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Final Post: Will Focus on PR Career Blog

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.


In restaurants and in life, we sometimes bite off more than we can chew.  When Jimmy Greenfield approached me to blog about job search advice for ChicagoNow, I was flattered and felt I would be able to manage it along with my full-time job while continuing to write Culpwrit, my PR career blog.  Unfortunately, I simply can't find that 25th hour in the day, so I'm sadly giving up Hire Learning

Culpwrit will continue to offer career advise, mainly focused towards PR, marketing and communication careers.  You also can follow me on Twitter @culpwrit

Thanks and good luck to the entire ChicagoNow team. 




Freelance Career Primer and Helpful Links

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

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Jeff Holmquist



Thinking about becoming a freelancer rather than an employee of a company?  While the flexibility and variety of projects and organizations may be appealing, you need to do your due diligence and prepare before making the switch. 


Start by looking inward and realistically determining if you have the characteristics required to be an entrepreneur:

·         Do you like frequent change in assignments, teams, and schedule?

·         Do you enjoy learning new things?

·         Are you willing to do whatever it takes to complete client assignments on time in a high quality manner?

·         Are you willing to devote the time necessary to find new assignments? 


Websites such as entrepreneur.com and inc.com can help you determine if you have the characteristics necessary to be a freelancer.  You may also want to take an interest inventory at a local college's career and placement office to see if business and management come out high on your results.


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Undercover Career Gold: Be Bold

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

In a weak employment market, it's a smart strategy to take risks.

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Tim Conway

Push yourself to try unconventional job search methods.  By being a go-getter, you will spot hidden opportunities.

Here are surprising tactics that are productive:

  • compose brief bio and case studies (format of Situation, Actions, Results); send as an alternative to a boring resume
  • create a digital portfolio to showcase academic/campus/on-the-job achievements (fact:  "less is more" so only display best samples such as transcripts, commendation notes and awards)
  • skim "Newsroom" press releases of target employers to spot names of executives; then use those names during outreach campaigns (e.g., postcard)
  • join professional associations to access membership databases; schedule lunch with chapter officers for insights
  • attend industry events; stay afterwards to meet-and-greet speakers/panelists
  • rehearse 30-second Personal Pitch to highlight useful skills/career goal with relatives, neighbors, community/religious leaders, family physician/dentist/attorney and former supervisors/professors/tutors/coaches; mention preferred organizations to spur others to share contacts
  • approach sole proprietors, boutique agencies and fastest-growing firms since these are first to hire during a slow economy; call before 8 a.m. and after 5:30 p.m. when gate-keepers aren't there
  • craft a Solutions Letter to organizations covering specific recommendations to existing problems (that you've identified from input by referrals along with observations)
  • make phone calls to university/Greek alumni to seek advice (objective is to establish a mentoring relationship so do not inquire about job openings; instead ask about hot projects that need support)
  • move cross-country or overseas to an emerging location (check library publications for list of regions/cities)
  • leave short voicemail messages:  "Hello ___________, this is ______ _________.  I have some useful information for you.  Please call me when it's convenient.  Reach me at ___-___-____.   Again, it's ______ _________ at ____-____-_____."  The information you exchange should be about recent category or competitive activity.
  • submit a Results Letter to prospective firms stating your performance commitments for Years 1-2 (e.g., product training, account management, foreign language fluency, sales revenue, cost savings)
  • accept a temporary role or unpaid internship with goal to quickly demonstrate value
  • offer to work for F-R-E-E for a limited time in chosen or related field (for instance, pursue a hotel, rental car, airlines or retailer to build client service abilities)

By taking more chances, you will boost odds of being noticed.  Plus, you'll gain respect of influential staffers for being proactive.

Tim Conway is a one-on-one adviser to job hunters.  He wrote about proven employment techniques in "25 Ways To Make College Pay Off" (AMACOM; 2007).  Reach Tim at:  847-749-1394 (office) or timconway@igniteyoungadults.com

Job Success: Read and Listen

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

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I reluctantly admit that I watch too much reality TV.  Sadly, one of these shows -- "True Beauty"-- featured a discussion in last week's episode where the contestants couldn't recall when they last read a book.  None of these people would get hired by Linda Heasley, president and CEO of The Limited.

In today's New York Times, Heasley says she asks job applicants what books they are reading.  Other qualities she screens for:  passion, curiosity, energy level, sense of humor and willing to take a risk. 

Her advice to new hires: "Take 90 days. The relationships you build in your first few months here are critical to your success. Try not to talk in meetings. I know you're going to want to demonstrate that you're really capable and you deserve to be here by showing your smarts.  But if you listen and let the void fill with what's around you, you'll learn a ton.  It's really important to take the 90 days and watch and listen, and it's really hard to do that, because people want to perform out of the gate."

Dan Edelman's 10 Principles for Success

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.


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Daniel J. Edelman

Chicago PR icon Dan Edelman turns 90 this weekend.  It was 58 years ago that he started his own public relations firm that has grown into the world's largest privately held PR agency. 

Dan's older son, Richard, who now heads Edelman Worldwide, paid tribute at a birthday celebration this week by listing 10 reasons for his father's success.  As a friend, former client and now competitor, I found these 10 principles to be quite moving and full of good career advice. 

