In Vanity Fair's latest expose on Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein cites Goldman's "culture" as the compass that allowed the firm to navigate the financial storm of 2008. At every i-bank on-campus presentation the firm representative at the front of the room will harp on the incredible "culture" at their firm. At Google, employees get messages on their lunch break. Is this "culture"? This word is flung around without a lot of context or specifics. If you are still in college and haven't spent a ton of time within an organization, the concept of corporate culture may be even more enigmatic to you. To make the concept even more nebulous, the interview process is designed to answer one question: "Does this applicant fit culturally within our organization?" Let's not kid ourselves, the majority of the candidates that make it through the resume screen are competent enough to handle analyst banking work, but the difference between landing the job and treading water in the application pool is your ability to get your hands around this murky concept. Here at Wall Street Insiders, we think a research-based approach is the key to success...
One way to collect data points to help define an organization's culture is to look at who has been promoted and why. This isn't hard information to come by; spend 20 minutes Googling or clicking around LinkedIn or Dealbook and you can get a pretty clear picture of who's climbing the ladder. Does the organization promote from within or tend to bring in outsiders? Does every Vice President have an MBA or does the organization consider it a degree of a bygone era? Does the organization "churn and burn" its Analyst or is it interesting in training them for an Associate role?
While conducting your due diligence on a prospective employer, keep tabs on the profiles of the people you come across. Are they ex-jocks or math geeks? Southern gentlemen, the Vineyard Vines crowd, or are they flush with H-1 visas? Banks tend to be ethnically diverse, but there is some truth to every stereotype.
How does the firm engage the community? Does it sponsor tennis tournaments, host an annual golf invitational, or sponsor the New York City Math Olympiad Competition? Additionally, one of the biggest factors that people fail to consider is whether the organization is public or private. This is a huge factor that I will touch on in a future blog post.
So what does this mean for you, Johnny or Jane Applicant? As any great salesman will tell you, know your audience! If you are interviewing for an organization that expects its analyst to work for two years and move on, don't spend time in your interview articulating your desire to take on Associate responsibilities down the line and move up the chain. Certain banks tend to be highly conservative (as an aside, I am shocked at how many BYU alums/Mormons there are on the Street) and so the fratty, work-hard/play-hard demeanor isn't a good strategy.
The bottom line: be serious about your "culture" research. I know it is a soft and amorphous concept but stay methodical. Keep a log or spreadsheet and think critically about what your research is telling you when preparing for you interview!