In the FT, Lucy Kellaway criticizes Joseph Mauro’s advice to his juniors at Goldman Sachs who are thinking of leaving to join start-ups or go back-packing: “put your head down and keep running”, he says. I think he’s right and she’s wrong – though not quite for the reasons Mr Mauro gives. If I were he, I’d suggest the following:
- Working at Goldmans is CV gold. You might think the work is mind-numbing. But outsiders don’t know this. Having Goldmans on your CV looks much better than having whoarethey.com. And five or ten years at Goldmans looks better on your CV than having it for a few months, which suggests that you couldn’t hack it. Signals matter.
- Start-ups aren’t an easy option. You’ll have to work long hours there too, and perhaps in no more supportive an environment, so don’t move in the hope of getting a better work-life balance. And there’s no guarantee of success: Goldmans is too big to fail, but start-ups aren’t. Many of them fail – and worse still – do so at the same time. That means you could be out of work in a few months’ time and competing against other talented people for scarce jobs with a wonkier CV than you’ve got now.
- In this context, staying at Goldmans is like holding a real option. In many cases – and especially in the case of uncertainty – you should hold onto your real options.
- The payoffs to working at Goldmans are long-term. If you live frugally and avoid taking on liabilities such as a wife and children – and if you’re working 80-hour weeks it’s hard to do otherwise – you should be able to retire in your late 30s. Or failing that, at least be able to find low-paid but satisfying work where you needn’t to worry about salary or career advancement. I know someone who did this. Ms Kellaway might be right that “if you are in your 20s there are no obvious benefits of playing a long game”. But just because benefits aren’t obvious does not mean they don’t exist. They do, and they are considerable.
Now, I appreciate that nothing is more certain to be ignored than advice to the young from old farts. But in a sense, I’m not offering advice. Instead, I’m pointing to a fact about today’s capitalism – that it offers a raw deal even to the most talented or hard-working or luckiest young people. They cannot have a decent income (decent enough to buy a house anyway), job satisfaction and a work-life balance. They must choose. One good choice some of them can make is to regard capitalism as a burglar regards a house: grab as much as you can while you can, and then leg it.