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It’s about making a positive impression — during the interview and on the job. That’s the message Brian James, a banker-turned realtor, expressed to students Monday morning at Lowder Hall.
James was one of four featured speakers, all of whom received Finance degrees from Auburn, Monday morning as the college celebrated Finance Day. Other speakers included Marcus Clark (1983), Scott Reed (1990) and Robert W. Dumas (1976).
James lectured students on appearance and attitude.
“You need to invest in yourself and what you look like,” said James, a 1983 Auburn graduate from Cullman who went on to work for years as a bank executive in the Florida Panhandle. “Don’t walk into an interview looking like you just woke up. Have respect for yourself and be respectful of the people around you. Take two months off of your beer budget and invest in some clothes. Your first impression is very important.
“You don’t want to wear a bunch of jewelry and you don’t want to smell like you just came from the make-up counter at Macy’s.”
But first impressions go beyond attire.
“Communication skills … I can’t say how distressing it is to see a good kid who can’t carry on a decent conversation,” James continued. “Nothing will drive an interviewer crazier than a kid who says ‘um and like.’”
James fears technology can stand in people’s way of succeeding personally.
“People are playing with their cell phones,” he said. “We’ve lost the art of conversing with humans.
“Look me in the eye. Dress the part. Smell the part. Talk to me about your dreams. This is such an easy thing, and grades take care of themselves. But you must take care of the intangibles. Speak clearly. There are hundreds of people applying for these jobs. Find a way to stand out. I need charisma.”
Once the job is yours, James said it remains imperative to maintain a good impression.
“Look for ways to become indispensable,” he said. “I can’t emphasize enough how many people are looking for jobs. Go in early. Stay late. Ask for extra assignments. Do something that sets yourself apart. Pick out the superstar and emulate what the superstar does.
“Do whatever they ask you to do cheerfully. You will be stuck with jobs you hate. If you don’t like something, but become the best you can be, then you will be promoted out of it. You will be stuck doing jobs you don’t want to have to do – but do them happily.”
As a banking executive, first at AmSouth and later at a number of community banking institutions in Destin, Fla., James said he rolled up his sleeves and got away from his desk.
“Every six months I would go do somebody’s job,” said James, who when he was 27 was the youngest city president in the AmSouth system. “I would be a teller, sweep the floor. I reminded myself what these other people did for a living. It made me appreciate when they had issues.”
James closed by speaking on the importance of not just having mentors, but adhering to their advice.
“In my career until 2006, I always had somebody that I could go to about personal or professional issues,” he said. “When you start thinking that you know it all, that’s when the Lord grabs you by the back of the neck. There is value in grey hair. It’s there for a reason. Find someone with grey hair. Go to them regularly and thank them for their advice.”
Also from Cullman, Clark worked for 16 years at the Cullman Savings and Loan, eventually earning the title of chairman of the board. Today, he operates Foreclosure Services of Alabama, Inc.
Reed worked 16 years for the Regions Financial Corporation in a variety of executive capacities. He is currently President and CEO, Organizer and Director for Oakworth Capital Bank in Birmingham.
At AuburnBank since 1984, Dumas is the president and CEO. The long-time Auburn resident has served as Chairman of the Alabama Bankers Association, where he is currently a director. He was also appointed as an Auburn University Trustee in 2012.