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"I was very surprised when I began working there."

Why working for Goldman Sachs is so different to other banks

Last week, Goldman Sachs launched a new employer branding program to rebuff the perception that it's an 'elitist and cutthroat' place to work. As someone who spent several years working for the firm I can confirm that this is absolutely the case. 

When I began working for Goldman Sachs a few years ago, I was surprised by what I found there. Like most people, I had the impression the firm was razor sharp, highly competitive and genteelly aggressive. Turns out I was very wrong.

What I actually found at Goldman was an organization populated by some of the smartest and nicest people I have ever met. Far from being a place of competition and aggression, Goldman was the lowest conflict, highest consensus environment I've worked in. 

There's a reason for this. As was explained while I worked there, GS has the pick of the “smarts.” It gets to choose the best, and the best are not the people who put themselves first. Instead, Goldman chooses people that it finds interesting (ie. they do interesting things before and during their time at GS) and who they want to work with. That is why, when you work there, you will find successful sports people, musicians, charity supporters. It's also why Goldman famously interviews new people twenty or more times - there has to be consensus that they're a 'good' hire - in the sense of being a good person as well as a good contributor to the bottom line.

Goldman's low conflict, high consensus approach is also encouraged by the firm's 'crossing-ruffing' process, which it uses when appointing MDs and Partners. This process canvases opinion on candidates from colleagues across the organisation. - Goldman doesn't promote on the basis of a purely democratic where the majority decides. Instead, it's more like the veto process in the European Union - if one person disagrees, the promotion is unlikely to go ahead.

When you work for Goldman, a poor report from a colleague can therefore bring your ambition to a screeching halt, and no one there really knows who will be canvassed when the day comes. For this reason, it's very important that everyone likes what you are doing as you rise through the ranks. This means there are plenty of coffee chats. It also means that working there is about having everyone else's back, not pushing aggressively for your own gain.

This can come as a shock to those who don't understand how Goldman works. I know a couple of mid-rank joiners from other investment banks who, soon after joining, were pulled aside and cautioned for being too aggressive. Both told me they had only questioned colleagues in meetings in a way that was normal in their previous employment. At Goldman, however, there is a different way of doing things.

The Goldman way can have its drawbacks. For example, I often felt that difficult discussions were often delayed, leading to a lack of early internal clarity. I found too that GS worked best when under pressure; where there was no external pressure they tended to wait until the internal pressure grew sufficiently.

Goldman seems aware of this. Lloyd Blankfein once explained that a distinguishing feature between GS and other IBs is that in the other IBs senior management tend to run from a crisis, while at GS they rush to give aid. 

Goldman Sachs is not a bad place to work, nor is it always 'good.' But it is always different. GS offers a huge opportunity to those that “get it” and and work with “it”. It can be a great stepping stone if you want to move on.

Personally, I am glad to be out and working in a less 'special'  environment, I have no regret about my time there: I learned a lot there and discovered different ways of working. Merely mentioning that I worked for Goldman has also given me a lot of kudos in the outside world, and that makes a huge difference to this day.

John Cross is a pseudonym 

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AUTHORJohn Cross Insider Comment

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