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The six interview pet peeves of Goldman Sachs recruiters

There are nearly a limitless number of things you can do to screw up an interview. We’ve heard them all, from calling someone a high-heeled bond trader (rather than high-yield) to showing up to a hedge fund interview in a sports jersey.

These are obvious blowups that can be easily avoided. But what about the little stuff – your facial expressions, how you present yourself and where you take the ‘tell me about yourself’ question? Not stubbing your toe on some of the smaller hurdles is how you keep your candidacy alive.

In a recent Goldman Sachs webinar on interview skills, two staffers in their human capital resources group – people who interview candidates every day – provided a road map for a perfect graduate interview. In doing so, they laid out several of their personal pet peeves that drive them (and likely all other banking recruiters) nuts. Here are a few things you should avoid at all costs.

Canned responses

The most common piece of negative feedback from Goldman Sachs on candidates at the junior level concern rehearsed responses.

There is obviously a lot of preparation that goes into banking interview, and the same type of questions are asked at each one, so there’s plenty of practicing happening. One business school actually hands out worksheets so that MBAs can write down and practice delivering anecdotes.

Clearly, all that work is causing some bad habits, like talking as if you are reading off of a script. Goldman wants natural conversations, not memorized lines, so know the general direction you are going to take an answer but don’t make it look like you’re going through a routine. They notice. The recruiters said they see it every day.

Regurgitating your resume

One common question that you’re bound to hear in any interview is ‘tell me your story’ or ‘walk me through your resume.’ The biggest mistake people make when responding is taking the question too literally, the recruiters noted.

There is no need to regurgitate everything that is on your resume. They know where you went to school and your GPA. It’s on a piece of paper right in front of them. Really, the question is a prompt to bring a personal touch to your background and explain how your experience showcases your attributes and what makes you unique, along with how it positions you well for the company and role in question.

Don’t give them information that they already have.


It’s difficult to tell someone not to be nervous -- if people could control angst naturally they likely would. So Goldman tried to provide a little inspiration. “We picked you out of tens of thousands of other candidates to interview here,” one recruiter said. That in itself should give you confidence.

She mentioned one candidate who was extremely nervous and asked for a minute to collect themselves. She appreciated it and thought it humanized the person. Being “human” was a big point of emphasis.

Botching the ‘why do you want to work here’ question

Here’s another question you’ll likely be asked. The most common poor response is, ‘I want to work with people,’ the Goldman recruiter said. “We all want to work with people!” she said incredulously.

Instead, talk about aligning your values with the company and how you fit in the specific department for which you are interviewing.

Not understanding the prompts

If you walk out of an interview and notice that they didn’t ask you anything technical, you likely blew it. As interviews are meant to feel conversational, you’ll often need to be the one who brings up your industry knowledge and technical abilities.

One of the recruiters gave an example. A hiring manager will ask what publications you read. A good answer could be the Wall Street Journal, followed by talk of a recent article that you read on a company and what you think of its stock price, she said. Show them how you follow the market, rather than waiting for them to ask you if you follow the market.

Along the same lines of thought, not having any interest in current events is a massive pet peeve for Goldman recruiters. They mentioned reading the Wall Street Journal or Financial Times on a half-dozen occasions. You should be dropping knowledge of recent news clippings often, particularly those that affect the division in question.

Not following up

If you don’t know the answer to a particular question, being honest and telling the interviewer that you will follow up isn’t a deathblow, they said. But saying you’ll follow up and not doing so is a “deal breaker."

AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor
  • Jo
    John Angushorse
    14 December 2014

    Oh Francis...

    Singular they is the use of they, or its inflected or derivative forms, such as them, their, or >>>themselves<<<, to refer to a single person or an antecedent that is grammatically singular. It typically occurs with an antecedent of indeterminate gender, as in sentences such as: "Everyone returned to their seats.", "Somebody left their umbrella in the office. Would they please collect it?", "The patient should be told at the outset how much they will be required to pay.", "But a journalist should not be forced to reveal their sources.".

    A reason for its use is that English has no dedicated singular personal pronoun of indeterminate gender. In some cases, its use can be explained by notional agreement because words like "everyone", though singular in form, are plural in meaning. Its use in formal English has increased in recent times with the trend toward gender-inclusive language, but it has been used by respected writers for centuries.

  • st
    13 November 2014

    @francis_urquhart: I'd think twice before walking into the diction-Nazi pool and criticizing others. "*Herself* - singular. Themselves - plural." The candidate wouldn't refer to herself as "one," so this is obviously a word written by the author.

    And people don't "*get* the difference" between one concept or another, they understand or comprehend them (or fail to do so). "Getting the difference between" is the level of grammar demonstrated by an average high school student, not a master of the English language as you present yourself. Please accept my apologies if you are still in high school and/or simply trolling - you "got" me!

    I've made my point. Whether you possess the intellectual capability to understand it is beyond my control.

    You admittedly applied arbitrary and capricious "grammar Nazi" interview techniques and dismissed potentially exceptional candidates for your (former?) employer. You took aui n unfortunately typical shortcut rather than undertaking the responsibilty of your position.

    Congrats. Keep up the good work! You're make my job as a professional recruiter easier by not reducing the talent pool. Hope you're able to adapt to the inevitable changing tide of more positions to fill than available candidates.

    I think you "get" the difference

  • RJ
    12 November 2014

    This article is helpful, however, it doesn't mention tips for breaking into the financial field, particularly, for someone whose graduate degree is a few years old. Is there a way to get into the financial field without working in sales first? Please enlighten me.


  • fr
    12 November 2014

    "She mentioned one candidate who was extremely nervous and asked for a minute to collect themselves." Really? One candidate -- singular. Themselves -- plural. If anyone interviews with me and can't get the difference between a singular and plural form, that person doesn't get the job.

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