Managing the Career Change: Peter Woodward's path to Goldman Sachs

Today we have a great interview with Peter Woodward (Class of 2016) about his experience as a career changer and his internship at Goldman Sachs. Peter comes from a non-traditional pre-MBA background, but he’s successfully parlayed that into a new career and is a great example of someone who was able to simultaneously change industries, geographies, and job function. Read more about his experience and his advice below!

So tell me about what you did before the MBA and why that led you to this role?

Prior to the MBA, I got my undergrad degree from Boston College with a concentration in marketing, and then followed my passions to Aspen, CO where I worked in avalanche rescue and avalanche mitigation for the Aspen-Highland Ski Patrol during the winters. For my summertime job, I spent 5 years as a whitewater raft guide. In my final summer in Aspen, I was asked to move from the river into the Director of Sales and Marketing position. So I did have 3 months of inside work over my 6 years in Aspen, but most of my work was in the rescue and risk assessment field outside in a client-facing (guiding) role. To me, that was the transferable skill: working in teams, risk management, and working with clients. Those were a couple of things that I knew I liked and figured that I might be able to to find something that utilized my skills indoors.

Why did you choose to work in Investment Management?

I’ve always known that you could be more successful and work a lot harder when it’s something you’re really passionate about. My time in ski patrol was very physically and mentally draining, but I loved being outside and helping people enjoy the outdoors, so those long days of hauling gear and explosives on the mountain were hard, but I loved it. I knew that even though I’d be leaving the outdoor industry, I wanted to do something that I was passionate about and really interested in.

From a young age, I thought the markets were neat. I’d sit next to my dad on Sunday mornings and pretend that I was reading the Wall Street Journal. I really liked playing this stock market game in middle school and I enjoyed managing my own small portfolio in college. I continued to manage it throughout my time ski patrolling, which got me a lot of ridicule from these bearded ski patrollers when I tried to read the Wall Street Journal in the morning. It became a running joke that I had my “newspaper time” up until we punched in and started to go up the ski hill. So, when I thought about what I’d do afterwards, finance jumped high on my list because it was something that I was genuinely interested in and I knew that making this career jump was going to take a lot of work.

So can you tell us a little more about the challenges that you faced?

So making the jump from ski patrol to finance was pretty uncommon – it wasn’t something that a lot of recruiters and interviewers had seen before, so the first big challenge was to figure out what in my past is actually applicable. I believe that I have some skills (those 6 years in ski patrol were not a waste) and I learned a lot that I could apply to my next job, so working with Career Management (in particular, working with Jean Gekler and going over my ‘Brand Essence’) and really figuring out what do I know and what do I bring to the table, and how is that transferrable to finance. Also, it was just as important to figure out what I don’t know and what I need to know. So it was kind of a two-sided coin of figuring out what I didn’t know and figuring out how to explain that to recruiters and to managing directors that you interview with. I think all career changers go through this – you have to explain that ‘this is the same thing, just a different medium.’ I was wearing ski boots instead of a suit, but it was still working in a team or managing risk or making decisions under pressure…I had those skills. But then I needed to figure out a) what I don’t know and b) building a plan to how to fill that in.

So how did you end up getting this internship? Once you figured out your story and figured out the gaps, how did you get your foot in the door?

So the foot in the door thing – you gotta be willing to put yourself out there. My boss in the ski patrol was an old rancher – he used you say that ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease.’ I think that you have to be willing to do that in any of these really competitive jobs. I connected with UW alumni that were in finance roles, I went on any Finance-related trip that UW was a part of, I looked at my undergrad alma mater, I looked to see if I had any friends or family members who knew someone in this line of work, etc.

I reached out, and you have to be kind of willing to just talk to anybody. One morning, I spoke via Skype to someone who runs an investment bank in Thailand. Now, I’m not planning on moving to Thailand and his career was so different than mine, but we got connected and we spoke for half an hour and I learned about his career and at the end he asked “if I can be helpful, tell me who I need to email.” I talked with hedge fund managers, knowing that they weren’t going to hire me because I don’t have the skills they need, but you get a half hour to practice your pitch, to hear insights into people’s career paths…I was amazed at how helpful people want to be in any way shape or form. I guess just get out there and don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and email. The worst thing that could happen to you is that someone doesn’t respond to your email or Linkedin message and then you move on.

So what was it like to work at Goldman Sachs over the summer? How did it compare to your expectations?

I feel super fortunate because I was excited about the internship and my experience at Goldman Sachs was way better than I could have ever imagined. I really enjoyed the role and the firm. I think one big thing for me was to be really honest with myself. Really think about ‘what do you really want to do?’ Not what should you want to do, what pays the most, or what might be the best career choice…but what are you good at, what do you like to do on a daily basis, what role can you really thrive in? And what company can you thrive in? What’s the company culture like?

