From Quora, the OP asked the following question:
What is it like to work in IBD at Goldman Sachs?
An anonymous poster provides the following answer:
I can only speak to the analyst experience. There's a partner who detailed his experience on this site as well - I recommend you read that for a description of what the higher-ups go through.
As for me, I worked at Goldman Sachs in investment banking for a bit before running off to the buy-side. I did not leave because I disliked GS, but it was just what everyone did.
200 West Street, Goldman Sachs World Headquarters
Looking back on it, I am thankful that I did my time with Goldman Sachs and, if I had to repeat everything, I would do it again without hesitation. The things you learn in investment banking extend far beyond simple corporate valuation or financial modeling. The life skills you learn are invaluable, for better or for worse.
#1: The Hours & Compensation
Hours are just as bad as everybody says. Nobody's kidding when they say that bankers (analysts at least) work on average 80-90 hours per week, with many of those weeks extending to 100+. It takes a certain mentality to get through this okay, but once you're used to the hours it no longer is something you detest. Sure, sometimes it absolutely sucks (friends down in the city, you can't hang out because you have to work), but for the most part you stop fighting against it because it's a futile battle. I adopted the mentality of "my life is all about work from now until the end of my analyst gig" and it was okay from then on.
I guess, for me, what also helped me get me through it all was knowing there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and opportunities to escape into a much better, more rewarding life. I also knew that many of my friends worked less than I but earned far less and had to worry about serious financial constraints. While I didn't earn that much, I had car service at night and a dinner allowance that I occasionally used to buy the next day's lunch as well - as a result, outside of rent I didn't have many expenses.
I'm not going to cite figures for compensation, but it was generous. However, while many people say bankers are seriously overpaid, I'd say that's a phenomenon reserved for people in higher positions. Analysts tend to view year-end bonuses as 'accrued compensation,' or salary we claw back because we worked so many hours through the year. GS had three buckets (high performers, average guys, poor performers) which made competition within the analyst class pretty well-defined. That undermined the spirit of teamwork that management tries to instill within all of us, but it was not a big enough deal to cause any real friction between analysts.
#2: Culture and Work
While I have had brief stints at other banks (internships for the most part) I would say that Goldman's culture is the best out of the bulge brackets (the biggest banks like Bank of America Merrill Lynch or J.P. Morgan), but it does not stack up to the culture that is touted by "elite boutique" firms (e.g. Blackstone Advisory, Centerview Partners), where analysts are expected to stay for the long run.
Goldman recently abandoned the two-year analyst program model that has become so prevalent on Wall Street, instead trying to convince new talent to commit to investment banking for the long run. This may change the mentality of incoming analyst classes for the better, and hopefully the culture will improve from there. It will likely take some time though.
Knowing that your stint will be over in a few years and that you will eventually leave is a strange expectation when entering a job. I guess it felt like just another internship for me - two years of torture followed by the promise of a buyside job and a lot of money. As a result, analysts are worked very hard and forced to put in very long hours and do a lot of work, as detailed earlier.
However, investment banking is not all bad. The work I did, while mostly mundane or useless, can sometimes prove to be very interesting. The people I worked with were extraordinary, and many of them can be considered the best in the world at what they do. VPs and MDs typically have their own offices, the vast majority of which have open door policies, meaning they are more than willing to talk to you at any time. People outside of your group - complete strangers - would be happy to sit down and talk if you schedule a meeting with them.
Everybody is nice, down-to-earth, and focused on work. It can sometimes be a very high pressure environment to work in, especially when there are a large amount of deliverables that need to be completed in a short amount of time. People are more than willing to help if you ask, and very understanding of any problems that may come up. However, it is by no means a light atmosphere, and many people sit staring at the screen with headphones in, focused entirely on work. There is little friendly chatter and most conversations center on work-related subjects. That may be different in other groups - my group was quite focused though.
Something that our managers stressed very heavily was to not make the same mistake twice, and to escalate all questions - they'd rather you ask a stupid question than make a stupid mistake. Errors aren't treated lightly, and so investment banking is not for those who have low attention to detail. Pitch decks go through hundreds of revisions before they pass quality standards, with fixes ranging from trivial things like formatting to critical changes like altering model inputs or output pages.
Goldman's perks are okay - car service, late-night dinner compensation, etc. Lunch and breakfast can be expensive when bought in the cafeteria, and the free coffee is disgusting.
Overall I would recommend Goldman as a springboard into something else, but not a place to stay indefinitely. Perhaps entering as an associate could yield different results, but I cannot imagine going through many more years of the brutality that a job in banking entails.
While it may seem like an obvious choice for some to take the 100 hr/wk, high-paying finance job over the 40 hr/wk low-paying job after graduation, very few do not feel pangs of regret as they're a year and a half into the banking stint, standing over the ruins of failed relationships (it's impossible to date as an analyst, don't even try) staring at piles of work to finish.
It's hard to truly appreciate what an opportunity it really is until after you've moved on.
I hope this helps. Comment below if you have any questions. Best of luck!