After two degrees from MIT, one from Harvard, a couple decades in the business world and a semester teaching at U.Va. Law, I certainly don’t claim to know everything. But I do have some insight into how to best utilize your assets and how to make the most of your education to succeed in the workplace. For those of you embarking on the journey, maybe my thoughts will help you. I hope so.
Something I know: Degrees matter less than passion. The workplace will always welcome eager and committed individuals. And enthusiasm can take you a long way.
At first glance, the combination of degrees on my résumé doesn’t make a lot of sense. The path to my position as a managing director at Goldman Sachs was not linear, but it was guided by a strong work ethic and an intense drive to succeed. It’s important for undergrads and recent graduates to understand the value of those two things. Let me explain.
Jim Donovan (left) with Dr. Philip Kantoff, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s chief clinical research officer.
In the job market, you’ve got to rely on two things. The first is excellence. Take pride in what you do. You have to be able to honestly tell your interviewer, “Everything I’ve been interested in, I’ve done really well. If I pursue it, I’m going to take it seriously and I’m going to excel.” Second, you have to demonstrate your interest. Tell your interviewer, “Here are the five things I’ve done on the side to pursue this: I’ve joined this club, I interned here, I read this journal, I write for this magazine, etc.” You have to be entrepreneurial and aggressive about proving your commitment to the field.
I’ve spent my career doing three things: covering clients in investment banking and investment management, working on corporate strategy and managing people. The last duty is my favorite because that’s what business and any workplace is ultimately about: people.
Advice for anyone in the corporate world: Focus on building relationships. Make connections with as many people as you can and have as many repeat interactions with clients as possible. View them as long-term commitments and strive to understand them and their industry holistically. By building solid relationships, you will create a web of professionals within which you will be well-known and well-respected. And that’s good for any business across the board.
As a final note, I’d like to point out that it’s difficult to balance a career, charitable work and a full personal life. I have a wife, four kids and serve on numerous charitable boards—I’m busy. But I make it work by being extremely regimented about my time. I don’t compromise and don’t let anything else bleed into the time I’ve designated for an activity. I compartmentalize the time and once I’ve committed to doing X, I don’t let other things intrude. I also make sure to take time off. A mistake people make is working with only 80 percent of their potential 100 percent of the time. I work 100 percent of my potential for 90 percent of my time—that other 10 percent of the time, I am totally off! I also enjoy a structured workout routine. I run 5 miles a day—rain, snow or sunshine—and it helps me keep my sanity. I would definitely recommend incorporating some physical activity into your everyday life as an outlet for stress. The corporate world is stressful. It is also incredibly rewarding.
Remember: Study what you enjoy, demonstrate your excellence and your interest, be conversant in as many languages as possible, build solid relationships, create a strong professional network and always take time off. I hope these suggestions help guide some of you on your journey in the job market and beyond. Good luck and remember what Mark Twain said—it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.