I was at my bar last night. Technically I don’t own it, but I like using the possessive pronoun in the phrase “my bar.” It also happens to be in “my town” which too, unbeknownst to all the townspeople is owned by me. It’s all mine, the bar, the town, the roads. Everything, I freaking own it all!
Anyway, I was at my bar last night talking to some buddies of mine. And we were exchanging stories about“interviews from hell.” Most of them themed or centralled around stories of some idiot 24 year old HR generalist idiot that knew nothing of your field or specialty asking you;
“If you were in this situation,what would you do and why?”
“Have you ever been in asituation and you disagreed with your boss?”
“What is your favorite color and why?”
Meanwhile you’d sit there and be amazed the entirety of the US labor market hasn’t come to a screeching halt due to the inefficiencies and incompetence of its gatekeepers; HR.
So I told my worst interview story, which begat requests that I put it up on the blog (as some in the crew were investment bankers) and so I've decided to oblige them.
I was all of 21 I think, maybe just recently turned 22. By this time I was coming upon the end of a hellish experience known as college. And it WAS hellish and I mean it in the most sincerest and literal sense. Most people say, "It was hell" when in reality it was just an annoyance. College WAS hell (hell, I even wrote song about to sing whilst on patrol)
Regardless, the primary (although not only) reason college was hell was because I worked full time while going to school full time. I had dropped down to 118 pounds my sophomore year because I couldn’t afford much in the way of food and my job required me to bike about 50 miles a day. This was on top of a credit load that most preppy suburbanites would get crushed under, so after three and a half years of this (and sleep deprevation) the light at the end of the tunnel was coming. Add to this I had a 3.96 GPA and 3 interships under my belt, I thought the last thing I would have to worry about was a job. So as luck would have it, I got an interview with the chalice of all finance majors; Goldman Sachs.
Now the bulge bracket doesn’t bother with the U of MN because frankly, nobody in the world has heard about the "Carlson School of Management." And as far as the East Coast is concerned the only schools are Wharton, Chicago, Darden, Harvard and Nepotism U. And if I recall correctly I had a buddy either hack or somehow provide me the password and username from the U of Chicago's job posting board which ended up in me getting the interview for a "GLOBAL EQUITIES ANALYST" at none other than Goldman Sachs.
Now this was right up my alley. I had a passion for finance and international economics (heck, I interned under the international economics department at Wells Fargo and had subscribed to The Economist since I was 19), and so I was naturally excited about being the one non-ivy leaguer to break into the Bulge Bracket. To be the one guy from Carlson to say, "Oh no, I don't work at Piper Jaffray or Dain Rauscher or one of those wannabe investment banks. I work at a "real" one." But there was one slight problem.
You see, at the time, Goldman Sachs was still a privately held company. So there was no way to know how much they made. And they fed me this line, "well, if you'd like to interview with us, then you'll have to fly out here for the interview on your own expense."
Of course, 5 years later they go public and I find out they made $47 trillion in earnings and could have damned well afforded my flight with my own personal team of redheaded Irish cheerleaders to cheer me on for the interview, but being a naive 22 year old, what did I know? So I fell for it.
Now the thing is, I didn't make $47 trillion in earnings in 1997 either. And I couldn't afford a flight out there, so my only option was to load up my rusty but trusty 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with some Moutain Dew, some deoderant (no tapes or CD's cause there was no deck), my best suit and head on out.
I scheduled myself two days to get there and two days to get back.
Of course there are logistical problems with planning a cumulative 5 day road trip and making only $16,000 per year without parental support. Namely, you can't afford lodging, which means you sleep in the back of your 1985 Cutlass Supreme. (which is actually quite comfy).
The first rest stop was a small town in Pennsylvannia, Clarion.
I stopped there because there was a state college campus and I figured it was just as safe as any place to stop and sleep. I woke up the next morn around 830AM to the sounds of other students my age making noise and making their way to the gym of the parking lot I had decided to park in. So I decided to wake up, head into the gym and see if there were some lockers where I could maybe take a shower, freshen up, change clothes and hit the road again.
