Vault Q&A with Wang Xu, Associate, Goldman Sachs
Q: How did you get your start at Goldman Sachs?
I got my start at Goldman Sachs first through a summer internship in 2006. I went through three rounds of interviews, both over the phone and in person in New York. I met with six to seven bankers one-on-one, before being offered the internship.
The internship lasted about 10 weeks. As an intern, you have a lot of interaction with bankers and you're staffed on various projects. At the same time, it's a great way to evaluate the firm and decide if this is the place for you. You will have a midterm review -- in the middle of the internship -- and a formal summer review at the end. During the course of the internship, you get feedback from the people you work with, on things such as what you did well and how you could improve. You frequently receive feedback and advice.
After finishing the internship, I received a full-time offer and decided to accept it.
Q: What impressed you about the internship?
First of all, I think it gives you first-hand experience in the kind of job you're looking at. If you're considering a career in financial services, particularly in investment banking, it's a valuable opportunity.
I was highly impressed by the intellectual power of the people I met, and also by the collegial culture of the firm. Most work is carried out by teams, sometimes two or three team members, sometimes a bigger group. Most if not every decision is made jointly -- certainly different people have different roles, but you work together as a team toward a common goal.
Q: So do you use English or Chinese more often in your daily work?
We use English extensively at work. Most internal written communication is in English and we often speak with colleagues in English. Verbal communication can also depend on whom you're speaking to. Since we're in Beijing, we work with many local clients and have lots of external communication in Chinese. Overall, maybe it's 60-40 or 70-30, with 60 or 70 percent being English.
Q: Do you feel that your experience in the U.S. offers any advantages for working in China?
I believe it does. I think in my case, having a U.S. education background and having previously worked in the U.S. help me to bridge the gaps -- communication or cultural gaps -- and also help me to better understand how international and domestic companies operate.
Q: How relevant do you feel your education is to what you are doing today?
I would say very relevant. The education I got from the MBA program is extremely helpful in my career development. A lot of things I learned prepared me well for getting started in an investment banking career, especially as it gave me an overall understanding of how business works in general.
Q: What skills and experience do you think are important for success in investment banking and what is the most challenging part of your work?
I would say first of all, you should be very interested in the industry and the type of work involved. For young people who just graduated or are graduating from school, I think it's very important to find a job that you're truly interested in doing.
In this industry, people work very hard and very long hours. So you need to be mentally prepared for it. You also need to have the desire to learn because there are constantly new things to learn in this industry. The work is very interesting, but also can be quite challenging.
The most challenging part of my job is to balance a wide range of projects at the same time.
Q: So what are some of your favorite things about your job?
One of the most exciting things about this job is you get to work with great people, both internally at Goldman Sachs and also with clients. Many of them are at the top of their fields and you do get a chance to work with them and learn from them.
China is growing very, very fast. You get to work with some of the best companies in China. You help them to raise capital, to do mergers and acquisitions, and to achieve their goals. So you'll be part of this growth story. I find it very exciting.
Q: Can you tell me a bit about the promotion process at Goldman Sachs?
In general, people here get reviewed toward the end of the fiscal year. It's a 360-degree review, meaning you are reviewed by supervisors, peers and people more junior to you. You're evaluated on your job skills, teamwork, drive and motivations, and other things. There are two main parts: quantitative on a numbered scale and also qualitative comments on what are your strengths and what you can improve on. The whole process takes a few weeks from start to finish. When all the results are compiled, you sit down with your manager and group head to discuss it.
Q: What about training or personal development that Goldman Sachs offers?
Training is very good here at Goldman Sachs. When you first join the firm, it has a training program for associates and analysts. In my case, I received six weeks of training in New York when I first started. It was intensive and it was great. There were introductions to the firm, its culture, its divisions and how they work together, and basic skills within your division as people come from a wide variety of backgrounds and majors.
There are also weekly training sessions on Mondays, related to your daily work, as well as recent updates or developments in the capital markets, be that a case study of a recent transaction, or certain aspects of the M&A process. I find it to be very helpful. Goldman Sachs also offers an online training module with a wide variety of courses, ranging from professional development and hard skills to diversity awareness and leadership training. We also have a mentoring program -- a mentor is usually a banker more senior to you from whom you can seek advice. Also, we have a buddy system. A buddy is usually your peer, but someone who is slightly more experienced than you, whom you can go to for various things such as "Where can I get this printed in color?" This is helpful for junior people who are just starting out.
Q: What is the working environment like?
It's a team culture, since pretty much everything done here is in teams. I would say it's open. You tend to work long hours in this industry, so you have to get along with people around you. People work together and help each other. Of course, people do expect you to be a fast learner, to get up to speed pretty quickly once you've been taught something.
Q: Do you have any advice you would give to graduates seeking a career in banking?
If you want to get into this industry, try to do your research. Read books and talk to people -- friends and family, or friends of friends -- who have experience in the industry. Try to get an internship if you can -- I think it provides invaluable first-hand experience to get a deeper understanding of a career in banking and if this is something you want to do.