Career Corner – James Donald (Theta Phi, ’82)

Career advice can be a complex subject and usually works best when it considers specific issues. However, the following is a general piece focusing on some of the main lessons I have learned in my career, which has specialized in finance and investment management for 35 years.

Although many university graduates think they know exactly what career will suit them, this will often not be the case. Many of my colleagues and friends found that they weren’t particularly talented or even interested in what they thought they would do in their careers. For example, many people, including my father, thought I would be sales focused. When I actually had a position with considerable sales involvement, I found it was less stimulating than making investment decisions. It is vitally important for new professionals to constantly evaluate their levels of skill and interest. In today’s world, many of the most successful professionals need to be experts. But it greatly helps if they are truly stimulated by what they do.

As well as being educated and interested, two other important attributes of successful professionals that I have witnessed are tenacity and diplomacy. Everyone has difficult times in careers and it is critical to stay as positive as possible and reasonably focused. If one can’t easily understand and concentrate on one’s responsibilities, it is hard, maybe impossible, to do the job well. The work place will usually also result in having to function with challenging colleagues. This can result in unpleasant relationships with senior professionals that can endanger one’s employment. Always remember, the workplace is not university. It is not a democracy. It is vital to understand your role and ensure that you are fulfilling it.

In my career, I have attempted to work as well as I can with all of my colleagues, whether they are easy or difficult. That requires flexibility and sometimes diplomacy. My own preference is not to ingratiate myself with senior managers or junior colleagues but instead try and have a neutral, professional relationship. For instance, I want to have the ability to agree or disagree, according to my opinions, with those I work with and even report to. However, when I disagree, I try and do it logically and discreetly.

The business world is a very different world from a university life.  A great deal can be learned from experiencing or seeing mistakes.  However, if some of the differences in these worlds can be understood and adjusted for, skills that have already been developed at college, such as strong communications, ability to motivate and initiative can be very valuable.

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