  1. Compete Every Minute of Every Day - Don't become self-satisfied because somebody else is ready to take your place. Mourn your losses but learn from them. Celebrate your victories but be quick about it so you can get back to the game. If you get knocked down, get right back up; nobody is going to pity you.
  2. Modesty in Manner and Possessions - Never refer to "I", always to "We", when speaking about the company or the family. Buy new suits only when the old ones get shiny. Drive your car until repair costs require you to make a change. Do not take on debt, either personally or professionally. Grow your business from retained earnings-don't pay yourself much salary and don't indulge yourself with boats, planes or dividends.
  3. Be Well-Informed - Read the New York Times every morning....and the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, Financial Times and USA Today. Tear out good stories and send them to your employees or children-they probably missed the important articles.
  4. Stay Healthy - Work out at least four days a week but always in a competitive context (why ride the exercise bike when you can fight it out on the tennis court?). Who else at age 84 would proudly display the twenty stitches on his forehead from crashing into the wall in pursuit of the bouncing racket ball? Or would go back onto the court two weeks later with a hockey helmet, paddle in hand, ready to whip the opponent?
  5. Strive for Perfection - You got just one 'B' in your entire college career-in science, of course. When I came home beaming after scoring a 770 out of 800 possible on a college entrance exam, you asked me what I got wrong.
  6. Become a Citizen of the World -You saw the global potential of PR by the mid 60s when we opened in the UK. You travelled to Asia three weeks every year from the age of 70 until your last trip at age 87. You had the confidence to invest in China in the early 90s and have made it a special point to nurture our operation there.
  7. Give Back - There are three legs to the stool - family, work and community. You serve on countless boards of directors for non-profits, from the Lyric Opera to the Weitzmann Institute to the Art Institute to Save the Children. You made a generous donation to Columbia Journalism School to fund a patio for students to engage in outdoor discussions. You have encouraged our firm to do pro-bono work for important causes such as Reverend Jesse Jackson's Operation PUSH.
  8. Ethics - Internalize the Mark Twain comment, "Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest." You were once approached by a consultant for a country tourism board who requested a "commission" for delivering the business to Edelman. Your immediate reaction was to throw him out of your office. You were the first and only one to speak out when one of our competitors took on the Church of Scientology-you said that PR is not the law and that not every client deserved representation.
  9. We're All Entrepreneurs - Take chances. You meet a woman from newly united Berlin, and boom, we have a new office. You rely on your instincts (but you know the numbers like the back of your hand). You give your people lots of leeway-there is no one path to success. You encouraged generations of Edelman executives with your Dan-o-Grams, that describe in pain-staking detail every comment in a meeting (woe to the young person who fails to take notes-sure to prompt a "never do that again" comment). So many have been developed into outstanding PR people, from Tom Harris to Pam Talbot, working alongside the master.
  10. Cherish Clients - Every Edelman person is an account executive and required to roll up their sleeves and do the work. You went to every Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisee meeting for thirty years. You ran the California Wines Commission account with a monthly trip to San Francisco (persuading Zsa Zsa Gabor to say that she was "weaned on wine" on Johnny Carson). You knew the CEOs but had strong ties to the heads of PR.

Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman Worldwide, writes the 6 a.m. blog, which provides a link to his father's 1988 Today Show interview where he discussed his remarkable career. 

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Building Your Own Mentorship Network

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

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Individuals seeking jobs need to form their own network of mentors and coaches.  Knowing the difference between the two support roles is important for the mentor, coach and protégé.

 Most of my mentors and those I mentor have developed over long periods of time.  Some of my mentors are nearby and others live thousands of miles away.  I've looped back to several of my mentors during each of my major career decisions.  Importantly, they and I stay in touch in between those conversations.  A coach normally is a shorter term arrangement.  I've often played coach by providing one-time or occasional advice, such as reviewing a resume.  Both roles consume considerable time for those willing to be mentors or coaches, so it is important for those seeking either advice to carefully approach potential mentors or coaches.  

Initially, recruit individuals who know you well, perhaps family members or family friends.  Don't make cold call requests.  Once you're employed, its easier to identify and recruit mentors from within your organization or other firms with whom you work. 

The New York Times recently provided excellent advice on how to identify and best use mentors and coaches.  The article discusses roles and expectations of the mentor and protégé.  The article also discusses reverse mentorship where talented younger employees work with more senior employees.  I have benefited considerably over the years from such mentoring and coaching. 

Want Success? Make 5-Point Daily 'To Do' List

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

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Dr. Sanja K. Jha




Motorola's Co-CEO Sanjay Jha said he wakes up every morning and makes a list of the five things he needs to accomplish that day.  During the Q&A session following his speech last week to the Executives' Club of Chicago, Dr. Jha cited the following key leadership elements he employs to achieve his goals. 

  • Clarity of vision. 
  • Be strategically clear.  Have a clear execution plan.
  • Fast decision making. 
  • Do things you enjoy.  Follow your passion. 

Dr. Jha brought agreeing smiles from the crowd when he said "it is more important to make decisions fast rather than dither in place."  He emphasized the importance of the "to do" list, suggesting that three to five items should be on the list every day. 

Besides co-leading telecommunications giant Motorola, Dr. Jha is CEO of the company's mobile devices and home businesses.  He told the audience that he expects Motorola to split into two publicly traded companies by the end of the year. 

New Job: Getting Off On The Right Foot

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

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Guest post by Katheryn Rivas

Many young professional career advice tips proffer suggestions on how to prepare for the interview, how to construct the perfectly executed resume, or how to get your personal brand on. In short, they talk about everything that you need to do before you step into the office for the first time.  Or, on the other hand, tips to carry you through the job as a whole--that is, what you should consider generally as you move along your chosen career trajectory.

But what about that first day you step into the office?  While career preparation is critical, the first few weeks of work are just as fraught with importance.  Here are a few things to remember.

1. Yes, first impressions still count just as much as they did in your parents' day.

Even though you may have wowed some people during your interview, your most important first impression is what you accomplish when you first start.  While these considerations may seem self-evident, they cannot be stressed strongly enough:  Dress appropriately, show up on time, shake hands with everyone you meet, and smiley warmly and sincerely.

2. Ask questions.

Just as when you were in the hot seat for the interview, when you first begin work, asking questions is crucial. While the first day won't be all that exciting in terms of work, since it's more of an introduction to what you'll be doing later, make sure to pay attention regardless.  If you aren't very clear about specific tasks you'll be assigned, do not be afraid to ask.  The more questions you ask, the better impression you'll make and the easier your job overall will become

3. Attitude is the only true make-or-break.

Incidentally, this is true in all aspects of life.  The attitude that you bring on the very first day and sustain throughout the first few weeks will generally dictate your disposition in the workplace. If you come in with apprehensions, you will only be shooting yourself in the foot because this first mental impression will darken your outlook.  If, however, you arrive knowing that you were chosen for the job because you were the most capable candidate, and that you can, within reason, handle anything that is thrown your way with grace, then your job will be all the more doable. Attitude makes a world of a difference.

4. Don't be too hard on yourself.

The first few weeks are an adjustment period, and your employers know this. You won't do everything right the first time.  In fact, you may do something terribly wrong.  This is normal.  It's how you handle mistakes that matters.  If you slip up, the best way to tackle mistakes is to admit them, accept them, and go back to tip 2--ask questions.  Ask what you can do to improve, and what you can do to avoid the same thing happening again. Remember--mistakes are learning experiences.  Nothing more, nothing less.

This guest post is contributed by Katheryn Rivas, who writes on the topics of online universities.  She welcomes your comments at: katherynrivas87@gmail.com

What I Wish I Had Known in College

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.



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Dean Denise Schoenbachler

What I wish I'd known....

1.  Get to know your professors.  Take the time and effort to really  get to know your professors while at college.  Your professors can be incredibly helpful in job hunting, career advice, and even navigating the university system.  Professors make great references for jobs. If you decide to pursue a graduate school program later on, you will need references from your professors.  If they don't know who you are, it is difficult to get a good reference letter.  Your professors should be a part of the network you are creating while at college.  They have a lot to contribute to your professional life...today and tomorrow.  Don't be intimidated by profs.  Most are more than happy to get to know, and to help, a good student who takes the time to get to know them.

