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Goldman Sachs has got a personality test. Here's how to handle that.

The perfect personality for Goldman Sachs

Goldman Sachs has tweaked its application process. If you're applying for a 2018 summer analyst position (ie. internship) at GS in the U.S., you're probably going to be given some sort of personality test before the second round interview. It's all part of the firm's attempts to make "smarter hiring decisions." So says Matt Jahansouz, Goldman's global head of recruiting.

That's nice. But... what does the perfect Goldman personality look like? And how can you be sure to manifest it?

Jahansouz gives a few pointers. He says Goldman's personality test - like its Hirevue interviews - is going to be about screening new recruits to make sure they're just like the high performing staff Goldman's got already.

Jahansouz says Goldman's existing high performers demonstrate teamwork, analytical thinking and judgement. This is helpful but not super-so given that analytical thinking and judgement are components of IQ, not personality. - In pure personality terms, it sounds like Goldman's simply looking for team players.

This makes good sense given that GS is a former partnership which is still big on working together. Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein regularly emphasizes the importance of teamwork.  Dane Holmes, head of investor relations, says Goldman's ability to preserve a, "commitment to collaboration and collective decision-making," is one of its strengths.  "“It’s all about collaboration and teamwork at Goldman,” one ex-GS associate told us. “There are some big brash bankers there, but most are low key and are doing what they do because they think it’s the right thing for clients.”

So then, how do you demonstrate teamwork in a personality test?

The first thing you need to know is that most personality tests are based on the big five model of personality traits.  This posits five different dimensions to personality: openness (intellect, imagination, desire for knowledge and new experiences), conscientiousness (ability to make plans and follow through), extroversion and introversion (sociability), agreeableness (how well you get on with other people and the extent to which you're willing to compromise and put their needs before your own) and neuroticism or emotional stability (how you react to bad news).

Researchers have then broken these down into sub-categories. Agreeableness includes, for example, trust, modesty, compliance and straightforwardness. Conscientiousness includes: competence, self-discipline, striving for achievement. And extraversion includes warmth, gregariousness, and positive emotion.

It doesn't take much to see that the generic ideal Goldman personality - as implied by Jahansouz, Blankfein and Holmes - is likely to include a lot of agreeableness, a fair amount of extraversion and (probably) plenty of conscientiousness. Therefore, if the Goldman personality test includes questions asking whether you like to i) Put people at their ease, ii) Treat everyone equally, iii) Assume the best in other people, you probably need to answer affirmatively. The same goes for questions asking whether you make friends easily, cheer people up, and handle tasks smoothly.

Is Goldman missing a trick by selecting for agreeable team workers though? Academics who've studied correlations between the big five traits and risk taking have found that risk takers (ie. traders) are typically high in extroversion and high in openness, but low in neuroticism, low in agreeableness and low in conscientiousness. Similarly, studies of the big five in entrepreneurs have shown that they too are low in agreeableness and neuroticism, but high in conscientiousness, extroversion and openness. And do you really want to be agreeable if you're working in, say, compliance, where you need to face down difficult traders?

Goldman Sachs might think it wants to fill up on agreeable extroverts, but the reality is likely to be more nuanced - especially at senior levels. In most organizations, disagreeable people who challenge the status quo and cause ructions in pursuit of performance thrive at higher levels in the hierarchy. Recruiting identikit personalities is therefore likely to be a bad idea. If Goldman's new intern personality test fills its talent pipeline with agreeable juniors, the firm could yet find itself floating on a sea of excessive niceness - which could be problematic when there are tough strategic decisions to be taken about the future.


Photo credit: “Another belief of mine: that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.” Margaret Atwood by Kate Ter Haar is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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