banker.
  • Candidates should flaunt their domain expertise and be prepared to talk in detail about each item on their résumé.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

Goldman Sachs receives 1 million applications for midlevel jobs each year. About 0.5% of those hopefuls — just 5,000 people — get hired. That makes the bank nearly 10 times as selective as Harvard.

Many applicants in that pool are vying for a spot in the firm’s prestigious investment-banking division. The positions are lucrative. According to Glassdoor, average annual base pay for Goldman Sachs’ vice presidents and managing directors in the US is $162,000 and $423,000, respectively. And those figures bump up to $198,000 and $588,000 if you include bonus pay and profit sharing.

While there’s no single formula for standing out, job candidates can help themselves by knowing what Goldman is looking for in new talent and how they evaluate an individual’s potential.

Goldman hires candidates across a range of age and experience levels, starting with college interns and going up to established professionals. While hiring out of college is an established process understood by career-services staff at dozens of colleges, knowing how to navigate the hiring process as a mid-career professional can be harder. (A midlevel professional is someone who’s about 10 years out of college and already has a banking job or recently graduated from business school.)

Your best bet is to find out what’s worked for previous applicants. To that end, Business Insider spoke with a series of experts about Goldman Sachs’ hiring practices. They included Dane Holmes, the head of human resources and an 18-year company veteran, Wall Street recruiters, executive coaches, and current and former employees, several of whom asked to speak on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing their relationship with the bank.

The way Holmes sees it, Goldman Sachs approaches hiring like a "balanced conversation of two people meeting, sitting down together at a table, and deciding whether they want to partner together." Holmes said Goldman’s approach is different than the past, when companies seemed more like fortresses that candidates needed to find a way to get into.

Here’s what we learned about maximizing your chances of getting that coveted offer letter.

Know what Goldman Sachs values in candidates

Dane HolmesDane Holmes/Goldman Sachs

It doesn’t matter whether you’re applying to be a summer analyst or a full-time investment banker. Goldman Sachs looks for the same two traits in all job candidates: curiosity and drive.

That’s what Holmes had previously told Business Insider. He wrote in an email, "We need people who are committed to growing and learning, and curiosity is critical to that."

Holmes shared a specific formula that every applicant should keep top of mind.

"Effort can’t overcome anything, but effort + talent = excellence," he wrote. "These characteristics maximize our impact for our clients, our communities, and our people."

Read more: POWER BROKERS OF FINANCE: HR chiefs from Goldman Sachs, Citi, and BlackRock reveal how to get hired on Wall Street

Just as important, Goldman Sachs wants candidates who can bring something new to the table, said Michael Nelson, who has placed five people at Goldman Sachs in his role as head of the fixed-income area at the executive-search firm Quest Group LLC. For example, Nelson said, you might add "a skill set or client list or trading DNA that the firm doesn’t already have."

For seasoned hires, experience matters more than academic credentials

Academic performance isn’t the be-all and end-all for midlevel hires at Goldman Sachs. In fact, said Erica Keswin, workplace strategist and a former executive coach at New York University’s Stern School of Business, "the more experience you have, the less where you went to school and your extracurriculars and your GPA matter" if you’re applying for a job at Goldman Sachs.

That said, Goldman Sachs’ employees tend to come from top-ranked schools. According to LinkedIn data, the five schools with the most alumni at Goldman Sachs are the London School of Economics, Columbia, New York University, Harvard, and Oxford.

The bank recruits on business-school campuses, even though it has stopped conducting first-round interviews for undergraduate students at schools. As Holmes wrote in the Harvard Business Review, interviewing undergraduates on campus meant that Goldman Sachs tended to focus on exclusively on top-ranked schools.

Emphasize how your personal passions make you a stronger candidate

"They like you to be interesting," said one independent recruiter who works with the bank a lot. It helps to have interests outside work or to be able to show that you created a nonprofit or are active outside the office. More than other companies, they put stock in your full self, the person said.

In particular, Goldman Sachs looks for evidence of an entrepreneurial mindset in job candidates. If you can articulate to an interviewer why you started or joined a particular organization, and how that experience will help you with the job at hand, that’s impressive.

Read more: The CEO of Canada Goose gives job applicants a stark warning about the company, then hires them based on their reaction

Keep in mind the bank’s diversity goals

Being a woman or an underrepresented minority may make you a stronger candidate for a midlevel position at Goldman Sachs. Right now, the bank is aiming for gender parity among its staff. To that end, it is interviewing at least two diverse candidates for every role. Diversity refers to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disability, Holmes said.

