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John Danakas, University of Manitoba, Executive Director, Public Affairs

Career Mentor – John Danakas

25 successful years, 25 career mentors

September 29, 2015 — 

John Danakas [BA(Hons)/85, MA/94] is one of 700+ Career Mentor volunteers who devote time to meeting University of Manitoba students. Each year, career mentors share their knowledge and advice to guide the career plans and contribute to the success of students. In celebration of 25 successful years, 25 career mentors have agreed to share their career stories and advice…

Briefly, tell us about your job. What do you find most rewarding? What are your greatest challenges within this profession?

I am privileged to serve as the University of Manitoba’s executive director, public affairs. I oversee the university’s strategic communications. My position allows me to interact with researchers and scholars from a vast array of disciplines, and to share in the energy and vibrancy of young people learning and transforming their lives. I help tell the University of Manitoba story; usually, it’s good news. The challenges in the position come when the news isn’t so bright, but even those instances help reinforce just how essential to our province this university is.

While you were completing your degree, what experiences and activities helped bring you to your career decision or helped you succeed in your occupation?

I always loved to write, and studied literature and creative writing here at the University of Manitoba. It was while volunteering for the student newspaper, The Manitoban, that I first became directly involved in journalism and assembled a portfolio that enabled me to secure a position on a daily newspaper. Years later, when I returned to the University of Manitoba for a master’s degree, I was exposed to the world of public relations and decided that was the direction I would now take my career.

Describe your career planning journey. Please include any highlights, bumps or roadblocks.

When you’re interested in a career that involves writing, you have to learn to improvise a lot. The jobs aren’t obvious, but they’re out there all the same. When I walked off the convocation stage with my arts degree, there were no headhunters waiting to sign me up to a bonus-laden career in the fast lane. After that initial shock, I realized I had to take matters into my own hands. I literally created a position for myself by informing a local daily newspaper that they weren’t covering an important sector. It worked! After that, whatever came my way career-wise followed a keen interest on my part expressed through passionate action.

What inspired you to be a career mentor?

The greatest reward of opening doors for yourself is being able to help others through the same doors. I love being able to help people find their way to a place where they contribute meaningfully.

What advice do you have for students who are interested in following in your footsteps?

There are plenty of opportunities to engage in communications through volunteer organizations or – these days – through social media. Build a portfolio, fine tune your talents and meet people in the industry.

What career advice do you have for university students?

Do what you love, and the opportunities will find you as often as you find them.

Stay tuned for more career mentor profiles! From September 25 to November 2 the Career Mentor Program will be profiling 25 dedicated and wonderful mentors from across several sectors. To view more Career Mentor profiles and learn about the anniversary event on November 2, 2015, please visit the CMP 25th Anniversary website.

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