2.  Study abroad.  There is no better time in your life to have the opportunity to travel and learn a new culture.  Don't be intimidated by the language; English is the world language and you will get by (better yet, study a language while at school...we all regret that we didn't!).  Don't assume it is too expensive or you don't have the time.  Look into the options your university offers to travel or study abroad.  It may not be as expensive or difficult as you think.  The experience will be life-changing...and a differentiator on your resume.

3Take advantage of every opportunity you can.  Most colleges and universities offer programs, classes, clubs, speakers, events, activities that let you try new things or learn about new subjects.  This is the best time for you to push yourself and explore and try things.  Is there a great keynote speaker coming to campus?  Then go to the presentation.  Is there a panel of women executives talking about  what you need to succeed?  Attend.  Have you always wanted  to learn fencing?  Or horseback riding, or sky diving, etc.  Check and see if the activity you are interested in is offered.  The more you do while a student, the more you will get out of your university experience and the more you will have to talk about on your resume or in an interview.  Your activities and interests in school not only help you learn and develop skills and interests, they also help differentiate you from everyone else who is job hunting  or applying to graduate school.  So, turn off the reality TV shows and do what you came to college to do, learn.

4.  Have lots of fun.  The time you are in college is supposed to be fun.  Make friends.  Go to parties.  Get involved.  Fall in love.  Enjoy everything about it, but don't forget to study, too!

Denise Schoenbachler is Dean of the College of Business at Northern Illinois University.  This is the sixth and final post from participants in a panel discussion at NIU featuring six successful women graduates. 

Networking: Your Personal Board of Directors

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

Four dynamic women executives shared their secrets for success with more than 1,400 Chicago-area women (and nearly 100 enlightened men) at last week's Executives' Club of Chicago quarterly Women's Leadership Breakfast. 

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Maria Bartiromo

Panel moderator Maria Bartiromo, CNBC anchor and host of "The Wall Street Journal Report," candidly discussed the importance of creating a "personal board of directors" to advise and assist with major career decisions and hurdles. 

Not surprisingly, Bartiromo and each panelist mentioned their mother as a "life member" of their personal board.  As Bartiromo remarked, her mother reminded her that "you can't be successful without relying around a number of people around you."  Her mom gave Bartiromo her grounded perspective with the aphorism, "Maria, you're not chopping wood!"

Bartiromo also said that you can't be a success without relying on a number of people around you.  She said that tapping into people who have "been there and done that" is critical.  She also received advice that 100 mentors, or persons from many walks of life, is recommended. 

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Carol Bernick

In her comments, Carol Bernick, Executive Chairman of the Board, Alberto Culver Company, outlined her strategies for building a Personal Board:

·     The smartest people I know ask for help.  Ask for help and seek advice from all facets of your life - work, family community.  Out of all of the people that you know, ask yourself who can help and who really cares?  With that, be very selective as you build your posse.

·     I have a core posse made up of family, girlfriends and 10-12 business executives I can call on any time I need to test an idea.

·     The key elements that make a person a contributor as a personal director are strength, smarts and a willingness to push back when needed.

·     Take advantage of every opportunity to look for a new director:  your corporate board work, not- for-profit boards, speakers or participants at industry events who impress you with their insights and a genuine openness.  Be thoughtful and make the connection.  This isn't for a list of Facebook friends.  This is a circle who will really care about you.

·     An important part of your life today is probably giving back to your community with sweat equity, dollars, your insights and passion.  I have found the people I've met through this kind of shared commitment to be an invaluable resource in helping me address all kinds of issues.

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Career Tips: Master Writing, Politics and Networking

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

Continuing the series responding to the topic "If We'd Only Known This Back Then," Janet Krueger,  State and Local Tax Partner, Chicago, PricewaterhouseCoopers, contributes the following post.

   Janet Krueger 

Learn to write.  Although many times we avoid classes or subjects we do not like or do well at.  There are some areas that we need to learn or improve that will benefit us in the future.  I was always more of a numbers/mathematical person and often avoided any class that involved extensive writing.  I was not as successful in law school in avoiding those types of classes, since writing was required in every class.  Take those writing classes and force yourself to learn and improve in those areas where you feel you have weaknesses.

Politics --- how do they work for you.  Politics in professional organizations is hard to define but usually is related to the influence, impact and your relationship with certain individuals.  Politics and their importance was  something I never thought of or appreciated in college.  My father worked at Standard Oil and the only thing we really knew about politics from that experience is that you had martinis at lunch.  Obviously, in those days, it was appropriate. 

I wish I was more aware of politics and what it meant when I was at Northern.  Politics are everywhere - teams, sororities, etc.  Main thing is to be aware of them - don't necessarily have to participate in them but it is important to figure out where you fit and how they may or may not benefit you in your career.  You may want to speak with someone you trust about politics in the organization and how you can use them to enhance your career development.

Importance of Networking and socializing.  Although you may have a very full day and very little time, it is important to set aside time to get to know others in your organization on a personal level.  The connectivity you gain from those casual or non-business related conversations can prove to be invaluable.  There is a new sense of respect and connection that is achieved through getting to know someone on a personal basis.   You may learn something then that will benefit you in the future when you need their help.  People truly like to help other people. 

Remember this - it will serve you well: you never know who your boss may ultimately be down the road and a relationship that you did not think much of now may benefit you in the future.  Relationships you develop are helpful in whatever your profession.  To enhance or grow your relationships expand your network by joining organizations, getting involved in charity events or volunteering to take the lead in company initiatives.

Career Success: Positive Attitude, Leadership Skills and Knowing It's Okay to Fail

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

Jill Krueger, President and Chief Executive Officer of Health Resources Alliance, contributes the fourth part of a series stemming from a panel discussion involving successful women graduates of Northern Illinois University who discuss the topic:  Lessons from the Front:  If We'd Only Known this Back Then.

   Jill Krueger 

1. Attitude is Everything.

Solid technical skills are necessary in every job but how you deal with people is what leads you to a successful career.

People distinguish themselves within a company through personality traits.  The top people in the company I work for are technically competent.  However, where they excel is loyalty, dedication, and trustworthiness.  My key employees are also hardworking and have a positive "can do" attitude.

If you do not believe in the direction of the company or respect those you work for chances are, you are in the wrong place.  You need to feel good about where you work, there is no point in being unhappy or negative.  You spend way too much time at your workplace, you should look forward to going to work each day.

