Women Supporting Women: Advice to Women Starting Their Careers

Sally Boyle, international head of Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs, shares her advice for young women starting out in their careers, as part of our Women Supporting Women blog series.

As we prepare to welcome over 400 summer interns to our London offices next week, I find myself reflecting on my early career experiences. As a young woman starting a career in Law during the mid-1980s I was very apprehensive about my training contract with a City law firm. I had not had the benefit of an internship (as they did not exist then) so was starting with no relevant work experience, as one of the very few women trainees. It was all very daunting. Things have certainly changed since the 1980s and I’m delighted that today we have so many women joining us for the summer. Our internship programme provides skill building, networking, and for some the opportunity to turn this internship into a full-time position at the firm upon completion of their studies. It’s an excellent way to start a career.

Having spent the last decade working in Human Capital Management, I’ve had the privilege of overseeing thousands of interns who join Goldman Sachs for this annual 10 week summer programme, and today I’d like share some tips for making the most of an internship:

1) Develop Relationships

Building a strong professional network is essential to starting your career on the right foot. We encourage everyone at Goldman Sachs to take networking seriously, although it doesn’t need to be done formally. Simply catching up over coffee is enough to get started. As long as you ask questions, share your story and follow up to keep the relationship alive, you will start to grow your network. We believe that great lessons can be learned from peers and coworkers, in addition to formal training programmes.

We know that sponsorship, (which I talked about in my previous blog), plays a valuable role in career advancement, but sadly, women are only half as likely as men to have a sponsor. The majority of women underestimate the pivotal role sponsorship plays in career progression and fail to cultivate those relationships effectively or early. Acquiring a sponsor doesn’t depend on your gender. Simply work with someone, impress them, build a relationship, ask them for feedback, and then impress them more. That person will then want to invest in you and a sponsor relationship will develop naturally.

We encourage all our interns to take advantage of the mentors who are assigned to them as they join us for the summer. Mentors are there to provide valuable advice but can also be helpful in making introductions to expand your network.

2) Find your Unique Selling Point 

Everyone has natural strengths and areas where they excel. It’s important that you find opportunities to play to your strengths. If you see a colleague working on a project that could benefit from your skills, offer to help. Identifying and using your unique selling point is a great way to build your personal brand and have real impact.

On the other hand, everyone has development areas, even the most senior leaders! We believe in a culture of ongoing feedback as well as regular feedback sessions during the internship, so you are sure to hear about your areas for improvement. Don’t be discouraged. A development area may never become a top strength, but if you take steps towards addressing it, it doesn’t have to hold you back. 

3)  Go for it

Much has been written about a confidence gap between men and women. A popular statistic from a Hewlett-Packard report states that men apply for a job if they meet just 60% of the criteria, but women only apply for jobs where they meet 100% of the criteria. Many other studies report the same thing – women are often less self-assured as men, and this may hold them back. Great skills and a strong performance will only take you so far. You will need confidence to build relationships, volunteer for new assignments, and accept and respond to developmental feedback. I was very lucky to have an encouraging manager and mentor in my early career. They urged me to speak up in meetings, volunteer for difficult cases, express my opinion clearly and precisely so that I would be noticed and have impact. Without their constant support and guidance, I would not have been so confident and I suspect that I would not have progressed so fast. Remember that the most difficult hurdle to overcome is getting an internship or a job so once you have it, make the most of it. Be confident, enjoy learning, networking and being mentored and sponsored.

I wish everyone a happy and successful summer internship experience.

Read the first in the Women Supporting Women series here.