To Hawkinson—and beyond!

The first time Ally Disterhoft (BBA17) heard other students talking about the Hawkinson Institute, two things grabbed her attention: Hawkinson had a reputation as a program for the brightest finance students, and they all had full-time job offers by graduation. “Sign me up!” she thought.

Becoming a Hawkinson Scholar led Ally to intensive career prep and deep connections with ambitious students, accomplished alumni, and well-placed recruiters. Those led to a summer internship at Barclays Bank in the heart of New York City. On her final day there, she was led into a conference room high above Times Square and offered that full-time job—plus a signing bonus.

“Hawkinson opened a ton—a ton—of doors for me. It put me in touch with the people who could help me make things happen. Without Hawkinson, I definitely wouldn’t be in the spot where I am now.”

Hawkinson was Ally’s launching pad to investment banking. Here’s her advice for others who want to set their careers to blastoff.

1. Get ready to learn a lot about your chosen field—and yourself

When she applied in spring of her freshman year, Ally quickly found that getting into Hawkinson wasn’t as simple as “sign me up.” She vividly remembers her admission interview with program director Brian Richman and a Hawkinson senior. Ally was a basketball star in high school and at Iowa, so she was used to both performing under pressure and being interviewed. “But, oh yeah, I was terrified! I prepped, but not as well as I should have, and I didn’t always know what I was talking about.”

She was admitted to Hawkinson, but the experience was her first taste of how intense an interview and then a career with an investment bank would be. “It flipped a switch in my head. If I wanted to do big things, it was not going to be a walk in the park, and I had to get ready. It was uncomfortable—but it pushed me to dive in 100 percent.”

Diving in meant balancing her time as captain of the women’s basketball team with tough classes like Applied Equity Valuation with Todd Houge and Investment Banking with Todd Nelson. It also meant six semesters of weekly Hawkinson classes. “Those were some of the most worthwhile experiences I had during my time at the university, hands-down,” she says. The work included drilling on resume crafting, interview prep, and soft skills.

2. Never underestimate the power of connections

Maybe alumni realize that helping a high-potential Iowa student break through polishes their reputations, too. Maybe recruiters know Hawkinson turns out smart, motivated young professionals. Whatever the reason, Ally felt fully primed to capture an all-important investment banking internship.

“Hawkinson was great for putting me in touch with the right people—ones who could help make things happen. And Iowa alumni are passionate about getting other Iowa people hired by their banks.”

It helped that being mentored was a big part of her Iowa experience. Upperclassmen were always willing to do mock interviews, and she got lots of feedback from Brian Richman and other faculty. “They’d carve out time to say, here’s what you did well, and here’s what to work on. Everyone is happy to share their experiences for your betterment. That’s something special, and something you don’t get just everywhere you go.”

3. Keep your mind—and your options—open

Early on at Iowa, Ally thought her future lay in accounting. For summer 2016 she landed a high-level accounting internship in Chicago at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and had “a great experience.” But when she started listening to the stories of her peers from Hawkinson, “It got the wheels turning. I’m interested in accounting, but for the long term, was that really the role I wanted? Or did I want to take a chance and try another role?”

She wanted to take a chance. In September 2016, an accelerated recruitment process led to the offer to intern at Barclays in New York the following summer. Before starting, she learned she was assigned to the area that interested her most—consumer retail—and would be working on an actual acquisition deal from start to finish.

The opportunity was a case of good luck meeting good prep. One of the Barclay associates knew how much she’d prepared for the interview process. “And the students from Iowa who were at Barclays before me had done really great work—that doesn’t go unnoticed,” Ally says.

The result: “I had a fantastic experience, and at the end of the internship I accepted that full-time offer.”

Ally still keeps her options open. She completed her finance major in spring 2017 and wraps up her accounting major in December 2017 with 150 semester hours to her credit. Barclays is letting her start her job in summer 2018. That gives her a little breathing room—maybe for travel, but probably also to sit for the CPA exam and take the GMAT, the entrance test she’ll need if she decides to go to graduate business school.

“I honestly think that anyone considering Hawkinson should just go for it,” Ally says. “I went for it, and I was a little discouraged by the opening interview because I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been. But it has opened doors that won’t close for a long time. You have nothing to lose by stepping outside your comfort zone. It’s a very, very worthwhile opportunity.”