2. Good Leadership Skills Are Not Easy To Come By.

If you have them, use them wisely.  Keys to being good leaders include the following:

  • Create Trust:  Title alone is not enough to influence behavior.  You influence people because they trust you and you have earned their respect.  Motivating employees with positive feedback, utilizing constructive criticism versus blame will go a long way in creating trust.
  • Clear Expectations and Alignment of Goals:  Make sure employees have a clear understanding of your expectations and how what they do each day ties into the overall goals of the company.  Employees function much more effectively when they understand exactly how their job impacts the success of the company.  Explain why and how.
  • Bring Out the Best in Your People:  Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  Make sure your employees are in jobs that maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.  Coach, mentor and always provide timely, responsive feedback.

3. It Is Okay To Fail.

The best lessons I have learned, I learned from failure.  If you are afraid to fail you are holding back your ability to be innovative and probably not taking enough risks to grow yourself and your company.  Never fail because you did not do your homework or were not prepared for the situation.  We do make the wrong decisions for the right reasons, just make sure you do not make the same mistake twice!  Failure builds character.

Tips to Ace a Performance Review

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.


Q.  I've been in my job for almost a year and am due for a performance review with my boss.  My co-workers warn me that they got mad after theirs, so I shouldn't expect it to be a good or helpful experience.  Our boss seems reasonable, so I want to try to make this a good session for both of us.  Any recommendations on how to make that possible?

A.   You're wise to think about your review in advance.  Too many employees enter performance review sessions with no preparation, so they're unprepared or surprised by the feedback.  You should spend a couple of hours thinking about your performance.  Jot down accomplishments and ask your mentor(s) for their impressions of your performance. 

Five tips from ehow.com provide a framework for employees preparing for their reviews:   

  1. Understand Your Past
  2. Be Proactive
  3. Be Prepared for Constructive Criticism
  4. Consider Your Review a Strategy Session
  5. Use Your Review as a Prime Communication Opportunity

Unfortunately, far too many managers do a lousy job of performing performance reviews.  A recent Wall Street Journal article confirms that most managers hate conducting performance reviews--even though constructive feedback is critical for employees. 

Employees who take a proactive role in helping their bosses get through the annual performance review ritual will feel better about the end result. 

Develop Your Own Pay Increase Toolkit

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.


During my first few jobs, pay raise timing was a mystery--sometimes surprising me by coming earlier than expected and other times coming long after annual anniversary dates to which most raises are tied. 

Today, agencies and companies do a better job of on-boarding employees and clarifying the performance review timing and ensuing salary increases.  Still, the salary increase process too often creates consternation on both sides of the discussion, and inequities exist. 

Recently, I talked with two young people who were unclear about the salary adjustment process at their firms.  One was told upon being hired that her increase would be tied to the annual performance review process (she's been in her job for 10 months), while the other person has gone a year-and-a-half with no mention of a review or pay increase.  The 10-month employee was concerned because a co-worker with the same time on the job had received an increase prior to reaching the one-year mark.  Both employees have reason to be upset, but only the second one should take action at this point.  Since the 10-month employee loves her job, she should assume there are extra-ordinary circumstances for the co-worker's raise timing--perhaps another job offer that had to be countered or new responsibilities.  If unhappy with the adjustment due in 60 days, she should directly address her concerns at that point.  Meanwhile, the 18-month employee needs to pursue a performance review and raise. 

The New York Times' Your Money column today provides a "toolkit" for women seeking a raise.  Although written from a women's point of view, the column's recommendations apply to anyone believing they're due for a pay raise or additional salary consideration.  Hanna Riley Bowles, an associate professor at Harvard, provides the following toolkit suggestions:

  • Be Proactive.  If you believe you deserve a raise, don't sit around and wait for someone to notice.
  • Be Prepared.  Doing your search pays, literally. 
  • Tailor Negotiations.  Frame the discussion in terms of why it makes sense for the organization.
  • Anticipate.  Try to envision what kinds of objections your boss may have.
  • Negotiate At Home.  Before you even start negotiating for a raise or promotion, consider how it might affect your life at home--but don't assume that one has to come at the expense of the other.
  • Be Creative.  If you have family responsibilities, it helps to consider alternatives like flexible work schedules.

How much to expect?  With economic improvement under way, raise percentages are increasing slightly from the near-flat levels of the past three years.  Some organizations that had instituted pay freezes are lifting them as competition for talent begins to heat up.  Ranges depend on a number of variables, but most firms attempt to set increases slightly above cost-of-living levels.  Most employees should expect raises between 3 and 7 percent.  Promotions range from 7 to 12 percent. 

Personal Branding Tool Kit

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.


Kevin Donnellon

Personal branding is in, and much of this is driven by the tough job market, the glut of exceptional talent and the growing social technologies that can power your personal brand.

I completely endorse personal branding as a consultant, former agency owner and corporate PR VP who believes that "if you don't stand out, please stand down."

Sounds like something out of Woody Hayes, John Wooden, Urban Meyer or Coach K, doesn't it? I made it up, I confess.

Seriously, personal branding is becoming more important when you consider:

1.     In this current turbulent and transformational economy, six people apply for every job, Atlantic.

2.     American workers aged 16-24 have an unemployment rate of 18.8%, nearly double the 9.7%, Wall Street Journal

Anecdotally, my niece was one of three finalists out of 200 applicants for an AAE position at a major PR agency last Fall.  She wasn't hired, but then happily was later hired by a sister firm.

You have to stand out, and your personal branding will be an asset and your competitive edge.

Simply put, your investment in personal branding can help you get a job, keep a job and even get promoted.  Personal branding is relevant and valuable for beginning, emerging, established professionals and especially for those transitioning in their careers or moving to another city.

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How to Become a Foreign Service Officer

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.


Guest Post By Palak Shah    

I recently joined the Foreign Service with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  Two thoughts stood out during the swearing-in ceremony that took place on our first day.  First, I recall how proud I felt to embark on a career of serving my country while helping others in need overseas.  Second, I remember thinking how I wish someone had told me about this opportunity much earlier in my career. 

If you ever wondered what Foreign Service officers (FSO) do and how to become one, please read on.

1.  Background.  There are five U.S. government foreign affairs agencies that hire FSOs, and each has separate application procedures.  The Department of State (DOS) is the lead U.S. foreign affairs agency and staffs the vast majority of FSOs.   USAID works with DOS to drive U.S. foreign policy toward objectives of global peace, prosperity, and stability through foreign assistance.  Since I joined USAID, I will focus on the application process there.  I have included links below for more information on FSO opportunities with other foreign affairs agencies. 

USAID employs 1,200 FSOs worldwide and is attempting to double this number through its Development Leadership Initiative.  Some basic requirements for USAID FSO positions include:  US Citizenship; Worldwide availability (willingness to accept assignments anywhere USAID works); and the Obtainment of top secret security and medical clearances.  In addition, most FSO positions require an Advanced degree (e.g., Master's, PhD, JD, or MD).