But historically, Goldman Sachs has been male-dominated. To achieve gender parity in mid- and senior-level roles, the bank has to recruit women from outside the organization, as opposed to promoting from within.

What’s more, Holmes said, lateral hiring (which usually means hiring a midlevel professional from another company) "has generally been a dilution to our diversity," so the bank looks explicitly for candidates with different backgrounds.

"Gender is one of many factors" that Goldman Sachs is recruiting for, said Andrea Dine, executive director of the Hiatt Career Center at Brandeis University, which helps students and alumni with job opportunities. (Hiatt places about eight Brandeis students and young alumni at Goldman Sachs each year.) But for an individual applicant in the investment-banking division, Dine said, being a woman "would be an attribute."

Get into a recruiter’s database

Erica KeswinErica Keswin

It’s unlikely you’ll see an opening for a midlevel investment-banking position at Goldman Sachs posted on a job board. Experienced hires typically hear about openings through recruiters. Usually these recruiters work for Goldman Sachs, though sometimes they work for a talent agency.

If you’re looking to make a career move, Keswin said, make sure you have an updated LinkedIn profile and a network of people to recommend you. That way, when the recruiter asks about your experience, you can fill them in right away.

And while it’s hard to get a recruiter to take your call, Keswin added, you can ask around to see if anyone can introduce you to a recruiter they know. Your goal here is to get into recruiters’ databases, so that when an appropriate role becomes available, your name will pop up.

Prepare for your interview

It’s impossible to anticipate every question you’ll be asked in a Goldman Sachs job interview, but you’ll still want to prepare so that you have at least a general idea of how the conversation will go.

Linda Kreitzman, assistant dean and executive director of the master of financial engineering program at the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley, recommends "Heard on the Street: Quantitative Questions from Wall Street Job Interviews" by Timothy Crack. The book includes questions from real job interviews in investment banking, investment management, and options trading.

You may also want to pair up with a colleague or classmate and practice the technical questions aloud.

And remember: You can use your responses to nontechnical interview questions to stand out from the candidate pool, one former employee said. For example, if your interviewer prompts you to "tell me about yourself," you might explain why Goldman Sachs is critical to your career at that moment, and how you can stand out.

Read more: The head of recruiting at a $3.2 billion health startup says the most impressive thing a job candidate can do is make the interviewer think. Here’s how.

Make sure you have your references in order too. Goldman will want to know the names of people who can vouch for your character. Depending on your experience level, Goldman Sachs will get in touch with your clients and ask them about you, said Oliver Rolfe, CEO of the executive-search firm Spartan International.

Flaunt your industry knowledge and domain expertise

For recent college graduates, Keswin said, Goldman Sachs is often "just a name," something impressive to add to your résumé.

Professionals who have been out of school for a decade or so tend to be less "brand-conscious." Typically, Keswin said, working at Goldman Sachs is better for their career because a particular division is stronger than the same group at another bank.

Goldman Sachs expects lateral hires to have more specific expertise than recent college or business-school grads. Interviewers will ask lateral hires highly technical questions to make sure they’re familiar with specific products, said one employee. Essentially, that person said, Goldman Sachs wants to know that midlevel hires will start adding value from their very first day at the bank.

In addition to industry knowledge, Goldman Sachs often expects experienced hires to bring a book of business (a list of clients you’ve worked with before) with them.

Read more: The CEO of Goldman Sachs says Wall Street and the NBA are strikingly similar

Tap your network — carefully

For lateral hires, a referral (that is, having a current Goldman Sachs employee passing along your résumé) increases your chances of landing an interview, but it doesn’t guarantee it.

In this way, Goldman Sachs isn’t much different from other organizations: Having someone vouch for you might help you stand out from a pool of 100 candidates, but you won’t get the job just because of your connections.

That said, networking can be helpful. Don’t hesitate to attend industry conferences or other events for people in your area of expertise (for example, bankers in entertainment). At the very least, you’ll learn more about the role you want.

Read more: How to make a drastic career change, from an executive coach who’s helped countless people unhappy at work

Remember too: Investment banking is a relationship-based business. It’s expected that aspiring Goldman Sachs bankers will connect with employees in that division and invite them to coffee. It shows you’d be good at the job.

Steel yourself for a rigorous and lengthy interview process

Oliver Rolfe Spartan International Executive SearchSpartan

The Goldman Sachs interview process varies for each candidate. Generally, the more senior you are, the more people you’ll be asked to meet with.

