Emily, a former Goldman Sachs employee, who goes by the tag “Emerlene”, posted a YouTube video entitled “Internship from Hell”. The video describes an internship program that seems to have been designed to make the interns miserable. Admittedly this is a single case, however Emily’s description feels like a realistic portrayal of what an internship on Wall Street can be like.
There are four separate features of the internship that made it particularly hard:
Insane hours (5:40am to 9:30pm)
Unrealistic demands (e.g., expecting to understand topics you’d never learned about)
Need to suck up to leaders so that you would get the next favourable assignment
Pressure to subtly backstab other interns, so that they wouldn’t get the next assignment over you
It’s easy for an HR pro, or any person for that matter, to see this as a terrible thing. Emily certainly did and backed up her dislike of the process by eventually quitting Goldman Sachs. The interesting question is why Goldman Sachs, a sophisticated firm, would continue with a practice—hellish internships—that seems like a bad one.
Alternatives for Goldman Sachs interns
At the risk of sounding flippant, it’s worth noting two options anyone considering an internship at Goldman Sachs has:
An internship to be a Starbucks barista
An "internship” to be a Navy SEAL
The former would be a delight, the latter would be far tougher than anything Goldman Sachs can dish out.
What’s self-evident is that people choose Goldman Sachs internships over being a barista because it can lead to a career where your salary is literally hundreds of times higher than that of a barista. The Navy makes the SEALs’ training brutal because it needs to be—the job itself in necessarily incredibly hard.
The question we face is whether Goldman Sachs has good reasons to have a hard internship, or whether they do it simply because they can get away with it?
My primary conclusion is that it’s not as simple as seeing a hellish internship and deciding that’s a terrible thing. People freely choose this over nicer options and there are cases when the demands of the job make an extremely tough internship necessary.