2.  Application Process.  International experience is not required but may make you more competitive in the application process.  You may apply to specific job vacancy notices, which vary by technical area (e.g., health, democracy and governance, and program/project development).  USAID receives applications electronically, and these are reviewed for basic requirements and competitiveness.  Current or retired FSOs may then recommend you for an interview, which would take place in Washington, D.C. in front of a panel of FSOs working in your technical area.

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If We'd Only Known This Back Then, Part 2

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

Following is the second part of a series based upon a panel discussion by successful women graduates of Northern Illinois University assembled by Denise Schoenbachler, Dean of the Business school on the topic of:

Lessons from the Front: If We'd Only Known this Back Then!

  Rita Hoey Dragonette    

Part Two focuses on comments from Rita Hoey Dragonette of Chicago-based Dragonette Consulting:

-- Don't let your visual or verbal image get in the way of the value you have to offer.  

--Appearance is key, understand this early.  You will be judged instantaneously and throughout your career on your astuteness in understanding what is appropriate for the work environment.  This will never change and yes, it is more of an issue for women than men. Men primarily need to keep from looking sloppy; expectations of women will always be more stringent. You want to go for polish--well-fitting classic clothes, a flattering haircut, appropriate makeup.  Don't be too trendy or sexy on one end of the spectrum or throw together your look as if you don't care on the other.  When in doubt, buy a black suit and wear it with mix and match tops while you spend time learning what colors and styles are flattering, professional and appropriate to your work place.  The old adage of dressing for the job you want not the job you have is enduringly true.  This is particularly challenging in the area of business casual--always wear a jacket.  The appearance you present is directly proportional to the impression you make about self confidence.  Your future clients will be paying money for your advice; you will need to look as if you are worth it.  

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Grads: 'Don't Be Afraid'

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

Career trepidation is building as college graduations get under way.  In the "good old days", most college seniors knew where they would be working their fist job before the end of their final semester.  Today, most estimates suggest only two in five 2010 grads already have landed jobs, mostly internships.

Over the past year, I've talked with several students whose ultimate career goals are entrepreneurial focused, but they are are postponing their business ideas in order to seek 9-to-5 jobs.  Of course, financial demands drive such decisions.  But too many table their entrepreneurial pursuits until it's too late to do so.  (I know, since I passed on at least three business ventures myself over the years, and often wonder what might have been).  Even if a "regular" job must fill the financial gap between now and what you ultimately want to do, this is one of the best times to begin pursuing laying the groundwork for your entrepreneurial goals--especially if little capital is needed. 

Encouragement to overcome fear is offered by Omar Hamoui, founder and CEO of AdMob,  a mobile advertising network, who is featured in the Corner Office column of The New York Times.  The entire interview is worth reading since Omar is an unusual CEO, who exemplifies leaders of the future--entrepreneurial and fully engaged in every aspect of their companies. 

  Omar Hamoui 

Here's Omar Hamouri's response to the question:  "What's Your best career advice?"

A.  Don't be afraid. What I mean by that is lots and lots of decisions are made by fear and they're made by people who think they have more to lose than they actually have to lose.

When you're just graduating from college, there are so many people who want to start something. They're worried if I do this I can't get a job, how will I live, this and that. They have very little at that point that is really going to be risked for them to sort of make a bold try.

I mean, ultimately, if it doesn't work out, if they were employable in the first place, they'll still be employable afterward, and they'll be able to do something. They aren't going to live in a cardboard box in the street.

I think business school students are comical in this area. If you go to business school or probably law school or any professional school with these highly motivated people, they are stressed out of their minds. Like, they're going to be homeless if they don't get an internship in the summer.

You're going to be O.K. But everybody just has a very hard time calculating the actual risk. People just greatly miscalculate risk, in my opinion. They are too afraid of things.

'If We'd Only Known This Back Then'

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

To celebrate Women's History Month last month, the Women in Business Professions student group at the Northern Illinois University College of Business hosted a panel discussion of successful women graduates to discuss insights.

The intention was to share hard-won lessons learned on the job that with soon-to-be-grads to allow them to benefit from their experience and have a jump start when they entered the working world with a program titled:

Lessons from the Front: If We'd Only Known this Back then!

The participants were recruited by Denise Schoenbachler, Dean of the Business School and included:

Sheila Talton, Vice President, Office of Globalization, Cisco Systems, Inc.

Cathleen Johnson, Executive Vice President, General Manager, Tourism Practice and Global Director, Education & Training, Edelman Worldwide

Jill Krueger, President and Chief Executive Officer, Health Resources Alliance

Janet Krueger, State and Local Tax Partner, Chicago, PricewaterhouseCoopers

Rita Dragonette, President, Dragonette Consulting  (career consultant), moderator

Rita Dragonette offered to cull together key points from the discussion which Hire Learning will carry in a series.  


Shelia Talton

  Part One will focus on comments from Sheila Talton:

--Don't underestimate the value of volunteering to create experiences you may not immediately get on the job. For example, if you are a member of a not-for-profit in your neighborhood, offer to help work on the budget , or create the branding for a fundraising campaign. Not only will these experiences help bolster your resume, when you do a good job, others will notice and this recognition can create opportunities for mentorship.

--Be a global citizen.  The vast majority of business is being conducted globally and this will only increase. It's critical you prepare yourself. Absolutely do the obvious:  learn languages, take internationally focused courses, and explore study abroad programs and internships. At the same time, take every opportunity to travel, and when you do pay attention to the culture in each country you visit: how do people relate, what's the role of the family, what customs and behavior are valued? Every experience increases your comfort on the global stage, and therefore your value to a global company.

--Recognize that diversity can be an advantage, not an obstacle--whether it be gender, color or religion--that can provide very different and valuable perspectives on how to solve business problems. For example, women's styles of consensus building and negotiating are typically more amenable, a value that is appreciated more than you might assume. If you find yourself the only woman in the room, never be intimidated, consider it an opportunity.  At the same time business people of color are often received more willingly abroad than at home.

--Be strategic.  Your career won't come to you, you have to design and orchestrate it yourself. Study carefully where your interests and skills line up with global business opportunities and develop your plan: credential yourself with courses, training and real-life experiences outside the business world;  identify and cultivate those with experience in your area of interest as potential mentors; volunteer for special projects and assignments that may be on top of your work load but will build your skill-set and raise your profile; and begin to develop the "elevator" speech that recaps your personal brand, the value you offer to an organization.

