Saturday, April 21, 2007

My Goldman Sachs Story

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!"

"Uh, OK."

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.


Mr. Horrorpants said...

I think these nightmares happen because we emphasize individualism waaaaay too much in our culture.

Example: HR reps wants to prove they have their own unique way of dealing with the world, their own style, their own Schwarzeneggerian catch phrase. . . So they ask about the Wall Street Journal so they can feel they've got their own little super secret trick, and they pretend that's what gives them the edge.

In reality, knowledge of the actual job (and maybe a little in terms of the workplace environment)is ignored for sassy little questions that make HR reps feel all superimportant and special.


Anonymous said...

Captain, I think the Goldman Sachs guy sensed you were a superhero in your day clothes and felt inferior...

Anonymous said...

My dad works with an international power generation company, and he hates it when they have to do these psycho-babble seminars put on by the HR department. In fact, he just hates HR, but anyway, they asked him once, "If you could be any famous figure in history, who would it be?" Just to antagonize the HR rep, he said, "The Uni-bomber."

Captain Capitalism said...

Sadly I haven't interviewed with HR in a long time. I wish I could again, just to toy with their minds.

"Have you ever been in a situation where you and your boss didn't get along?"

"No, never. I've gotten along swimmingly with all my bosses in the past?"

Anonymous said...

A family member of mine is completely dysfunctional and borderline retarded. Yet, he seems to thrive in HR. Companies can't seem to get enough of hiring him away to promote him and give him raises. Tells you everything you need to know about the HR departments.

Unknown said...

...ironically I just came from an interview for a teaching position at a college nearby. I wasn't really sure about if this was a real interview or one the college has to do legally, well because, they post the job on the website. It was a low paying position, but I thought 'what the heck', go for it.

Same type of questions as you mentioned.

So I was getting bored with the touchy feely PC type questions and little about my background, teaching abilities, or cerfitications.

Finally a good one was asked!

"How would you handle an unruly student."

To which I answered "I would approach this student in confidence and with a quiet authoritative voice ask them to please step outside the classroom..."

(...the two interviewee's were mechanically scribbling like nuts)

"...and once outside the classroom I would beat the crap out of him..."

The scribbling kept going, then a pause, then silence, then one laughed.

Oh, haven't heard back yet.

Anonymous said...

"...we emphasize individualism waaaaay too much in our culture."

Um, what planet are you living on?

The point of this story is that business culture is becoming more European (corporate mentality, blood ties, protocol, process) as opposed to American culture, i.e. INDIVIDUALISM.

Get out of your cubicle and stop reading the NYT.

Great story besides.

Anonymous said...

John, I think these problems happen because too many people think they are HR people. This is what they do to try and show that they get what HR is all about. The reality is that if they had any clue as to what they were supposed to be doing, they would never interview someone for a career they don't understand in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Ultimately, when asked the question, "Do you read the Wall Street Journal?", your best answer would have been,
"You're kidding right? Who reads that rag?"
In the end you still don't get the job but you can see how it makes your story really POP! The joy and laughter generated in your lifetime would be immeasurable, even just at your bar.

Captain Capitalism said...

There is something to be said about that HR attract unstable characters.

I've now known two people who've filed for bankruptcy, can't manage their own lives, and I think get a power trip out of it, who are HR reps and actually make decisions on who's going to be part of the XYZ Corporate Team.

I learned very early on that any real job the interviewing is done by the boss. HR just feels like some kind of token acknowledgement.

Dennis said...

Now, I think it was a fair question to open with. I also do not assume there is a right answer, but more importantly there is only one wrong answer. Lying. And he knew it. And that is probably why it was over. It was over when he saw you try to BS your way.

I like the story though, especially the badminton part. i just disagree with the comments thus far.


BallBounces said...

Ethical traits which exhibit moral character, such as honesty and humility, will always serve one well when interviewing for a position of trust and responsibility.

Captain Capitalism said...

If they want honest and ethical then maybe they should be honest and ethical themselves and give up the games. I can only imagine how much talented labor has been passed up because of stupid games like this that are played on the part of the interviewer.

Anonymous said...

Dear Captain, I really appreciate your story and how you felt, I was really surprised by the ending. . .the way you started the write up, I thought you would let the Gentleman know that you drove 2 days and that WSJ was unavailable on the road and in any case, you get your news from the I Net and Economist, I mean you have a 3.96 GPA, all you needed was to get over the Hi Hello How do you do and into the real world. Guess it should have been your prerogative to get them into your world and what you are rather than step into theirs and wonder. . .
BTW, I am a HR professional, I used to be an Engineer, then went into Sales, and found so much crap in Companies, that I thought by getting into HR I could change the way people are and behave and think in Companies. . . over the 10 years plus I have realised hypocrisy of Mankind and at a more tangible level have realised most HR professionals dont know what to do, dont have the capability to do much and hence find something to do, tragic to say the least!

Gambit said...

Great story :)

Anonymous said...

