Trigger Warning: Potential Damage to Fragile Egos
According to Grief.com, “the five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.” In today’s article, I will walk readers through a scenario in which the one they have lost is the Goldman Sachs internship/full-time offer. Through my experiences as a college student, I have noticed that student reactions to Goldman Sachs rejections mirror the reactions of those suffering extreme emotional distress resulting from the loss of friends and family. What you see below covers a “Denial” scenario.
The First Stage is Almost Always Denial
You saunter out of Goldman Sachs’s office in your Ferragamo monk-straps feeling great as your sh*tty pastel tie flaps in the light breeze. You part ways with a fellow interviewee from Princeton – you give her a thinly veiled smile, strong handshake and a promise to meet up for a round of golf over the summer. You reflect on the final round interview you just had with Goldman’s investment banking division. The interview went quite well… but you were nervous about some moments. You forgot what the Gordon Growth Perpetuity Model was and definitely noticed the dismay reflected in the interviewer’s beady gremlin eyes. Oh well – at least you bluffed and convinced him that you were a fellow Andover grad even though you went to Choate. You kick some New York litter out of the way. You also almost trip over a homeless man. This homeless man is sleeping on top of a duffle bag with Citigroup’s logo on it; he was a former Citi banker knee deep in subprime mortgages. You eye a Starbucks through your Ray-Ban Wayfarers across the street and walk towards it. Your flight isn’t for another few hours, so you decide to relax.
As you cross the street amidst a swarm of yellow cabs and Uber Toyota Camrys, a bead of sweat rolls down your forehead and into your eyes. You blink and curse at the sweltering summer heat and humidity. Because banking recruitment has moved up so early, you are already in the midst of the full-time interview process. In June. As a recently matriculated Cornell freshman. The banks say they will pay for your tuition as long as you commit to their cubicles before you commit to a college. Life is competitive, but you feel on top of the world. Who knew you could solidify a stable career path so early on? You scoff at your idiotic peers who are going into arts, sciences and engineering. F*cking casuals.
You near the Starbucks. The music from a generic Spotify playlist plucked out of the “Mood” section of the app wafts out from propped doors. You immediately plop down in a corner and sink into the chair.
Your phone rings and your heart constricts to a point where you can barely breathe. It must be Goldman, you think. Banks are known for handing out offers mere hours after their final round interviews – they want to snap you up quick. Time slows down to a grinding halt. Your heart thumps like a bass drum and your hands start to shake. More sweat drips down your forehead, this time because of sheer anxiety. You reach for your phone as your ringtone blares: so baby pull me closer in the backseat of your Rover… click.
You answer the phone with elation, expecting the good news. Instead, you hear the voice of rejection. Before anything else, I just wanted to personally reach out and tell you that you were my favorite interviewee of the day. However, we cannot extend a full-time offer to you at this time. Today’s applicant pool was highly competitive – we were forced to deny some highly qualified candidates such as yourself.
Your eyes begin to blur with tears and the rest of the conversation becomes a hazy amalgamation of robotic words and sentence structures. You remember saying goodbye to the interviewer and gently setting your phone down. Millions of angry thoughts crosshatch your conscience. Maybe you should have turned off your brain even further than you already did for investment banking recruiting and memorized more questions from the Mergers & Inquisitions Guide. Perhaps you should have sipped more whiskey and smoked more cigars so that you could have connected more with the managing director you met while at a networking session in Westchester. These angry thoughts break down into a muddled mess of confusion. Then, a flicker of hope worms its way through your newly created web of suffering. This rejection can’t be real!
The first stage is almost always denial. You suddenly feel excited again. You don’t remember any of your peers talking about quick rejections. You’ve only heard news of quick acceptances. Maybe Goldman was playing a prank on someone it was about to accept! A sh*t-eating grin spreads across your face as the possibilities play out in your mental theater. Since the caller didn’t even mention your name, maybe this call was a mistake! They definitely called the wrong person – what if they were trying to reach the weird investment banking wannabe from a lowly public school? You scoff. Definitely.
You get up confidently from your seat and order an iced macchiato to simultaneously celebrate and sulk. A weird feeling washes over you. A sense of hope interlocked with an indescribable sadness replaces your initial joy. The doubt settles in. As the tears well up a second time, your parents call to ask how it went. You tell them that you thought it went well and that you were still waiting on the “real” results to come out. They congratulate you on a job well done. Your mom can tell that something feels off and asks if everything is okay. You say you just have a stomach ache and are tired.
You open up your laptop and connect to the Starbucks WiFi. It’s time to do some research. You look up the following Google search queries:
You feel clammy. You can’t find any links talking about accidental rejections. Moreover, your attempt at rationalizing rejection fails as you can’t fathom that anyone would ever find Goldman Sachs to be overrated. Is Harvard overrated? Beyonce? No! Your denial wavers like a sputtering hologram as it begins struggling with reality. You can feel your emotions warp into a cyclone of confusion and the world seems to spin.
Your phone buzzes and the screen lights up with an email notification. “RE: Goldman Sachs Interview Follow-up.” Ahh, finally, you think. The real deal – here’s where they correct the mistake and extend an offer. You daydream about your life and your next steps. A full-time return offer. An MBA at Harvard Business School. A few years in Private Equity. The Greenwich mansion with a wife who drives a Murcielago. Canada Goose jackets along with Andover and then Harvard acceptances for your future kids. Your heart palpitates a few seconds too long as you click the notification. The email comes up and you read it as fast as possible:
Your mind aligns with reality and it sets in all at once like a 5th grader excitedly dumping baking soda into a vat of vinegar. This chemical reaction manifests in your mental state as a boiling and uncontrollable rage. F*ck Goldman! F*ck banking! F*ck Cornell for being the worst school in the Ivy League with an endowment per student that can barely cover the cost of a pencil and an administration that seems apathetic and overly corporate regarding student concerns and for not giving you the resources that you needed to really excel in comparison to your smarter peers in Ivy and Ivy+ schools! F*ck Choate! You slam your laptop shut and storm out of Starbucks. A final and terrifying idea flits through your almost fugue state: what if you end up working at Deutsche Bank?
The second stage is anger.