Seize Control of Your Performance Review

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

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Q.  I've been in my job for almost a year and am due for a performance review with my boss.  My co-workers warn me that they got mad after theirs, so I shouldn't expect it to be a good or helpful experience.  Our boss seems reasonable, so I want to try to make this a good session for both of us.  Any recommendations on how to make that possible?

A.  Too many employees enter performance review sessions with no preparation, so they're unprepared or surprised by the feedback.  You should spend a couple of hours thinking about your performance.  Jot down accomplishments and ask your mentor(s) for their impressions of your performance. 

Five tips from ehow.com provide a framework for employees preparing for their reviews:   

  1. Understand Your Past
  2. Be Proactive
  3. Be Prepared for Constructive Criticism
  4. Consider Your Review a Strategy Session
  5. Use Your Review as a Prime Communication Opportunity

Unfortunately, far too many managers do a lousy job of performing performance reviews.  A recent Wall Street Journal article confirms that most managers hate conducting performance reviews--even though constructive feedback is critical for employees. 

Employees who take a proactive role in helping their bosses get through the annual performance review ritual will feel better about the end result.


Have a job related question?  Email me at ron.culp@ketchum.com


Career Success Basics: Stop. Look. Listen.

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.


David Grossman


Never underestimate the power of listening - really listening. 

Think you're good at it?  Like all skills, there are multiple levels of mastery.  How do you know you're a pro at listening?

Check first to see whether you're good at the basics.  Growing up, I learned the catch-phrase, "Stop.  Look. Listen." to keep me safe when I needed to cross a railroad track.  The same strategy will keep you on track when it comes to listening:

Stop - Stop talking.  Be quiet.  Resist the urge to think about what you're going to say next.
Look - Look directly at the person speaking.  Don't multi-task; focus on the speaker and what he or she is saying.

Listen - Listen with an open mind, not for what you want to hear or think you might hear next.  (If you're someone who finishes other's sentences, or sometimes interrupts, those are two clues that you're not listening.)  Ask questions to ensure you understand.  Paraphrase back what you're hearing to check for understanding: "So, if I'm hearing you right...." or "Tell me if this is what you're saying...."

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Lessons Learned: 7 Tips for Corporate Survival

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.


Lilly Headquarters, Indianapolis

First corporate jobs are exciting to land and sometimes hard to survive.  I averaged seven years in each of the four corporate jobs I've had the good fortune of working.  From each, I gained helpful insights that allowed me to do better in the next.

During a homecoming of sorts last week, I spoke at the Hoosier PRSA luncheon and offered seven leadership lessons I learned from my very first corporate assignment at Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly:

Listen More/Talk Less.  Surrounded by some of the smartest people I've ever worked with, I realized I had more to learn from listening than trying to impress with my young words of wisdom.  Over time, it became easy to engage and I was more readily engaged in discussions.

Identify Mentors.  I had the benefit of entering the job with two mentors who recommended me for the job--Bob Rhodehamel, a retired public affairs executive, and Al Mercuri, a former sales executive who was the company's lobbyist on the East Coast.  They and others provided invaluable advice and helped me avoid many career-ending pot holes that exist in high profile corporate jobs.

Treat Your Team Well.  Early on, I observed that the company's most admired managers were those who treated their staffs well.  Their teams would work late, come in early and never complain because their bosses did the same--and were advocates for their teams. 

Think Like a Reporter.  Since my first job was department head of media relations, I worked daily with reporters.  In that job and every job since, I have made it a point to know the reporters who cover my businesses.  My prior experience as a reporter also made me understand their on-deadline demands and I always attempt to give them honest, prompt responses.

Don't Surprise the Boss.   Keep your boss informed about developments that have the potential of affecting the company.  If there's a chance that an issue will make the news, be sure to engage the boss before things hit the fan.  I only recall being yelled at twice by a boss, and both instances stemmed from not keeping my boss in the loop. 

Don't Back a Rat into a Corner.  Faced with an executive who clearly made a mistake to which he wouldn't admit, I contradicted him in front of his boss and others.  Our relationship was strained for the rest of my career at the company.  Today, I would have more diplomatically talked with him one-on-one in hopes of avoiding a confrontation.  If that didn't work, I would discuss the situation one-on-one with my boss and/or his boss. 

Remain Calm and Good Humored.  Due to several crises during my Lilly tenure, I quickly understood the meaning of stress.  While I'm sure I internalized much of the stress, I learned the importance of keeping a team motivated by not letting them get "down".  My bosses remained calm and always showed good humor no matter what the crisis of the day.  These leadership qualities got us through product recalls and Congressional hearings.   

New Grads: Take a Gap Year, if Possible

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

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When I graduated from college there was no question I had to get a job--or move home, which wasn't going to happen after four years of "freedom."  So, I moved to Indianapolis with high hopes, but no job.  A couple of nerve-wracking months later I landed a job and haven't had a major work lapse in the past 40 years.

Recently, I've been encouraging new graduates and people "between jobs" to consider taking some significant time off to see the world, work on the book they've always wanted to write, volunteer or master yoga.  Jilly Stephens, executive director of City Harvest, a wonderful nonprofit that distributes food to community organizations in New York, expresses the same point of view in today's Corner Office column in The New York Times.

Jilly encourages new college graduates to take a gap year, stating:  "It's invaluable to get out there and experience the world, because you've got a lifetime of work ahead of you.  I just think to draw on that year of spending time outside of your immediate world is a good thing to do."

Supporting the "gap year" isn't always easy, but this is the time of your life when it takes a lot less money to support such an adventure.  Part-time jobs are easy to find, and living expenses are minimal.  Do it before you spend 40 years building 5-star expectations. 

How to Sell to Fish. . .And People

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

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Shad Schnenck

During a recent visit with relatives in rural Indiana, I was proudly shown a farming trade magazine (Seed & Crops Digest) that featured sales tips from a young man who married one of my favorite cousins. 

Besides being a highly successful seed corn salesman, cousin-in-law Shad Schnenck is on the professional bass fishing circuit. When Shad takes novice fishermen with him, he offers five tips that he guarantees will result in catching fish. 

Shad's 5-step fishing tutorial also applies to most business situations:

1.  The first and most important step to catching fish is having a good ATTITUDE...Mental Preparation.  "90% of all fisherman don't have the proper 'fishing attitude', so they don't catch fish," Shad said.  "Instead of relaxing and enjoying it, they take fishing too seriously and end up making poor decisions. 

2.  You need the right tools and equipment necessary to find, attract and land the fish you are targeting.  Shad said that fishing tools are designed to target and catch specific kinds of fish.  And one tool certainly does not fit all fish. 

3.  Be the first one in the water.  "The early bird gets the worm as well as the choice fishing spots." 

4.  Spend time on the water.  "You can't catch fish if you aren't fishing," he said.  In order to catch a lot of fish, you need to "fish a lot." 

