Inside Goldman Sachs U.S.: Aaron Marcus, head of Americas campus recruiting

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1. I can't decide whether to become a banker or a consultant. What do you suggest?

Let's start with the similarities. Banking and consulting both offer exceptional opportunities for young professionals. They both provide on-the-job training, stimulating projects, talented colleagues, and better-than-average starting salaries. They both create solid foundations for people planning to attend business school, and build skill sets allowing rapid advancement in the business world. Finally, both offer opportunities to focus on particular industries like entertainment, health care, technology, or the consumer retail sector, and both can involve working long hours.

But there are several ways in which entry level opportunities in banking and consulting diverge (and in which I think banking comes out on top). Consulting often requires long periods of travel and significant stays at client worksites. This can disrupt relationships with families and clients, and make a consultant feel that he or she is not part of the home or host organization. Consultants may be stationed at client sites for weeks, months or even years at a time.

Secondly, strategy consultants can create exciting proposals, but may never see their ideas implemented; process consultants may be frustrated in making small tweaks and not being able to make strategic proposals. Consultants are able to learn about many different industries and organizations but may not feel that they truly become expert in any one area.

Bankers are more likely to gain significant expertise in a particular area. Although work hours vary for bankers depending upon the divisions they work, young bankers will soon become accustomed to the rhythms of their workday. Consultants may have long periods of inactivity while they are waiting to be staffed on projects and then have periods of intense activity.

Consulting may be more desirable for recent graduates who want exposure to a variety of clients and projects. Banking may provide a more desirable experience for people who are passionate about the markets, or want to gain a solid grounding in one particular area like investment banking, sales & trading or equity research.

2. My academic results are good but not great. Would Goldman still take me on?

Most of the undergraduates we hire have a GPA of 3.3 to 3.8. However, we consider an array of criteria in determining someone's suitability for Goldman Sachs. Academic results are very important but not the sole factor in our decision-making process. We value prior work experience (not necessarily in the financial services arena) and extra-curricular activities (demonstrating leadership and community involvement) as well as an academic record. We are looking for a well-rounded student who has appropriately prioritized his or her time to demonstrate a commitment to academic excellence, leadership in a community, and professional work experience.

3. What's the most common mistake you see on application forms?

Students and or professional applicants too often allow a resume to be 'task-focused' as opposed to 'outcome- or accomplishment-focused': they describe the work that was done, not the contribution or the value-add to the organization.

We're seeking change agents and dynamic thinkers who want to come into a role and make it better than when they inherited it. Resumes should show us how a candidate impacted an organization or project (quantitative or qualitative results are particularly useful). We're looking for evidence of motivation, innovation or creativity, and commitment to excellence.

4. My only work experience is a store assistant at Macy's. Is this a problem?

Absolutely not! In fact, we often deem retail or food service experience to be among the most attractive experiences a person can have on a resume. Many of our positions require an ability to sell and to convince customers of the merits of one product over another.

We consider that work experience in a sales role develops client facing skills and allows candidates to demonstrate a commitment to customer service. It also teaches you how to handle difficult client situations and work towards constructive resolutions. If you have been in a supervisory position, you will have had a chance to show leadership abilities.

5. Which are the three most important questions you ask at interview?

1) "Give me an example of a time in which you did not meet your own expectations of being a successful team player."

2) "How have you facilitated the personal, professional, or academic success of another individual?"

3) "Give me an example of a time in which you overcame resistance to an idea you had to gain buy-in or consensus."

6. And how should I respond, sitting across your desk?

Examples, examples, examples! During interviews we are looking for skills that have been demonstrated in any professional or social setting. We want candidates to refer in detail to particular situations when they used these skills. When you're answering the questions above, we would therefore encourage you to think about -

a) Instances when your performance was sub par, and how you've learnt from them

b) Situations that show you are a successful team player

c) Examples demonstrating that you are a persuasive communicator

7. I'm a second-year undergraduate who wants to work in banking, but I haven't got a place in an internship program. Does that matter?

Skills and interest are more important to us than specific business knowledge, so it is by no means the end of the world if you don't get a place in our internship program. We hire a sizeable number of people who haven't been in the programme every year: 30-40% of our full time graduate hires are sourced after the internship program has ended. Some have prior internship experience; many don't.

8. I left university a few years ago and I'd like to work in banking. Where do I start?

Apply at www.gs.com/careers for experienced hire positions. We also run an employee referral program; think through your career or alumni networks to see if you have contacts at Goldman who might help in this regard.

Bear in mind that we value many types of prior work experience: the job of the lateral candidate is to explain how his or her past experience will make him or her more valuable at Goldman Sachs.

9. What's the worst way to go about getting hired by Goldman Sachs?

By not coming to our recruiting events and meeting the people of Goldman Sachs!

The people who visit your school will often have been students there like yourself. We provide many passionate alumni who are willing and able to help students prepare for first round and callback interviews. If you get to know them, they can help boost your chances of being called for interview - you will become a 'candidate' amongst the hundreds of 'resumes'.

The professionals you meet in the recruiting process can also become important mentors and advisors once you begin at the firm. These mentors help to ensure your long-term success.

Other failings include not thinking of examples that demonstrate the skills we're looking for before you walk into the interview room, and failing to demonstrate commercial interest in our organization, industry, and the business world. We expect students to have read the financial press and to be prepared to discuss articles of note that interest them.

10. If I work at Goldman Sachs I will have lots of money but no social life. True or false?

False! The least interesting thing about people who work at Goldman Sachs is often what they do at work. You will have a very rich social life by virtue of the fact that you will work with diversely talented individuals with many outside interests.

Many Goldman professionals create some of their strongest friendships at the firm, friendships that sustain them professionally and socially.

11. How much do you pay at analyst and associate level? Do you offer guaranteed bonuses to associates?

Our compensation is competitive in the marketplaces in which we operate. Unfortunately, we don't publicly disclose details of our compensation packages.

To read a Q&A with Goldman's UK head of HR, Calum Forrest, click here.

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