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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Signing Off

Greg Smith’s op-ed explaining why he left Goldman Sachs has become an instant classic (though I'm not sure how to characterize the genre).  Within hours, it had begun spawning parodies, including this one by Darth Vader explaining why he was resigning from the Galactic Empire.  It also brought back memories of my sole interaction with the vampire squid, which I thought I would share as a cautionary tale (for whatever it’s worth) as my sign-off post.  

When I was in law school, at the height of the dot-com bubble, the investment banks were having a hard time filling their ranks with business school graduates.  Too many of them were heading off to strike it rich with Internet startups.   As a consequence, the banks began recruiting at law schools. One day, all the 2Ls at Yale received postcards from Goldman Sachs, inviting us to attend an information session.  The tagline on the cards was “Minds Wide Open.”  Since I considered myself an open-minded person (and in a somewhat misguided effort to impress my Indian, IBD-reading father-in-law), I decided to sign up for an interview. 

The information session came first, and it should have really clued me in that this was not likely to end well.

  I don’t remember a lot of the details of the talk, except that I left impressed by how the bankers had managed to make working at a law firm seem public spirited.  I remember one of the bankers saying that if we did not read (and enjoy) the Wall Street Journal on a daily basis, we should probably not be applying for this job.  Undeterred, I went forward with the interview, though I made a mental note that, when asked if I had any questions, I should not inquire about the pro bono program. 

 When I showed up for the interview, I was too ignorant to really be nervous.  I had only a vague idea of what an investment banker does, though I understood that Goldman bankers were supposedly better at it than others.  I shook the interviewer’s hand and sat down.  That was probably the high point.  He proceeded to open the interview by babbling something in a language that I did not recognize.  It sounded something like:  “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich.  Hey.” I assumed it was an actual language, but I was at something of a loss as to how to respond. I stared at him blankly for a few moments, and then he chastised me:  “You really shouldn’t put things on your resume if they are not true.”  I had no idea what he was talking about.  My confusion must have shown, because he pointed to the last line on my resume, which says I am “conversational" in Hindi.  

 I had taken a year and a half of Hindi at Oxford.  I can carry on very basic conversations in the language.  (Hello.  How are you?  Where is the cauliflower?  Your daughter and I are getting married.), and I can keep my Hindi-speaking in-laws off balance enough that they don’t complain about me in Hindi (in my presence).  My Hindi is not great.  It is certainly not fluent.  If I had known about it before writing this post, I would have used the ILR scale and called myself "Level 1 - Elementary Proficient." In any event, I am fully capable of recognizing the Hindi language when spoken.  This guy had not spoken to me in Hindi.  After accusing me of dishonesty, he went on to explain that he once had an officemate who was Indian and he had picked up a few phrases.  So when he saw Hindi on my resume, he wanted to test me out to see whether I was padding my credentials. 

 The interview actually went (further) downhill from there, or at least, as far downhill as an interview can go in roughly three minutes, which is about how long the rest of it lasted before the interviewer pulled the plug on what he clearly (and, in retrospect, probably reasonably) concluded was a lost cause.  I am not bitter about the experience.  I really had no business interviewing with Goldman Sachs.  I was not interested in being an investment banker. Looking back, I continue to think the interviewer’s strange confidence in his “Hindi” skills and his eagerness to accuse me of lying may offer some kind of profound insight into the world of investment banking, though I’m not totally sure what. Smith’s column fascinated me in part because he started at Goldman around the same time of my interaction with the firm.  He identifies that period as a kind of golden age there.  I shudder to think what my interview would be like today.

 

 

Posted by Eduardo Penalver on April 3, 2012 at 07:52 AM | Permalink

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that's an awesome story, Eduardo...
I suppose I should write in the genre: Why I'm Leaving PrawfsBlawg!

Posted by: Dan Markel | Apr 3, 2012 12:25:57 PM

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