According to Oliver Rolfe, of Spartan International, who has a book on finance recruiting set to come out this fall with Troubador Publishing, Goldman Sachs has between six and 12 interview rounds. Another recruiter said it can sometimes be as many as 20. The more senior the candidate, the longer the interview process, Keswin said, so it can take weeks or months before hiring managers reach a decision.

Candidates meet with employees who are both junior and senior to them. A running joke at one independent firm that works with Goldman Sachs often is "you will meet everyone from the secretary to the janitor to the CEO before you get hired."

Kreitzman said some people think Goldman Sachs’ interview process is hard or unfair because it’s so long. But she believes it’s "a very fair system" because meeting so many different people with different roles and perspectives "gives you the chance to shine." The bank doesn’t want to "break" you during the interview process, she said; they want to see how you think.

Be ready to talk in detail about everything on your résumé

Goldman Sachs is notorious for drilling down on your résumé, regardless of the role you’re applying for.

The worst thing you could do, Dine said, is claim or exaggerate a skill you don’t have, like Excel expertise. Even saying you "led" versus "contributed to" a project is a mistake because interviewers may ask you to describe in detail what you did.

Read more: A robot will probably read your résumé before a human does. Here are 3 simple tricks to make sure they don’t pass it by.

You’ll also have to answer specific questions about your work history. For example, if your interviewer wants to know if you’re a good collaborator, they might ask "How did you drive consensus when you were on this team?" as opposed to "Are you a good teammate?"

Show your interviewer how you think

Linda KreitzmanCourtesy of Linda Kreitzman

Above all, Kreitzman said, Goldman Sachs value employees who can solve problems. Interviewers want candidates to show their thought process when they answer questions.

That said, interview questions will be very specific to the job you’re applying for. For example, if you’re a technical person, you should expect probability and math questions.

For investment banking roles, it’s especially important to display strategic thinking, or bringing a broader view to an immediate task. For example, can you look at the transaction at hand and come up with ideas that might apply to another client?

Don’t discount behavioral and situational interview questions

Aside from technical questions, interviewers will also ask you behavioral and situational questions.

Behavioral questions are used to assess your past behaviors in professional or academic settings relevant to the role. For example: "Describe a time when you used a mistake or failure as an opportunity for learning and/or development."

Situational questions are used to assess how you would respond to hypothetical job scenarios. For example: "You are working with a team member on a project that’s due in two days. Unfortunately, your team member is unavailable due to an emergency he needs to attend to. What steps would you take to complete the project?"

Read more: A former Starbucks HR exec shares the single job-interview question that predicts success better than a résumé

These types of questions don’t have a specific right answer, Holmes said, which presumably results in more authentic responses. Goldman recently instituted a more structured interview process that uses these question types.

Display strong communication skills

Goldman Sachs places a higher value on interpersonal skills than they did in the past. According to Mike Karp, CEO of the Wall Street headhunting firm Options Group, more than two decades ago they were focused on hiring high-IQ people. Today, they’re focused on EQ — emotional intelligence — as well as IQ.

It’s not enough to be knowledgeable and competent, Kreitzman said. New hires at Goldman Sachs must also be able to break down complex concepts in layman’s terms — as if you were explaining quantum physics to a 13-year-old — though Goldman Sachs doesn’t have a specific process for assessing this ability.

You’ll get an offer only after the interviewers agree they like you

Goldman Sachs tries to make sure that all members of the team are comfortable with new hires. Holmes said most employees at the bank will work in a highly collaborative environment, so it’s important to solicit input from people in different roles. Junior employees are often asked for their feedback on candidates, even if they don’t have the final say.

This emphasis on consensus is part of what makes Goldman Sachs’ interview process "one of the most rigorous," Karp added.

If rejected, try reapplying a year later

But don’t expect to get feedback on your performance or on how to improve, one of the recruiters said.

Holmes encourages candidates to reapply if they don’t receive an offer the first time around.

"If we interviewed somebody for a job and ended up not hiring them, it would probably lean much more towards it not being the right opportunity than they weren’t a competent candidate," he said.

In fact, Keswin said, if the company’s feedback on a candidate was generally positive, a recruiter might call that person again when another job opens up.

Consider the caliber of your prospective coworkers

Will you really thrive in Goldman Sachs’ investment-banking division? Ultimately, that depends on the people you’re working with.

Holmes told a group of summer 2018 interns that the single most underrated thing people fail to account for when they’re choosing a job is how much they like their prospective coworkers.

It’s likely that any big bank will demand long hours and the job will be mentally taxing. But Holmes shared with the interns a maxim that applies just as well to midlevel employees: "Working hard feels very different when you like the people around you and when you don’t."

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slebowitz@businessinsider.com (Shana Lebowitz)

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