Alumnae provide students with insight on launching a career in finance
The work that Steph Wissink ’02 did in the beauty and finance industry for more than 20 years was so revered that a profile in Women’s Wear Daily was headlined “Inside the Brain of Beauty’s Sharpest Analyst.”
Fellow St. Olaf graduate Sydney Wagner ’21 followed in her footsteps, joining Wissink as a colleague in the same department at Jeffries financial services company. In their roles, they conducted research and collected data on beauty and consumer industries, advising investors on whether they should buy, sell, or hold stock. This expertise prompted WalMart to recruit Wissink to a new role as senior vice president and head of investor relations last fall, where she’s further sharpening her skills.
Wagner and Wissink visited campus to share their insight with current students as part of the Ole Career Launcher’s Alumni in Residence Program. They met one-on-one with students interested in finance to talk about their experiences and provide career advice.
This programming is provided through the Piper Center for Vocation and Career. The Ole Career Launcher is designed to help students apply skills that they’ve learned in the classroom to real-world situations they’ll encounter when they enter the workforce. Part of this experience includes connecting directly with experts in certain career fields.
Wissink, an economics major, discovered her calling for the work she’s doing as an analyst during a class at St. Olaf.
“I had been interested in the stock market, and the idea of connecting capital to ideas intrigued me,” she says. “A course in stock analysis my junior year provided a moment of clarity that was near visceral.”
At St. Olaf, Wissink made connections within the student government that led to the opportunity to intern at U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray (now Piper Sandler, based in Minneapolis). She later joined the Piper Jaffray team full time and worked alongside fellow Ole Jeff Klinefelter ’90.
“I learned a lot about managing and motivating people, leadership, and the value of relationships from Jeff,” she says. “I still carry so much of that learning with me today.”
Wagner, who majored in economics with a finance emphasis, met Wissink when she interned at Jeffries after her junior year at St. Olaf. She went on to earn a full-time role at the company as an equity research associate where she now works with companies and helps them forecast their performance. These forecasts are then analyzed in order to provide clients with investment recommendations of buy, sell, or hold.
“The liberal arts nature of St. Olaf prepared me well for a career that requires a lot of different hats,” Wagner says. “I learned to think critically, ask questions, and communicate my thoughts and opinions effectively.”
The liberal arts nature of St. Olaf prepared me well for a career that requires a lot of different hats. I learned to think critically, ask questions, and communicate my thoughts and opinions effectively.Sydney Wagner ’21
At the Ole Career Launcher event, Wagner and Wissink threw out some advice for students who are interested in interviewing for finance positions, noting that “energy level cannot be understated.” While skill and knowledge can be taught, enthusiasm cannot. “You can close the skill gap, but you can’t close the energy gap,” Wissink says.
She offers four additional pieces of advice for St. Olaf students:
- Practice tenacious curiosity. Continuously ask questions — and when you find an answer, challenge it, dig deeper into its implications, and seek extended knowledge. Take a class that puts you outside your comfort zone.
- Listen intently. Listening is a full-body experience — lean in, pay attention to your instinct, and notice how others listen. Don’t listen only to speak. Listen also to notice. What are the non-audible cues that you may miss if you’re not fully listening? Try this when you are working in groups — speak less, listen more, contribute better.
- Flip your lens and strive for out-of-consensus thinking. Using the same information, direction, and resources, how can you come up with a more creative, bespoke, and differentiated output? Trade off being predictable and likable, and instead be insightful and memorable. Leverage your professors — they are some of the most elevated and credentialed thinkers in their fields.
- Communicate clearly and simply, and tailor your message to your audience. The ability to quickly synthesize complex information and distill it into digestible, action-oriented plans are skills that come from preparation and repetition. Practice these now with your friends/teammates/classmates and you’ll be mentally prepared for a fast-paced, high-impact culture post graduation.