Voices of Experience: Julia Kaufmann-Yu, Vice President at Goldman Sachs

Julia Kaufmann-Yu has been going full speed ahead since she on-ramped back into a career in financial services about four months ago. Julia is currently a Vice President at Goldman Sachs, within the Strategic and Technology Initiatives group. At the New Directions: Next Steps in Your Career, a conference about on-ramping sponsored by Goldman Sachs, Julia spoke on a panel about her experiences re-entering the job market after taking some time off to raise her three young children. The Glass Hammer sat down with Julia in an interview recently, where she shared more of her insight and advice about how to re-enter the job market after taking a break.

Early Career and Off-Ramping

Julia moved to the United States from Germany to attend college, and received her B.A. in Fine Arts and an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh.

Early in her career, Julia worked in a management consulting role at two financial services organizations before joining Accenture, a consulting firm. She spent about seven years in management consulting, which she found rewarding, but with the long hours and travel schedule, she realized that the environment might not be ideal when she decided to start a family.

Julia explained that when she was a week away from having her first child, she left on maternity leave, and then decided to extend her time off for a few additional months. As the time neared for Julia to return to work, she decided not to go back to her consulting job until she decided what she really wanted to do next.

She stayed at home with her first child, and 18 months later, had her second child. When her oldest was two and a half, Julia had a her third child. Though she had a house full of little ones, Julia started thinking about going back to work. She began transitioning back into the working world by reengaging her professional network of business contacts, which helped her develop her own business as an executive coach. This work fit into Julia’s life well at the time because she had lots of autonomy and could set her own schedule and work from home when possible. When Julia worked in consulting, her primary role was in Human Capital and Talent Management, so executive coaching was an extension of her natural skill set.

When asked what motivated her to go back to work, Julia explained, “I started working again because realized it was adding to my life, giving me balance, and having a positive impact on the mothering equation.”

Julia began to look into how to build up her executive coaching business. She utilized her network and received various referrals to expand her new endeavor. Through this process, Julia realized that, as much as she enjoyed working independently, she really preferred working in teams and groups. “I like working at a large organization, and prefer it to an independent contractor type model,” she said of her work at the time.

On-Ramping at Goldman Sachs

Like many women who come from a professional background but who have been out of the work force for a little while, Julia knew that she needed to develop a strategy for relaunching her corporate career. She began reengaging her old business contacts and informally inquiring into opportunities in the market and recent changes in her field.

Julia was drawn to Goldman Sachs because she had worked on a consulting assignment with the firm while at Accenture, and had designed a fixed income trading desk joint venture. She felt that she really connected with the culture of the firm, and appreciated the work ethic of its people, which she referred to as their “all hands on deck attitude.”

She started out pursuing the opportunity by contacting a former mentee from her consulting days who works at Goldman Sachs, and she inquired about her role and Goldman Sachs specific networking advice. Her mentee informed her that Goldman was hosting a seminar for on-rampers called “New Directions” and encouraged Julia to attend.

Julia attended her first New Directions forum about eight months ago and was particularly impressed with the caliber of the people on the panel (all recent Goldman Sachs on-rampers). Julia related to one speaker in particular, who described a similar experience of having children, starting her own business, and then deciding to rejoin Goldman. “[This speaker] was a very open and candid resource for me,” said Julia. “She didn’t give canned answers. I tried to dig deeper and get the real story, because I realized how much was at stake” in making this decision in a well-informed way.

When Julia thought about the characteristics that her new position would have, she knew that she needed a slightly non-traditional work arrangement. Ideally, she wanted to start out part time, with some telecommuting days. She entered into some preliminary discussions with Goldman Sachs about how her skill set/experience and on-ramping work schedule could relate to the opportunities available at the firm. “I really connected with the professionalism and thoughtfulness of the Goldman Sachs folks during our negotiations,” said Julia.

An agreement was reached about a good role for Julia within the firm and she was offered her current position of Vice President. In this way, Julia on-ramped back into the world of financial services.