I think there’s pressure in the MBA program to fake it…to fit into the box of “this doesn’t really fit but it’s a really good opportunity.” So by ending up and choosing to go to Goldman, I felt that there was an overlap between the role and my personal interests and ethical standards and things like that. So after joining the firm, I got exposed to a lot of different people, and got to work with a lot of incredibly smart folks. Early on I felt like I had to prove myself as a career changer. I was the only former ski patroller and raft guide there, and I was also representing Foster because I was the only Foster MBA student in the entire Goldman Sachs Global Summer Associate Program.

Did you just apply online?

Yeah, they post on Foster jobs and I spent a lot of time meeting with people from the local office, because my resume wasn’t going to get me anything. My story was not an easy or clear story that people have seen before or where they can draw the link between my experience and the job. I kind of had to be there to draw the link for them. Networking was important to get to the point where someone would say “hey let’s bring this kid in and see what he’s got to offer.” From there I was able to tell my story, which apparently was compelling enough to get an opportunity. The interviewers might wonder “how did this guy get an invitation to the final round” but that’s where the legwork of networking and having a few folks who will shoot the email to HR and put their name down on a reference can go a long way, especially for career changers.

Can you talk about the projects that you worked on over the summer?

The Private Wealth Management Summer Associate program is one of the more structured summer internships. There were 65 people in my class, and you start with 3 weeks of training at headquarters in New York where before going to your assigned regional office and work with different wealth management teams. Each team has their own clients and do things their own way, so by rotating throughout the teams I got to see a lot of ways to manage the business. And because it was a structured internship, I had 4 projects that every intern across the program had to do.

So the majority of your day was spent trying to be helpful and figuring out projects that you can add a little value to. As someone who knows nothing, it’s hard to add value with these teams that are well oiled machines. But often they would bite off a little bit of their workload and say “here kid, go play with this for a little bit” and you would try to knock those out of the park to build some momentum behind you and maybe have some folks who say “yeah, you could do this job.” And then another large part of my day was self-learning. Goldman Sachs has a ton of resources so all of those things like the different types of hedge funds and how they’re managed, how you evaluate them, and what role they fit in a portfolio. All these nuts and bolts things. The Greek economy was going down and the Puerto Rico debt default was happening while I was there over the summer, and we needed to understand what they meant and how they might affect our clients. I read a lot of firm reports and listened in on conference calls to hear PhDs discuss ‘is there gonna be a Grexit and is that gonna matter?’ So chipping away at projects, being helpful to the team you sat on, and then kinda getting up to speed and learning the nuts and bolts skills of the job were my three tiers of a day in the life of a PWM at Goldman Sachs.

Last question: what’s one piece of advice that you would want to give to yourself maybe before you started this program? What would you tell that young Peter?

That’s a good one. I feel that I learned so much and knew so little! I think the big thing is to really be honest with yourself. I mean that in a good way – spend time with a gut check. Ask yourself ‘what do I really want to do?’ and ‘where do I think I can really be successful?’ That doesn’t mean don’t try new things or just play to your strengths, but really meditate on what does this career mean, what does this role mean? Is it going to be fulfilling? For a while, I chased other finance roles in other areas that I thought this was the prestigious thing…this is what MBAs do…this is where the real big deals happen. And I wasted a good amount of time and I’m super fortunate to have things work out the way that they did and that I ended up in the role that I should be in and at the place where I belong. And that was just all based on a lot of good fortune. But if I was a little more honest with myself early on, I think I would have gravitated towards that role a little earlier and saved myself some hard work and heartache of trying to fake it in NY and SF.

Did you feel that heartache came through in the interview? Like, did it seem that you really didn’t belong there, whereas when you went to Goldman did you feel like you could be your most authentic self?

Yeah! I think it probably came through in one shape or form, but it kinda goes back to the point I made earlier that passion comes through. I think I was more polished in my Goldman interview than other interviews because I was really naturally interested in it. I wasn’t trying to learn things that I was kind of interested in. I enjoy talking about this, so it’s going to be easy to answer these questions. And don’t get me wrong, there were some really hard interview questions at Goldman that I definitely bombed. I just think it’s easier to talk about things that you are really, truly passionate about compared to the things you force yourself to learn on the airplane there or the month before building up to the interview.

For more student stories about their internship experiences, check out the Internships category of the Inside the MBA Blog! For more information on Foster MBA Career Management, visit their site or read other student experiences about their career transition.

Peter Woodward Before Foster, Peter Woodward had a long career in the outdoor industry – working as a ski patroller, whitewater rafting guide and an adventure marketer. He has a BS in Management from Boston College’s Carroll School of Management with a concentration in Marketing. Peter is concentrating in Finance while at Foster and is a member of the MBA Investment Fund. After the MBA, Peter will be going back to Goldman Sachs to work in Private Wealth Management.