September 23, 2020

Goldman Sachs’ outgoing HR chief says any leader who doesn’t wake up every morning worried about losing top talent probably isn’t a very good manager

The competition for a job at Goldman Sachs is stiff.

Of the 1 million applications for mid-level jobs that the bank receives every year, about 5,000 get hired. That means Goldman is nearly 10 times as selective as Harvard.

But Goldman leadership still worries, constantly, about their ability to attract and keep the world’s top talent. In particular, they’re focused on appealing to technical talent, waging a daily battle with companies like Google and Amazon, who might be the more obvious choice for a brilliant engineer.

Goldman’s attentiveness to hiring has probably helped it remain a Wall Street powerhouse. The bank’s recent efforts to snatch up engineers is also a sign that, across industries, the war for tech talent is fierce. That’s reflected in employee mobility: While not a perfect proxy for finance, recent self-reported LinkedIn data found that people working as data analysts and embedded software engineers had turnover rates of almost 22%. 

“I have probably 40,000 people at the firm, and they wake up every day worried that they’re going to lose someone or they’re not going to get someone in any given time,” said Goldman’s HR chief Dane Holmes.

He added, “If you’re thoughtful at all, you know that you’re only as good as the team that you have. To me, if you get up out of bed and you’re not worried about the state of your team, you’re basically not being a good manager.”Goldman Sachs avoids thinking it’ll be a top employer forever

In an interview with Business Insider, Holmes — who is leaving Goldman at the end of the year to join the HR tech startup Eskalera — said the bank doesn’t take for granted its appeal to ambitious professionals.

“I can’t think of a year where we didn’t worry about it,” he said. It doesn’t help that many economists say the US is at full employment, meaning almost everyone who wants a job already has one.

Holmes said, “We know that we basically have to constantly evolve and change in order to remain that employer of choice.”

Hiring tech talent at an investment bank is a special challenge. In August, Goldman announced that it was looking to recruit more than 100 engineers to help automate parts of its trading business.

Holmes readily acknowledges that Goldman will need to change its approach to hiring in order to attract tech talent. In the Harvard Business Review, he wrote that after the 2008 economic recession, “many of the candidates we were pursuing were heading off to Silicon Valley, private equity, or start-ups.” Beyond that, Holmes wrote, “we were no longer principally looking for a specialized cadre of accounting, finance, and economics majors: New skills, especially coding, were in huge demand at Goldman Sachs—and pretty much everywhere else.”

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