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Ex-Goldman Sachs bankers on leaving: "It was my identity"

It's two weeks since Goldman Sachs engaged in its biggest round of job cuts since the financial crisis. For the 3,200 people let go, it's still early days. Not everyone is as ebullient as the Goldman MD we spoke to a few weeks ago; many are adjusting to the new reality.

"When you work for Goldman Sachs, it becomes part of your identity," says Lauren Hornacek, a former Goldman Sachs associate who now coaches women who've left the firm. "You can walk into a room full of complete strangers twice your age and they will usually say ‘Hi, nice to meet you. What do you do for a living?’ When you say you work for Goldman Sachs, you have instant credibility. People listen to you.”

If you leave, that crutch is gone. When Jamie Fiore Higgins, the former Goldman Sachs MD behind last year's semi-fictionalized exposé of the firm, left the firm, she wrote that she felt exhausted and lost. The period immediately after leaving seemed filled with "suburban misery," wrote Higgins - instead of being a Goldman MD running a billion dollar book of business, she was simply a person caring for her own children and cleaning her own home.  To begin with, it seemed a terrible mistake.

Today Fiore - like Hornacek, is a coach. And like Hornacek, some of her clients were let go by Goldman two weeks ago. "The reaction has been shock," Fiore tells us, "Though they knew layoffs were coming, there was a part of them that thought they would not be part of the headcount reduction." Hornacek agrees. - The overwhelming feeling is that the cuts were unfair: "People are angry and sad and don’t understand. Their reviews were positive, so how did this happen? They are dealing with shock. They made the commitment and yet here they are.”

Being let go from any job triggers a kind of grieving process, but being let go from a high status employer like Goldman Sachs can be particularly challenging. Hornacek says she's working with people who were at the firm for decades and who received consistently great reviews. "They were 100% dedicated to the job and they loved everything about it. It’s extremely difficult to come to terms with that. How do you reconcile yourself to the fact that you had a great job that you were really good at, and yet you lost that job anyway?”

While headhunters have been quick to advise Goldman staff to find new roles before European banks add their own bodies to the pile, both Fiore and Hornacek caution against rushing. "I advise people to use the time to understand what they want out of their next role," says Fiore. Hornacek says many people leaving Goldman have forgotten what they're interested in and need time to explore what they enjoy. This might not be the same as when they were younger; she advises people to think in terms of core values and of what's really important to them.

While some people are keen to get back into the market and to do the same role as before, finding a new path takes time. Fiore writes that she needed to consciously deprogram herself from the beliefs that she was nothing without the Goldman Sachs name and money. The winter after she left was the hardest, but by the summer months, she says everything was different: "I'd gotten into my new groove at home so well, that sometimes I even wondered if my time at Goldman had ever happened."

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • ph
    28 January 2023

    GS is very hard to get into, but is that because they are looking for very capable people, or for people just from the 'right' schools or with the right friends? And when they do their regular purges, while I'm sure some are people not putting in the effort, how many are actually not part of the 'in' crowd? Or who didn't do enough brown nosing, or enough screaming at 'staff'? Just curious. I have encountered good former GS people, but overall, mainly a major sense of snobbishness.

  • Ma
    Matt Lechner
    25 January 2023

    GS has bet the ranch on derivatives, junk bonds, and commodities; and they can do a lot of that with a small "inner circle" of management. The traditional departments that made GS successful - investment banking, corporate finance, and securities research are taking a back seat to derivatives, junk bonds, and commodities. To the young people who are on the receiving end of this - let this be your "proof" of the old saw about Wall Street which is that "friends come and go, but enemies accumulate". The company you wanted GS to be may not be the company that it actually is today. That does not necessarily make the company your enemy, but it may not make the company your friend either. If you have to move on, you move on. There are other companies who have not abandoned investment banking, corporate finance, and securities research, and they may have the will and the ability to expand.

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