Advice for Fellow On-Rampers

Reengaging Your Network:
“Once I decided to re-engage my professional network, I had to microwave them,” said Julia, because she hadn’t kept the contacts fresh beyond sending Christmas cards over the last four to five years. She explained that, looking back, she would have tried to stay in touch with her network while she was staying at home, but she recognizes that it was a stretch to relate to her former colleagues on a professional level and think about what she could bring to the conversation while she was out of the work-force.

“That’s the first lesson learned,” explained Julia. “Try to develop conversation topics and interaction that is relevant to your network’s frame of reference, even if your daily duties involve young childhood development and numerous diaper changes and less structuring deals for a while. ”

Second, Julia advises using technology to research your network and update your address book, as many people will have moved on. Try LinkedIn, alumni websites and other online networking opportunities. Also, don’t be afraid to just pick up the phone and call someone to reestablish contact.

Third, don’t go for the gold too early. Instead, just try to have informal, informational conversations with people, without directly angling for a job.

“When I re-engaged the first time, I was just calling people to say, ‘I’d like to bounce some ideas off of you,’ very general, so it wasn’t like asking them for something I needed,” said Julia. People are wary of taking on commitment, so try to keep your initial contact general and not too aggressive. Also, don’t be discouraged if not everyone responds to you, as you only need a few good leads.

Fourth, try to set up informational meetings with colleagues in a professional setting, and take it seriously. It’s better to set up meetings with people at their offices, and show up wearing a suit, carrying your resume, and ready for a mini-interview, rather than meeting them at Starbucks to catch up over a cup of coffee. Setting up meetings in a professional environment shows that you are serious about reintegrating into the work force and helps people picture you the way you want to be seen.

Fifth, follow up with phone calls and thank-you notes, in which you ask to be connected to other people who may expand your network and job pursuits.

Finally, while you should do detailed research into the areas of a company where you think you would be a good fit, Julia’s advice is also to cast your net wider than just focusing around your technical and “comfort zone” skills. “Your technical skills are just one element that can be useful to your new job,” said Julia. Think about what else you can bring to the table and be creative in terms of what type of skills and attributes might translate into other roles.

Balancing Work and Life:
Julia’s advice to future on-rampers, in terms of how to achieve work/life balance? It takes a certain type of person who can balance multiple roles. Some people give themselves a harsh daily score card for all of their roles – as an employee, as a manager, as a mother, as a wife. When asked about this, Julia explained, “I’m constantly asking myself, ‘How could I have done better in my roles today?’”

“So I learned as a mother, there has to be some give, you can’t control all aspects. You have to decide where the trade-offs are. You need to prioritize what’s a ‘need to have,’ and what’s a ‘nice to have.’ You also need to calibrate your expectations about what you want to get out of something. Try to fit that into a daily schedule that works for you.”

Finally, Julia advises recent on-rampers to try evaluating themselves on a weekly scorecard. “Judge yourself by smoothing the results over a week, or get yourself to a point where you smooth it over a month,” said Julia. It’s always easier to judge yourself on a daily basis, but you end up being needlessly hard on yourself.

“There’s not a better or a worse, it’s a continuum. You have to make trade-offs, and sometimes they are made for you,” by workplace conditions and factors beyond your control, said Julia.

Julia explained that she sees herself as a role model for future on-rampers. She felt that people might look to her experience and performance in an age when on-ramping was becoming more and more popular, but not everyone in the workplace had previous exposure to it. “I’m a big advocate for women’s efficacy and so I do feel a lot of pressure internally (within me) to do this ‘right,’’ she explained.

From the feedback we received after Julia’s panel presentation at the most recent New Directions seminar, Julia is already achieving her goal of becoming an on-ramping role model. By being honest and forthcoming about her experiences, we hope that Glass Hammer readers will be informed by her experiences and that their on-ramping efforts will benefit from learning about those women who came before them.