You are completely right. However, you should have said all this shit in your interview. Why didn't you? Why didn't you say those words out loud, about not reading the Wall Street journal that morning for being in a McDonalds bathroom and such...?
That little HR guy would have had nothing to say back to that.

Captain Capitalism said...

Because look at Goldman Sachs and look at me.

I post a profit, meager as it is, and Goldman Sachs needs to extort me for money via the government and the TARP bailout.

No offense, and no sour grapes, but seriously and honestly, fuck Goldman Sachs.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Very interesting. It is amazing how trivial the interview process is sometimes. Especially for those coming from non target schools there is a big hurdle to overcome.

Anonymous said...

Wow...I can't believe I stumbled across this blog......

I'm a Carlson senior with a terrific grades and matching resuming and I can't get a "real" bank to touch me with a ten-foot poll. Why have I busted my ass this whole time?

Anonymous said...

You should of just told the truth. I think your drive and experience from MN, the comfy interior of your car to you defeating the badmiton champ is just as interesting, sometime even more than the cover story of the WSJ. Take it from me, i onced worked there. GL!

Colin Li said...

I am from China
And I really like your story
Could you share us more about your study at school?
I am planning to study economics, and make invest banking as my career.

Captain Capitalism said...

Hi Colin,

I would never enter the banking/financial services world, ESPECIALLY if you are from China and plan on working in the US and ESPECIALLY if you don't know somebody at the firm you wish to work at. It is horribly corrupt and life is too short to slave away 100 hours per week at a desk for some blue blood Ivy League schmuck.

Go into engineering or computers and stay with China. You guys will take over the world soon enough simply by the fact you have a work ethic and most Americans don't.

Colin Li said...

Hi Captain

So glad to receive your letter. I am not planning to work in the US
I learned engineering, but I want to learn economics in postgraduate period.
And I happende to see your blog in the web, I found you're such a cool guy.You are an economist and your school, interview experience is so interesting.
I just wonder would you mind share us something about your study at school, what courses did you learned at school, how did you learn, and how to become excellent at economics. I've never heard of sovereign risk analysis, model programming, valuation techniques you mentioned in your blog, I only know the micro/macro economics and international economics.So I think US economics education is much superior than us.
Your shool life was awesome too.How could you biked about 50 miles/d to work and had a 3.96GPA at last,how many hours did you spend on study? It really floor me! You're a great guy,how could you do that? I think that is what I should learn form you.I am so lazy and lack of discipline,and even can't get up on time in the morning.Could you tell us how to be like you?


Colin Li

Captain Capitalism said...


Well, thank you for the compliments Colin, but I didn't bike to work 50 miles, my job was to patrol the campus either on foot or on bike. I lived only 2 blocks from the police department, but over the course of an 8 hour work shift we would manage on average 50 miles.

In any case, I believe you are in pretty good shape if you already have an engineering background and are looking at a masters in economics or finance. Keep in mind it would be primarily for you to go into management in an engineering firm. However, while economics and finance is interesting, it is very unlikely you will get a job doing that in the US. Most firms only hire doctorates/masters in economics and only those who specialize in a field of "econometrics" which is essentially financial modeling.

I never studied econometrics, I only have a bachelors in finance with a minor in economics, however the majority of my expertise and exepreince comes from working and self- study. The Carlson School of Management is HORRIBLE in that they require you take other classes that have nothing to do with your specialty in order to employ more teachers. So you get stuck with HR, OMS, General Management, Marketing and other worthless fields.

I do not know of a school that does tech modeling or valuation all that well, but again this stuff can be self-taught.

Regardless, in short the best advice I can give is to NOT base your career on the financial services industry in that it is all sales, deceit and lies. Skill and ability really won't get you a job. Ergo if you get some financial background and work in the IT industry, you will probably do much better in that you are working with engineers (who happen to be more ethical) than bankers and lawyers (who for the most part need to be shot).


Anonymous said...

Fuck Goldman Sachs.

Worthless greedy fucks who contribute nothing, just take and take some more.

Anonymous said...

It strikes me as rather obvious that with the WSJ question you should have pounced on the opportunity to recount your travails in getting there.

I 20/20 Investments I said...

Captain Capitalism,

I ran across your blog when searching "goldman sachs stories"... I am a junior at the Carlson school. I would love to learn more about your post graduation experiences. What you did instead of GS, what you are doing now etc. I interviewed with a couple BB in NYC but I think I'm going to stick around the Minneapolis area and intern at a MM (i.e PJC, Baird, HLHZ etc). Could I correspond with you through email? My xd500 is akais001. Thanks

abhi said...

nice to see your blog, btw, i am from india and presently pursuing my graduation in commerce. i plan to take up a carreer in finance which happens to be quite lucrative and seems to offer tremendous returns. finance is not really my passion though , i m more interested in literature and film making but some financial problems at home dont really support me in takng up a carreer in these fields .so i plan to work my butt out in the next 5 -6 years , support myself and then swap my career. being a lot more experienced, could you tell me if its the right way to go about my career?

Anonymous said...

You my friend are a true inspiration to all the working class people in this great country of ours

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