Alexandra McGuigan is the Global Development Director at 100 Women in Finance. In her 2021 Spotlight Series interview, she discusses how she stays on top of her professional game, mentors throughout her career and much more.
1. How do you stay on top of your professional game? Any tips on how you keep your competitive edge?
Growth and development are key to having a successful career and also having fulfilment from your job. I make a considerable effort to constantly add to my experience and skillset which means I am always evolving and developing. Too much of the same thing becomes boring.
My career path has been wide and varied which has served me well. At university, I studied Media and Communications. In doing that I was able to learn how to write and communicate well from a business perspective. Being able to express yourself eloquently and with high emotional intelligence will set you apart from others. As such I try to continue and develop these skills by mindfully practicing techniques I have learned on a daily basis.
Over the course of my career, I have continued to invest in my education as and when it became apparent that I needed to upskill myself in order to do the best job possible. For my first job I worked in Sales and Marketing in the FMCG market but decided that this wasn’t what I wanted to do. In order to decide what my next move would be, I decided to complete an MBA. At the time I was young, and the program catered for that by making sure that MBA candidates had experience with all areas of business function. This was an exceptional way to see what I liked and what I didn’t like. It also surprisingly showed me that I had talent for Finance, Economics and Strategy which I hadn’t realised. It was at this point that I pivoted toward a career in Financial Services and never looked back.
One of the best things about a career in this sector is the complexity of the subject matter; there is always something new to learn! After 10 years in the industry, I realised that I needed more technical knowledge in order to serve my clients properly. It was at this point that I won a scholarship from 100 Women in Finance to do the CAIA (Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst). It was a rigorous course and pushed my boundaries but as Ray Dalio says in his book Principles ‘It is a fundamental law of nature that in order to gain strength one has to push one’s limits, which is painful.’
In order to stay at the top of your game you need to keep pushing yourself towards a goal and then taking a breath to appreciate what you have achieved. Once you are ready, then work towards something else. Having a goal in mind will help you to focus and push through the tough times.
2. Mentors play an important role in the developments of many careers. Did you have a mentor? If so, what did you look for in that person?
There are three people who have significantly influenced my career and life in general. The first one is my father who taught me that I could be anything that I wanted to be and always knew exactly what to say to motivate me due to our similar nature.
The second most influential person in my career was a wonderful woman that I worked for as a nanny when I was at university. She was a successful lawyer and had three children. She was (and still is) a supportive role model that embodied the type of person I wanted to be in years to come. Throughout my career, she has helped me to troubleshoot difficult times, introduced me to helpful people, and she has been my champion when I have needed a referee. It is important to have female mentors to look up to. Women and men inherently have different paths, and it is very useful to be able to talk to someone who has been there and done it before you when navigating challenging times.
Finally, my third mentor was my first boss when I transitioned into Financial Services. For whatever reason, he saw a spark in me, took me under his wing and taught me a lot. There are few opportunities in life one gets to shadow a CEO for two years. At the time I don’t think I really appreciated the monumental impact that those years under his guidance would have on my life.
My mentor relationships have formed naturally. I don’t think that it is something that you can force. Give yourself the best opportunity to meet someone who might be keen to invest some time in you; be open to meeting new people, ask lots of questions, have a genuine interest in learning and then do the work that they suggest. If you do that then people will tend to take an interest in your success.
3. Think back to when you were starting out your career. What advice would you give your younger self?
I would say ‘All in good time’, which would have surely infuriated a younger me, but it is true. Don’t rush things. Everything will happen as it is meant to. Particularly if you work hard, look after yourself, and above all be kind.