Her Career is a series of articles dedicated to the career development of Northwestern women. We talk to recent graduates or current students to get the best advice for those who have interests in similar fields.
Danielle Lay, a Northwestern senior is not only a student, but also a tour guide, DesignWorks co-founder, senior advisor for Northwestern Student Holdings and more. The Hong Kong native who has an interest in the financial services industry spoke to Her Campus on how she managed to develop her career and education at Northwestern.
1. What do you study at Northwestern? And how has your coursework helped you prepare for your career?
I am pursuing a major in Economics and minors in Chinese and in Business Institutions. I actually declared the final of the three about a month ago with just a quarter and a half of Northwestern left to go, so I’m clearly very organized when it comes to academic pursuits. Surprisingly, not many of the classes I have taken here are directly related to what I am pursuing. For anyone who is interested in Finance I would definitely recommend taking Introduction to Accounting taught by Robin Soffer, but otherwise I think the softer aspects of my classes have been more invaluable than the technical knowledge that I have gained from them. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely loved taking various game theory based Economics classes and learning about how people make decisions. I do, however, think that the various times that I have totally flopped in midterms, or just been totally overwhelmed as a consequence of over-committing, has equipped me well for post-graduate life.
2. What clubs and/or organizations are you involved in?
At this point I have weaned off of many of my commitments on campus with the exception of my a cappella group, the Treblemakers. We’re going on an Asia Tour this spring break which is incredibly exciting, so we’ve been busy fundraising and preparing for that. I also see girls from my sorority every day, so I guess that still makes me marginally involved in Kappa. Otherwise, my biggest commitment in my 3.5 years was probably with Northwestern Student Holdings. NSH is a student run holdings company that starts and runs companies on campus. I co-founded and ran a company called DesignWorks, and it was probably one of the most formative experiences in my short 21 years of life. I made up for my severe lack of design capabilities by directing the impassioned and incredibly talented team of 5 people to basically run this start up. It was difficult and extremely humbling to learn how genuinely difficult it is to initiate and maintain growth in a company.
3. How did you find internship opportunities relevant to your career path?
I started talking to people at information sessions held on campus at the beginning of my sophomore year. I figured that I would start exploring options for the next summer and ended up just falling into the Finance track. I frankly had a very sparse understanding of the financial industry at the time, and just wanted to learn more. I ended up loving the people that I met so much that I decided to pursue it. That probably isn’t the best way to choose a career but it ended up working out well. I think financial services firms are increasingly interested in hiring Northwestern students, so I guess I just was in the right place at the right time.
4. Were you always interested in the financial services industry?
I was not. In fact, I was adamant about not pursuing anything related to finance. The word “finance” was associated with a dry and uncreative career in my mind. My rejection of the industry definitely stemmed from a lack of understanding and a healthy dose of immaturity, as well as a common villainization of anything that had the word “investment” in it. That changed when I began to meet wonderful people who had decided to pursue financial services in their respective careers. It was unsettling to begin with, but I learned to acknowledge my own ignorance and learned to change it.
5. What advice do you have for Northwestern women who are interested in following a similar career path to yours?
As I mentioned, definitely take Robin Soffer’s Introduction to Accounting class. Get involved with some clubs on campus that do business or finance related activities. It doesn’t have to be anything that is considered “hard finance,” but if you can garner some experience and understanding, it would be extremely helpful. I would also begin reaching out to some Northwestern alumni who work at financial services firms and try to get on the phone with them. If you approach your conversations with genuine curiosity and a desire to get to know them better as people, that will be much more beneficial for you than just throwing questions at them.
I guess the last piece of advice I would give is to be kind. People definitely underestimate how important that is as practical advice. On a moralistic level, it is important that we all treat each other how we would like to be treated; on a practical level, people are smarter than you think and will be able to tell if you are genuine or not. If you are going through an interview process, it is very obvious whether or not you are a good person and that will definitely impact hiring decisions.