photo of Nils Hellmer

The MBA from the eyes of a hiring manager at Goldman Sachs

By Jenn Bridge

If you dream of working in investment banking, you would do well to devote some of your waking hours to applying to a highly ranked business school, according to recruiters interviewed by US News & World Report for an article in October 2019.

Fifteen percent of the Berkeley Haas class of 2019 sought and found jobs in the financial services sector, some of them with investment banks like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Barclays, or Credit Suisse. Overall, the median starting base salary for 2019 Haas grads in the financial services sector was $150,000. 

The posts in this occasional series highlight some of the employers whose relationships with Berkeley Haas run deep and strong. Hiring managers will share insights into the skills and traits they look for when interviewing for interns and MBA hires. 

Goldman Sachs is a leading global investment bank that provides a wide range of financial services to a substantial and diversified client base including corporations, financial institutions, governments, and individuals.  

Nils Hellmer, MBA 15, is an executive director in Goldman’s Investment Banking Division. He specializes in M&A advisory in the technology sector, a role that sees him helping companies on takeovers, mergers, and some of their most important strategic decisions. As his workload allows—we caught up with him on his return to San Francisco after a “day trip to London.” Since graduating from Berkeley Haas, he has actively participated in Goldman’s recruiting efforts at the school.

Answers have been condensed for brevity and clarity.

What does Goldman Sachs look for when recruiting MBA candidates?

It’s really hard to generalize because each individual candidate is unique. We hire people, not stereotypes. The more diverse a team is, the better. An individual’s viewpoints are shaped by their origins and experience. Diversity—in all of its aspects—is essential here.

That being said, if I had to name one characteristic we look for, it is being a team player. We have a very flat organization here at Goldman. It’s very common for me to find myself in a room with analysts, associates, and managing directors all brainstorming to solve an issue, so being a great team player matters. 

What makes an MBA candidate stand out from the crowd?

I always want to see two things. First, and most important, I want to see your drive. One thing we all have in common at Goldman Sachs is that we are super motivated about what we do. Show me that you are interviewing because you really want to work here. You can do that through your understanding of our company and what distinguishes Goldman Sachs from others. Do your homework and be able to talk about what’s going on in investment banking in the moment: What deals is Goldman working on? Why is company X hiring investment bankers? 

Then I look for indications that you have strong skills in areas like communication and collaboration—that you would be a good addition to our team. When I was in the full-time MBA program, I found that Berkeley Haas was very good at getting me out of my ‘finance bubble’ and exposing me to different viewpoints. For example, I was the only finance person in my study group, and I found that challenged a lot of my ideas. It helped me form arguments and present my ideas persuasively. That built my leadership skills in a team context and is something I rely on in my post-MBA career.

Basic technical skills like finance and mathematics actually are check-box items, and while critical requirements, are not as interesting in assessing a candidate.

How would you describe the Goldman Sachs culture?

After starting here, I was so struck by the overlap of Goldman Sachs’ culture and the Haas Defining Leadership Principles that I actually wrote a letter to then-Dean Richard Lyons commenting on it. 

Beyond Yourself is clearly seen in our focus on teamwork on every level. Because each client project is different, we are always Questioning the Status Quo, seeking out the nuances in a deal and seeking to improve the outcome for our clients. 

Working with the tech industry, I’m a Student Always because the landscape is constantly changing through things like technological innovation or market-driving events that impact my clients. You have to be a student of what you’ve already learned to continue to succeed. 

Here at Goldman Sachs, I get to work with people who have 20-plus years of banking experience, and I’m always struck by their Confidence Without Attitude. They are humble and approachable—exactly the kind of person I aspire to be. 

Why does Goldman recruit at Haas?

It sounds like a cliché, but it is true that our people are our greatest asset. We don’t have an algorithm for our product; our ability to serve clients with the best advice depends on all of us, individually and as team members, doing our best. Berkeley graduates come well prepared and as a result it is one of our top San Francisco hiring schools. We have a strong representation of alums from junior analysts all the way up to the global head of Technology, Media, and Telecommunication. 

I always enjoy going back to campus to recruit as it reminds me of when I was in the students’ shoes: sweating through the interview process, determined to do my best, and knowing that I had—still have—the support of my classmates. 

What career advice would you give an MBA student?

When deciding on your career path, be honest with yourself and listen to your inner voice. Only when you’re true to yourself can you have a career with impact. 

And while you’re in your MBA program, enjoy it!

Read more about the Berkeley Haas career advantage

Read more from the From the eyes of a hiring manager series:

Posted on April 16, 2020
Themes: Finance
Jenn Bridge
Jenn Bridge is Senior Director External Engagement. She oversees the employer relations, industry readiness, and business development teams including the marketing and communications strategies for the MBA Career Management group. She has corporate experience in consulting and retail (Gap Inc. and Strategy&) prior to Haas. She's a passionate leader who is thinking about the student experience all the time.