Muskaan Agarwal is a current senior at UC Berkeley, majoring in Business Administration and minoring in Data Science. She is from Seattle, Washington. In this Humans of Haas blog, I speak to Muskaan about her career interests, being a woman in investment banking, as well as her advice and tips for younger students at Cal. This was an extremely insightful conversation, one which I truly enjoyed – I am grateful to Muskaan for sharing her time to contribute to this Humans of Haas blog.

In terms of career interests, what are you hoping to pursue?

When I came to Berkeley, I was inclined to go into Finance. I’d done DECA all throughout high school, so that was where my interest in Business started. I knew I wanted to continue with the business path, but it was a little bit tough because when I was applying, I didn’t have the security that I was going to be admitted into Haas. In the process of applying to Haas, I was trying to navigate my interest in Finance. Berkeley generally pushes students towards Consulting and Entrepreneurship, so I tried Consulting for a bit. In many consulting projects, I would notice myself being inherently drawn to the Strategic Finance component. My interest in Statistics and Data Science tied very well into valuation principles, like understanding why a company is valued at a certain value. So, I started doing a lot of investment banking research on my own. A lot of times, navigating what career one wants to do, especially something that’s not hugely talked about, for example, women in banking, can be tough. I did a lot of that research on my own throughout the pandemic, and I realized that networking was my biggest friend. I talked to people in New York offices at companies I wanted to work at, and I just fell in love with it. At the end of the day, I care about working on high-profile IPOs, deals which are going to change the trajectory of future companies. Right out of graduation, I’ll be going into consumer and retail investment banking. I read the Wall Street Journal every morning and I’ve always been drawn to consumer and retail news, so ultimately, I want to be working on details in that space.

You touched on this briefly, but what has being a woman in investment banking been like for you?

My greatest mentors have been women. My first internship was at a travel and tourism company, founded by Haas students. They were my first guiding mentors. This internship helped me to realize that I’m interested in strategic finance. But as a woman in finance, I feel like sometimes I’m looked down upon and not necessarily given attention when I walk into the room. But naturally, I try to command attention and walk in with confidence. It’s important to know what resources are at your fingertips; we are all surrounded by resources and for me, it was finding women mentors that supported me, wanted the best for me, and were people that I could look up to.

Whilst you aren’t thinking or working on investment banking, what do you enjoy doing?

I was on UC Berkeley Azaad, the Bollywood Dance Team, for my first two years of college. I led the team during my second year as captain during COVID-19, which had its fair share of challenges. I’m also involved in weightlifting and weight training on campus. When I lift weights, I feel strong, and I want to see more women navigate from the cardio section to the weight room. I’ve also always been drawn to leadership roles. Now, I’m serving as the Vice President of Corporate Relations for HBSA.

It’s clear you like to challenge yourself to do the untraditional. Can you speak about what you learnt from this?

You need to find mentors that will be genuine. Your mentors can be your peers, your best friends, or people similar in age. A lot of the people who helped me get my first banking internship had gone through the process only a few months before me. People will help. You have to like asking questions and finding the right people to mentor you.

I’ve also realized the importance of discipline in life. Weight training taught me that a lot of people start something, but don’t end up finishing it. They get tired because they don’t see results, because they aren’t consistent. Motivation can only take you so far. It’s discipline that hones your character and this applies to both an academic and corporate environment. Discipline needs to be ironed into people’s brains.

Lastly, the importance of kindness and confidence goes a long way. Random acts of kindness carry a lot of power; being confident when you walk into the room is key, because no matter your background, you have something to offer.

What are your future plans? What do you hope to do 10-15 years down the line?

Straight out of college, I’ll be joining Citi’s Investment Banking Consumer and Retail Group in New York. Like I said, I’ve been interested in the cool deals that happen with fitness companies, many of which I interact with on a regular basis. I’ll be the analyst working on those.

Further down the line, I’d love to be in a CFO role at a big consumer retail company in the fashion or nutrition space, or start my own company. At the end of the day, I want to take my passion for fitness and make it something that is meaningful to people. I have a long day of school, and I look forward to fitness; it’s a great outlet of expression and I encourage everyone to find something that speaks to them. It will take time, but you’ll find things that speak to you.

I’m also trying to do content creation. Building your own personal brand is important. I started my own woman and weightlifting account. I’ve posted many nutritional recipes and workouts, and I get messages from girls about how my content has helped them.

To summarize, I’ll be working in investment banking for a couple of years, and then maybe exit to private equity. I’m also really interested in VC but ultimately, I would love to have my own company one day.

What are you going to miss the most about Berkeley?

I think I’ve learnt that while being overachieving, you are surrounded by people that will simulate you in one way or the other. Take advantage of conversations with people from all backgrounds, across the world. You will never be in a more culturally diverse and stimulating place than you are here. I’m going to miss talking to people- just knocking on someone’s door at 1:00 am and having a deep conversation. It was a luxury to form my own schedule and to form my conversations. I’m going to miss that.

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