5.  Make as many presentations as possible.  Once Shad arrives at his desired fishing location, he starts casting before the boat stops.  His cast is fast, smooth and effortless--all due to experience.  If the "presentation" (cast) doesn't work, he makes adjustments. 

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5-Point Check List for Tough Talks

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

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Jean Palmer Heck

Tough talks with co-workers, family and friends are not easy, even if they are absolutely necessary. 

To determine how we can better communicate difficult messages, Jean Palmer Heck has spent nearly a year researching discussions with people who were experts in their fields--human resource specialists, psychotherapists, an employment attorney, a communications director at a major corporation, and thought leaders in the field of corporate communications.

Jean told me about her book plans this time last year, and invited me to write the foreword for her book which has just been published.  As I said in the foreword, I wish I had been able to read this book before suffering through the many tough talks I've endured over the past many years. 

Tough Talks in Tough Times: What Bosses Need to Know to Deliver Bad News, Motivate Employees & Stay Sane includes 22 case studies and a 5-step process (the CHECK system) for handling difficult conversations. 

The Tough Talks CHECK system is an acronym for:

1.    Clarity--about the message, purpose and details
2.    How to--deliver the right words
3.    Emotions--allowing for feelings to be processed
4.    Comprehension--ensuring the recipient understands the message
5.    Kickoff--the next phase to keep the workforce and the boss moving forward

Jean's research has shown that organizations, which take too long to have the 'tough talks,' destroy morale and risk losing good employees when the economy rebounds. "Putting off the announcement or discussion doesn't mean that workers won't ask 'What's going on?' It just means they will make up their own answers. And rumors can devastate a company," Jean notes.

Jean's book isn't just for bosses.  Her tips apply to people on either end of difficult conversations, including spouses, parents and children. 

Jean Palmer Heck is president of Real-Impact, Inc. which provides communication strategy and training.  Tough Talks in Tough Times is available in select bookstores and online via Amazon.com or direct from the author. For information, visit www.toughtalks.biz.


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10 Tips for Staying Unconditionally Constructive

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

I recently met a courageous woman who is fighting a serious battle with cancer.  I was inspired by her positive attitude--a stark contrast to another individual who I talked with later in the day.  He seemingly has everything going for him, yet he prefers to walk under a self-created dark cloud of cynicism and pressimism. 

The contrasts were so dramatic that I dug up a Top 10 list by the late Thomas Leonard, who some consider the father of career coaching.  He had a Top 10 list for just about everything--all aimed at staying unconditionally constructive.  The following tips might help in your search for a job or success in your current position.

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Grad School Decision Check List

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

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Bill Coplin

Like undergraduate programs, graduate programs are relentless in promoting the message that they transform lives.  Don't buy that message.  It is no different than advertisements that imply buying a sexy sports car will lead to sex.  Transformation is under your control. Make educational choices that fit your needs and not your ego.

Here is a checklist on six reasons you might go to graduate school and some suggestions on how to think about them:

1.     ___The degree is a "union card."  Needed only with professions like, law, teaching and medicine where it is a requirement, most jobs in business, government and the non-profit sector don't require a degree especially if you have the experience. If you are in job where HR and others are telling to get a MBA, do it as painlessly as possible.

2.     ___You want to develop specific skills like web design, data analysis, graphic arts.  Degrees are frequently not the best path because they are high price bundles of credits containing excess stuff you don't want or need.  Better to take the training at your current firm or, if not available, skill specific courses through any program. Best if you can practice them in your current job or as a volunteer. Skill development is about practice, not brilliant coursework.

3.     ___You want to gain knowledge about a field.  Job shadowing and informational interviews are a more efficient and cost-saving path and in any case must be done before going to graduate school.

4.     ___You want a better job in your current field. Talk to HR in your current company; there may be more opportunities than you think. If not, you may be better off working with a headhunter or job placement service or even the career services of you undergraduate college than spending $50K+ for some graduate program.  If you can't find better opportunities in your existing field, maybe you need to find a new field.

5.     ___You want a career in a new field.   Select graduate programs that have field work and internship opportunities and a strong job placement record. Time and tuition costs should be minimized and prestige considered much less important than placement record.

Before you get sucked in by those sexy graduate schools ads, ask yourself some hard questions that focus on what would be best for your future rather than what will make you feel more accomplished.

Bill Coplin is a professor of public policy at the Maxwell School and The College of Arts and Sciences of Syracuse University, and author of "Ten Things Employers Want You to Learn in College" (Ten Speed Press, 2003) and "25 Ways to Make College Pay Off: Advice for Anxious Parents from a Professor Who's Seen it All" (AMACON, 2007). Readers may  e-mail him at wdcoplin@syr.edu.

Prepare for Exit Interview Questions

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.


If you're thinking of quitting your job, be prepared for the customary "exit interview." 

Usually, a human resources represenative asks you a series of questions as a way to get your candid observations about your job experience.  The operative word is "candid."  By the time of a resignation, the fundamental reasons for departure are known.  While it might momentarily feel good to "get it off your chest," I advise against being overly candid and critical of individuals or organizations.  Don't burn bridges. 

Anticipating questions that might be asked will allow you to think through diplomatic responses, if necessary.  About.com provides an excellent backgrounder, which is must reading before an exit interview.  Here are some of the possible questions that might be asked in an exit interview:


  • Why have you decided to leave the company?
  • Have you shared your concerns with anyone in the company prior to deciding to leave?
  • Was a single event responsible for your decision to leave?
  • What does your new company offer that encouraged you to accept their offer and leave this company?
  • What do you value about the company?
  • What did you dislike about the company?


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Sales Jobs are Plentiful and Build Career Skills

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

Sales positions dominate classified ad sections in many newspapers and online sites, yet many job seekers pass over them in search of preferred career-specific opportunities that are harder to find.

During my tenure at Eli Lilly, management-level employees were required to go through sales training and actually work for six months in the field as pharmaceutical sales representatives.  I went reluctantly at first, but then didn't want to return to headquarters when my sales stint was completed.  Many organizations that rely on product sales require such hands-on experience, and the experience builds internal credibility.

At Sara Lee, whenever I proposed a new initiative that had significant cost implications, President Paul Fulton would ask:  "How many pairs of underwear do we have to sell to pay for that?"  (Sara Lee owned Hanes and Champion at the time).  Fulton instilled the business fundamentals in me that you had to sell something before you could afford to do anything else. 

Bottom-line oriented executives appreciate the practical knowledge that comes through sales experience. 

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How to Ask For A Pay Increase

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

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Many companies are cautiously approaching what to do about salary scales and increases as the new year gets under way.  Employees need to remain patient, but not be afraid to make their cases for salary adjustments when the time is right.