The problem is I'm a particularly young looking 22 year old at the time, wearing what amounted to cut off sweats and a t-shirt and didn't materially differ from anybody else walking into the gym at that time. Little did I know I was about to be assumed into the Badminton 101 class with the rest of the college students.
Little did they know that I was the badminton champion at my high school.
"Hey you, grab a racket!"
So, after 1 hour of summarily defeating the best U of Penn Clarion had to offer (and getting some odd looks that nobody could recognize me or remember me), I hit the showers (which was my original purpose in the first place) cleaned up, hopped back into the Gutless Cutlass and headed out.
I made it to Union City and due to my then-infant economic spidey senses I was able to find a place to park for 50 cents a day. The problem was it was already getting dark and hotel rates I observed along the highway were around $180/night. But I did recall a way side near a town called Dover a couple miles back. So I decided to head back to the way side, sleep, wake up the next morning park my car in Union City and take the train into New York for my interview.
The next morning I did wake up. By this time I was wearing the same clothes for the third straight day and would have to clean up somewhere between Dover and NYC. Started making my way in and right before I got to Union City I stopped at a McDonalds. Went in with my suit and shaving kit. Washed up my body best one can in a washroom in McDonalds. Shaved, put on my suit and headed across the Hudson into Battery Park. Found Goldman Sach's HQ, went in, said I was in for an interview with some high ranked schmutz or another and was escorted upstairs to his office.
Now, I had never been to New York, but I knew this guy was probably pretty highly ranked. His office had a perfect view of the Statue of Liberty. It was right on the coast of Battery Park. And he actually DID have his own redheaded Irish girl cheerleading squad! I'm not kidding, they were right there! I did however remember him having a two floor red carpeted office.
So there I am, sitting in this guy's office. Looking around and he comes in. We introduce ourselves and he says, "So, what was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning?"
"What was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning?"
I didn't know. I was driving in from Dover. I was in a McDonalds washing my arm pits with cold sink water and shaving. And making sure I had enough time to make it into Manhattan so I wouldn't be late. And this guy wants to know what's on the front page of the WSJ?
I said, "I don't know."
"Do you read the Wall Street Journal?"
Which I didn't because the Wall Street Journal, frankly, sucks. It's a paper. Even in 1997 it was outdated. I got most of my news from the Internet and if I read anything it was The Economist.
So I lied and said, "uh, yeah."
"What was on it yesterday?"
By this time I wanted to reach across his table, grab him by the lapels and say, "Listen you blue blood schmuck, I just drove 2 days across half the freakin' country because you're too damn cheap to fly me out here. I had to sleep in two way sides, act like I was in a badminton class, essentially shower in a McDonalds' sink and drop who knows how much in gas and Mountain Dew to have your Ivy League pampered ass look at me and ask me what was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal? I don't know what was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, but I can tell you what Dover, New Jersey looks like at 3AM!"
But by that time I knew it was pretty much over. There was a whole different set of unspoken professional rules out there in the Bulge Bracket that they must have taught you in the Ivy League. And it wouldn't have mattered much if I did know what was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, because I presume there would have been another eccentric trip wire of the east coast I-Banking world I would have tripped. I got through the rest of the interview with no questions about what I knew about sovereign risk analysis, model programming, valuation techniques or any of my other fortes. And now that I think about it, the suit I interviewed in was from JC Penny. I'm sure I ruined any chances of future U of MN students ever getting an interview at Goldmand Sachs.
And so defeated I left the Big Apple, confident I would get a rejection letter in the mail, which I did one week later.
Now one would think that a kid with the gumption and determination to drive 2 days for an interview, who would sleep in way sides and shower at a McDonalds would in that action itself warrant employment with most employers. But it seems employers nowadays are more concerned with protocol, about procedure, about HR standard questions of "what would you do if you were in this situation" or "if you saw an employee do something unethical, what would you do and why?" or in the case of Goldman Sachs "what was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal?"
Who knew the bulge bracket was no more efficient than the HR department.