"Being a Student-Athlete Required A lot Of Mental Toughness, But Being In The Real World Requires A lot More Mental Discipline.” How Ashlynn Goerz ’17 Prepared to Succeed in the Sport of Finance
What’s Your Background?
I graduated from Stanford in 2017. I majored in Management Science & Engineering and minored in Symbolic Systems. I played lacrosse at Stanford and now work as a Financial Analyst at Goldman Sachs.
What was your experience as a student-athlete like?
If this question was retroactively asked based on my actual day-to-day experience as a student-athlete, I would say “brutal.” With the benefit of hindsight, my experience was transformative. With every year it gets harder to remember how sore my legs were after morning conditioning, the late nights studying, which teams we played, and where we traveled... Over time it becomes clearer what I have to offer in the real world given the challenges and experiences I went through as a 4-year Division 1 Student-Athlete. The relationships I have with old teammates and coaches are also very special.
You were pretty interested in finance and investing from an early age. Can you share why you were interested in finance over other industries and how you worked toward finding opportunities?
I think I chose finance for two reasons, the first simply being my interest in the financial markets. The other reason was that finance seemed more like a “sport” than other fields. Finding the “right” opportunity definitely took some due-diligence, dedication and patience. Older athletes and Stanford alumni provided some great advice and help throughout the recruiting process. Talking to as many people as possible about their journey, experiences, and outlook on things has been the best way for me to make decisions and prepare for a new job.
What types of questions were you asking?
I would often start by asking people about their career path. Once someone told me about their “journey” I would try to pick apart why they made the decisions they did… Why did they decide to go to grad school? Why did they feel the need to switch roles or industries? … When you figure out why someone made a decision, you can start to piece together the priorities and ultimate goals that have shaped their path. These kinds of questions helped me understand what’s important and where I would best fit given my own priorities and goals. Sometimes talking with people who did something I wasn’t that interested in helped me understand why I was actually interested in other things, within finance or across different fields. Another good question is “what should a young person’s goals and priorities look like?” If you aren’t sure what you’re aiming for, a lot of alums have some great perspective on how to qualitatively or quantitatively set realistic goals.
How did you end up at Goldman Sachs? More specifically, how did you end up in your area of finance in a market facing role?
I think I ended up at Goldman Sachs because of the culture and the people I met during the finance recruiting process. Talking with people at Goldman and hearing about many of their 30+ year careers reminded me a lot of why I chose Stanford way back when. I vividly remember talking to Coach Amy Bokker when I was a sophomore in high school and she told me, “Stanford is not a 4 year decision, it’s a 40 year decision,” which I have found to be true. I saw Goldman Sachs as a place I could build a career, not just a place to work my first job. I ended up choosing a market-facing role because of my interest in investing and following the financial markets.
Can you tell us a bit more about your role and what you like about it?
I work as a financial analyst in the Investment Management Division at Goldman Sachs. I’m in a market and client facing role where I get to work on customized investment solutions across asset classes. I’ve loved how similar my job is to a sport (albeit not physically)... I work on a 15 person team managing about 15 billion dollars, so the pressure is high and everyone needs to work together. Decisions need to be made quickly and accurately, and we’re always working with different “players” or incorporating new ideas during the investment process. Many trades I execute have the potential to be a million dollar error without careful attention to detail - every day is “game day.” Prepping for client meetings is like “watching film” - we have competitors competing for the same business and we need to anticipate any “play” or question that might come at us.
What has it been like transitioning from the team dynamics of an athletic team to Goldman Sachs?
Outside of my 15-person team, the mentorship culture is also very strong. Just like I used to lean on certain upper classmen on the lacrosse team, I have senior colleagues who have challenged me and helped me to develop as an analyst. The team culture also extends beyond my immediate team. If I need to build out a certain kind of equity exposure or create a structured product, for example, I have a network of people across the firm that I can leverage for their expertise and we work together to customize products for our clients.
Is there an aspect of your work that’s been particularly challenging?
I think the most challenging part of the job is also the most exciting part of the job- the fact that you start the job with very little previous knowledge and absolutely no experience in what you’re doing. Even having a finance degree will not prepare you for actually executing day-to-day functions and reacting to the unique situations you encounter on the job. Working in finance requires a great amount of institutional knowledge, which can only be learned by “doing.” You also have to be familiar with the historical context of the industry while staying relevant and at the forefront of rapid technological change. I try to come to work every day as a dry sponge, ready to absorb as much as possible.
What is it about sports that you feel helped prepare you to handle the transition or succeed at your job?
Finance is analytical and quantitatively rigorous, but I think some of the most important skills to have when starting on the job are 1) Being able to say “I don’t know” and then asking the right people the right questions to figure out the answer, 2) Being able to raise your hand and say, “I made a mistake,” and 3) Being able to manage relationships with all kinds of different people- managers, bosses, peers, clients, and intermediaries. Any student-athlete has had to miss class, go to office hours, ask questions, and “figure it out” in a time crunch. Any student-athlete has had to raise their hand and take ownership of thousands of mistakes on the field/court/pool, etc. Any student-athlete has already had to deal with hundreds of coaches and teammates (nice, mean, rational, crazy, passive-aggressive...) I’ve been involved in the recruiting process since starting at Goldman and the most common question I get, especially from athletes, is “how can I prepare and develop the skills necessary to succeed on the job?”... My answer, specific to student-athletes, is “You probably already have them.”
You're almost two years removed from Stanford. Did your expectations of your first couple years match up with reality?
Living in the real world feels much more like a marathon, while internships and each lacrosse season or quarter of school felt like a bunch of short sprints. I don’t think anything can properly prepare you to sit at a desk for over 12 hours a day after being a student-athlete. It took me a long time to get in a rhythm of taking care of myself, finding time to work out on my own time, preparing the right foods and getting enough sleep- just like freshman year of college all over again. I had to do a lot of self-evaluation to set proper “real world” goals outside the context of sports. I’ve had to create my own imaginary “structure” to define success in all aspects of my new career and lifestyle. I think being a student-athlete required a lot of mental toughness, but being in the real world requires a lot more mental discipline, which I’ve really had to develop. You set your own pace in everything you do; no one is raising the bar for you.
If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice as a student-athlete, what would it be?
In short, “little things make a big difference.” I think every athlete knows that sports come down to inches- a pass missed by inches is a turnover, a defensive slide a second late causes a defensive breakdown... But we often lose sight of the little things in life that have no immediate consequence. For example, as a student-athlete, if I didn’t have over an hour to work on an intimidating engineering problem set, I would often wait to start it after practice. I think I would have spared myself of a lot of stress if I had taken advantage of the seemingly “little” opportunities that presented themselves each day.
Finish this sentence: My biggest strength as a leader is…
Not just being able to work with all kinds of people, but being able to enjoy working with all kinds of people. The women’s lacrosse team holds a 30 person roster every year and I probably had over 60 teammates at Stanford... I wasn’t close with every person on the team but every girl I played with challenged, pushed, and supported me in a unique way- on and off the field. I have a special appreciation for every person’s role and potential to contribute to a team.