What Happens When You Ignore Career Advice

Diane Zimmer (MPM '97, EMDC '14) has built a 20-plus-year career in the construction industry, thanks in large part to her willingness to ignore suggestions of what she should do professionally.

One of Diane Zimmer's favorite pieces of career advice is that sometimes it's important not to listen to other people's career advice. 

She’s a pretty good example of what can happen when you forge your own path. 

As a young professional in the construction industry, Zimmer (MPM '97, EMDC '14) was advised to focus intently on one specific construction market. This, she was told, would increase her chances for success.

Diane Zimmer“I promptly disregarded that advice and instead found it fascinating to learn about a variety of markets,” Zimmer said. "It allowed me to meet a greater variety of industry professionals and gain exposure to a greater variety of project types. From this I learned that although all projects have some similarities, each project is unique."

This perspective helped bolster her success throughout her career and in her current job as a Builder’s Risk consultant for J.S. Held LLC, a global consulting firm that provides a variety of expert services for all types of projects, from underground piping to commercial high-rises. Zimmer’s job is to evaluate and analyze costs and delays associated with Builder’s Risk insurance claims, and assist with claims that go to litigation. 

“Being familiar with different industries and types of projects is an asset,” Zimmer said. “There is no ‘lather-rinse-repeat’ in the J.S. Held Builder’s Risk world, which is part of what makes it so exciting.”

Excitement is what she was looking for when she turned to Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Executive Management for Design and Construction (EMDC) program. 

"As a strong believer in life-long learning, I was excited to continue my postgraduate education at Northwestern … without neglecting my work responsibilities and home responsibilities," she said. "I use the lessons I learned every day. Whether it be networking with clients and colleagues, interfacing with attorneys during litigation, or presenting to clients and colleagues, so much of what I do every day has some connection to what I learned in the EMDC program."

One lesson Zimmer learned in the EMDC program that is now reinforced on a daily basis is the importance of planning for, mitigating, or subcontracting project risks. 

"Most of the design and construction industry focuses on the development, design, and construction processes, but fails to sufficiently prepare professionals for the risk management side of the business," she said. "During my construction years, I was fortunate to have limited exposure to builder’s risk claims. Now that I analyze builder’s risk claims every day, I realize how the design and construction administrative best practices can significantly impact, positively or negatively, a builder’s risk claim or litigation." 

Zimmer tells others in the construction industry that it's important to pursue their passion and not necessarily follow someone else's path. That being said, if they're looking to grow as an executive in the construction or design industries, she is sure to recommend EMDC. 

“The EMDC program offers a first-class graduate school program with the flexibility to cater to executives with family and work commitments,” she said. “Taking what I learned in the EMDC program about company operations and management of teams, and partnering it with the invaluable mentoring I received from industry leaders undoubtedly led me to where I am today.”

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