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Goldman Sachs' MDs' lessons on how to write a truly great self-assessment

With the chat about potential banking job cuts increasing, now is probably the time to consider some self-aggrandizement to make the case for your continued employment into and beyond the year-end.  

For anyone wondering how it's done, the historic 900 pages of exhibits provided to the Senate 12 years ago for Goldman Sachs' 2010 hearings on the sale of residential mortgage based securities and related products offered a valuable lesson in self-publicity. They contained the self-assessments of three Goldman MDs.

Daniel Sparks, former head of Goldman's mortgage business, Michael Swenson, an MD in Goldman's mortgage business, and Joshua Birnbaum, a former star structured products trader all made their pitches for why 2007 was such a wonderful year for them - and why they ultimately merited an enormous bonus.

Go heavy on the superlatives

Don't just think good: think great, exceptional, outstanding, or unutterably awesome.

"We didn't just survive - we excelled," said Dan Sparks.

"On the leadership front I performed exceptionally well over the past year," said Swenson. "My ability to assess and manage the risk in the rapidly changing mortgage market has been another tremendous achievement."

Wherever possible, claim personal responsibility for team outcomes

The secret here is to make it clear that you're a team player whilst emphasizing that the team's achievements were almost entirely attributable to you.

Dan Sparks had a go at this, saying, "I led a great team through an incredibly volatile and challenging market."

Swenson was the master in this area. "I can take credit for recognizing the enormous opportunity for the ABS synthetics business 2 years ago," he wrote. "I recognized the need to assemble an outstanding team of traders and was able to lead that group to build a number one franchise that was able to achieve extraordinary profits"

In case any doubts about his contribution remained, Swenson went on to say: "Though this extraordinary year is attributable to a total team effort, my commercial contributions over the past year are numerous."

He also clarified that his team wouldn't have done nearly as well were it not for his intervention: "I am extremely proud of the traders that I have developed under my leadership....I have been an extremely effective mentor for numerous traders and salespeople within the firm."

Make full use of adverbs

Liberal use of adverbs will highlight your greatness. Sparks didn't just communicate, he communicated, "promptly and efficiently." He didn't just deal with originators and counterparties, he dealt with them "swiftly and firmly." He shut down businesses "quickly;" and he made writedowns, "early".

llustrate your brilliance with a list of your achievements

Birnbaum specified how she personally cultivated six clients. However, Swenson - the master of self-promotion - offered three significant "commercial achievements" to explain why, "it should not be a surprise to anyone that the 2007 year is the one that I am most proud of to date."

These commercial achievements include the generation of $1bn P&L through a single name convergence trade; another $1bn of P&L through a single-name CDO short; and $250m of P&L from a capital structure trade.

Be rather vague about your own personal goals

Don't say, "This time next year I'd like to be managing a larger team, possibly doing the job of my boss."

Do say (as Sparks said), "I want to grow in my career with respect to opportunity and responsibility."

Avoid modesty at all costs

None of the men reviewing themselves made much effort to hold back on self-congratulation. All had something akin to, "the best year of their careers." 

Click here to create a profile on eFinancialCareers. Make yourself visible to recruiters hiring  people, irrespective of their modesty. 

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Photo by Paweł Furman on Unsplash

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • SR
    4 May 2010

    Surely the only self assessment that counts is that of a certain L Blankfein: "managed to convince the world's richest man and my former buddies running the world's largest economy to bail us out otherwise I and all my uber-narcissistic colleagues would have lost everything they own (and then some)."

  • TM
    3 May 2010

    their time of honoring themselves will soon be at an end...

  • Eg
    29 April 2010

    @fxo man - I think performance reviews/appraisals are used to justify rewards, not assess performance. Looked at that way, blowing your trumpet is simply rational behaviour.

  • na
    29 April 2010

    appraisal is highly subjective and what ever you do the bosses decide hence really of no use. however as a need indulge in self praise.

  • as
    29 April 2010

    @ Swissbanker - to some extend yes, but people can still see through it, so it only works when its backed by real achievements. It is just a different way of expressing yourself. You'll definitely be left behind if you don't advertise your successes though.

    Every Ivy B-school will continuously tell its students that they are the cream of the cream, and that will boost MBAs "self confidence" factor to a great extend.

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