Career Profile: Angela Zhang, Finance

Who said women can’t conquer Wall Street? A graduate of the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, Angela Zhang joined the Financial Institutions Group at Goldman Sachs in New York where she worked as an analyst in the investment banking division for two years. She joined  Advent International in July 2011, a private equity firm, where she covers technology and media.

Describe what you do at work on an everyday basis.

Every day on the job is different but our goal is the same: make good investments in solid companies. We conduct research and run financial analysis to better understand companies and industries. We have a lot of meetings internally, with bankers, industry executives, consultants, and other professionals. At the junior level, I take ownership of most of the analysis and provide summaries or make presentations to the team about my findings. The majority of my time is spent on Excel or PowerPoint.

Did you know you wanted to work in finance when you were younger?

I really enjoyed the performing arts when I was younger, and like every other little girl, I wanted to be a professional singer or dancer. When it became apparent that I probably wouldn't make it, I decided that music was better suited to be a hobby and not a career. Growing up with an entrepreneur in the family, I was fascinated by the business world and decided to attend an undergraduate business program in college. At this time, I didn't know anything about finance. I just kept gravitating toward the things that interested me—so far, it’s worked out well.

What do you love or hate most about your industry?

I like the intellectual challenge of the finance industry. I really enjoy learning about businesses and working with some of the smartest people I have ever met. I like solving problems and using both sides of my brain, blending science and a little bit of art to get answers. Although the fast-paced, dynamic environment is very exciting for the most part, it can also be unpredictable, resulting in demanding work schedules. This has been a struggle at times, but I try to make it work for me by carving out time for the people and causes I care about.

How did you prepare yourself for a career in finance? What steps did you take in high school and college?

When I was exposed to my first finance class, I decided I wanted to explore a career in finance. It was difficult because I didn’t have any experience and had to spend time educating myself about the industry. The first step was landing a summer internship at an investment bank. I read about the markets, took extra finance courses, and talked to alumni who worked in finance. I prepared extensively for interviews with friends and mentors, and was very lucky be selected for a summer internship with Goldman Sachs.

 What surprised you most about working in finance?

When I started my first job in finance, I was told that I would get exposure to senior professionals and management both in finance and in other industries, and that the level of responsibility I would have as a twenty-something year old would be astronomical. At the time, I thought it was super cool but didn’t read too much into it. However, over the last couple of years, I have been amazed at just how true both these statements turned out to be. It is mind boggling that the Wall Street Journal’s headline price for a deal is the product of my financial model. It is equally as surreal to meet CEOs of multi-billion dollar companies, and cultivate professional and personal relationships with very accomplished professionals in the finance world. It really is super cool.

What three qualities allow someone to be most successful as a financial analyst/associate?

1. Like any other job, you need to be passionate about what you do. People in finance work very hard, and you need to be motivated to stay focused. If you don’t love it, you will be miserable.

2. Attention to detail is a key aspect of the job. We deal with a lot of numbers, processes, and people, sometimes under compressed timelines. It is important to do the analysis correctly and to check your work regularly. A good analyst should be able to anticipate questions and have a series of contingency plans because things can always go wrong.

3. Lastly and most importantly, a great attitude takes you a long way. People like to work with diligent, humble, and reliable people. This is amplified in finance due to the long hours and level of urgency—working with someone who is easy to work with makes all the difference in the world.

What career growth opportunities are available in this field?

Finance is a big industry and there are many different careers to pursue if you are committed to it. Many people jump around from investment banking to sales and trading or the buy side (private equity, hedge funds), but eventually find something that suits their personalities and life goals. Many of my friends are thinking about or have gone to business school for an MBA. Finance "alumni" do an assortment of different things after finance or business school. Some have started their own businesses; others have completely switched careers and explored other professions such as consulting or industry. Finance builds a great foundation at a young age and is transferrable to many different jobs in the business world.