3 Lessons for Interns From the First Chapter of "Why I Left Goldman Sachs"

by Vault Careers | October 16, 2012

Greg Smith, author of the notorious NY Times article, "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs" is now working on a book, subtitled "A Wall Street Story."

The first chapter, which has been leaked to Dealbook, chronicles Smith's early adventures with the company as an intern—back in 2000.

 Though it's hard to feel sorry for interns who made $5,000 for their summer of labor, GS definitely did not go easy on them. Still, despite some of Smith's harsh descriptions, we can't help but think that Goldman's systematic tough love approach really yielded successful character in their future employees (vs. today's: free menial labor model, which seems to yield little more from interns than disgruntlement).

Here's a few lessons learned at Goldman that today's interns might do well with:

1. You still need to earn your spot

You hear interns complain all the time about where they get parked—but what if they didn't have a chair, let alone a desk?

At Goldman, Smith reveals, interns had to carry around 18 inch stools everywhere, opening them conspicuously whenever visiting a colleague. And not everybody was lucky enough to get a stool—Smith writes that there weren't enough for all of the 75 interns that summer.

As if the musical chairs weren't enough of a status reminder, interns also had to wear brightly colored lanyards and nametags identifying them as interns.

The lesson: just because you made it in the door doesn't mean you're in the club. You have to earn your spot every minute of the day.

2. But you better know the company

Think your 8am wake up call's bad? Imagine having to attend a twice-weekly meeting at 6am. And not one you can snooze through—Goldman's interns were questioned on company trivia, stock information, and more, at random. Late? Be prepared to attend a make-up meeting the following day at 5am.

The message here: know the company, learn what's going on quickly, and don't ever be late. It's humbling, but in a good way. And yes, you should know what year the company is founded if you want to work there. Goldman enforcing that policy doesn't strike us as 'mean' so much as practical--and smart about cultivating discipline.

3. It's not about effort—it's about results

One of the more memorable stories of Smith's first chapter is the "cheddar cheese sandwich" request. A managing director sent an intern for lunch, and the kid returned with a "cheddar cheese salad" instead of the sandwich he was tasked to find.

The managing director threw the salad in the garbage.

Harsh? A tad. But it taught the intern—who had proudly handed it over—a lesson about the difference between effort and results. He did the work of getting the lunch, yes. But his effort was not rewarded because the results were poor.

Working hard is good, but working smart is better. And listening? You can never do that well enough. Especially as an intern.

--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com

Read More:
Book by Disgruntled Ex-Salesman Offers His Analysis of the Culture at Goldman
What it Takes to Join a Top Wall Street Bank
Advice for New Grads from T. Boone Pickens

Filed Under: Job Search | Workplace Issues


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