If more than a year has passed since the last raise, your supervisor should give you a status update.  Last year, many companies postponed or delayed pay raises and promotions, but most of those extraordinary measures are being lifted as the economy shows signs of recovery--and employers become increasingly concerned about retaining talent.

Employees who have performed extremely well since the last raise may need to build a case for additional pay consideration.  Get your facts together, and don't just rely on an emotional appeal.  You also might want to augment your verbal request with a memo summarizing your accomplishments and goals for the coming year.  A free sample salary increase memo is available from Quintessential Careers.

Knowing what's typical for salary and promotion increases in your firm is helpful.  Numbers vary widely by industry, but raises in 2010 are expected to range between 2 and 7 percent.  To determine how a raise might impact your paycheck, check out the Pay Raise Calculator.



200 Top Careers Ranked by Salary, Job Environment, Stress and Hiring Outlook

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

I always thought I had one of the best jobs in the country, but it only ranks 79th in a new analysis of top careers.

Online job site CareerCast.com ranked 200 major jobs from best to worst, making for a fascinating and excellent guidance tool for anyone trying to figure out what career to pursue.

Beginning with Department of Labor data, CareerCast developed its own algorithm that measured physical and emotional risk and stress along with outlook and salary.

Top 10 professions:

  1. Actuary
  2. Software Engineer
  3. Computer Systems Analyst
  4. Biologist
  5. Historian
  6. Mathematician
  7. Paralegal Assistant
  8. Statistician
  9. Accountant
  10. Dental Hygienist

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Feeling Stuck? Try Thoughtful Risk Taking

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.


MLM photo 2009[1].JPG

Mary Lee Montague

Something to ponder as the new year gets under way...


A lot of people get stuck.  And when stuck it can be really tough to get going again...it becomes paralysis by analysis.  Its always on your mind...you know what needs to be done but getting there seems like something you would rather put off until you have all the answers and you can do it just right.  You would prefer to wait til that perfect time when the likelihood of mistakes is not present.  Getting stuck can happen at times when you...

  • Really need to look for that new job but want to reformat your resume just one more time!
  • Know your network can help with your next deal but you are too busy making the list of who to network with to actually go network!
  • Would love to ask the boss lady if you can get that promotion now rather than in 6 months but you just can't take that walk into her office to make the ask.
  • Have wonderful ideas to share on the new product launch but keep them to yourself because someone may laugh.


You get the idea...stuck is a hold out for what is really yours.


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The Graduate School Option

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

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Bill Coplin

Graduate school has always been appealing to people in their 20's. With the economy remaining weak, the appeal has increased. Like all investments, the decision needs to be based on sound reasoning; not because it delays dealing with adulthood, the loss of freedom in working 40 hours a week, student loan payments or the current tough job market.


In advising college seniors and young alums over the past 40 years at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, I have found that too many students go to graduate school for the wrong reasons.  The vast majority of my 1,500 undergraduate majors over the past 40 years have had wonderful careers without going to graduate school. Less than 5% have gone right after graduations and about another 10% have gone at a later date. Many of those went part-time while holding down a full-time job.

Deciding to go to graduate school should be a business decision where the risks, costs and rewards of this significant investment in time and money are carefully considered.

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Succeed at Work by Avoiding 10 Job Don'ts

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

Debbie Downer.jpg

Colleague Kevin Saghy came up with his own Letterman-like Top 10 List of advice on what not to do in order to advance your career.  Here's Kevin's list:

10. Don't try to hog credit for yourself.  Be a team player.
 9.  Don't become complacent.  Senior managers want restless young talent who will always seek ways to contribute.
 8.  Don't be a Debby Downer.  Managers notice and gravitate toward positive attitudes.
 7.  Don't lose your sense of curiosity.  Young professionals bring invaluable creative ideas to the table.
 6.  Don't let the world pass you by.  Keep up with the news, and study the outlets you pitch.  All of them.
 5.  Don't force a square peg into a round hole.  Just find a need in your organization and fill it.
 4.  Don't show a sense of entitlement--everybody must pay their dues.  Long nights.  Early mornings.  Working weekends. 
 3.  Don't throw your coworkers under the bus.  Or take credit for work you didn't complete.
 2.  Don't confuse activity with results.
 1.  Don't over think it.  Quality matters.

Take Time to Map Career Plan

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

A former Lilly colleague of mine from the 1980s was obsessed with a 5-year career plan.  He took a couple days twice a year to map progress towards his short- and long-term career goals.  I was amused at first as he sometimes grew impatient with lack of progress, but he continually updated his plan.  Today, he's the president of a company in Florida, and still setting his career goals. 

Career planning is critical whether you're currently employed or looking for a job.  You must know where you're going before you can get there.  So, I recommend picking a day each year--perhaps your birthday--that you devote to assessing and mapping career goals and what it will take to make them come true. 

I asked executive recruiter Michael Patino for his top-of-mind recommendations for anyone thinking about self-directed career planning.  Michael said most young people don't know what's possible, so he suggests seeking insights from individuals who are in the kinds of positions that interest them.  "Rebalance career goals every year," Michael suggests.  "Set a time of year when you can focus some clear thinking about career goals--perhaps as you sit on the beach during summer vacation." 

Don't kill yourself if you're not meeting career goals, especially in this economy.  Remain flexible but always remain focused on where you want to take your career. 


Thanks to North Carolina A&T State University Office of Career Services for the above career mapping illustration.

5 Tips For Workplace Creativity

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.


Pressures of most jobs often prevent creative thinking that can lead to new and better ideas.  During my career, I've enjoyed working with many individuals who inspire creativity.  One of the breakthrough creative thinkers in the country today is Bob Thacker, senior vice president of advertising and marketing at Naperville, IL-based OfficeMax


Here are Bob's five secrets to demonstrating creativity in the workplace:


1.      Interact with people you don't always see.  Look for people who are enthusiastic and positive. Share a cup of coffee or lunch and ask for their perspectives.  Creative people are often the most connected people.

2.      People like to play.  Invite others to help you brainstorm.  Even informally.  It's a compliment to them and a benefit for you.

3.      One idea is never enough.  Use sticky notes.  Write an idea on each note.  Fill your wall with ideas before you narrow down your thinking.  Stickies make it easy to categorize ideas as you edit.

4.      Don't be too quick to judge.  Avoid editing ideas too soon.  If you have an hour to solve a creative problem, spend 50 minutes generating ideas.  Finding flaws doesn't take time at all.

5.      Think in analogies.  "This is like________." Or "If this were a _______it would be_______."  Often times analogies will actually help clarify an issue, and may lead to unexpected solutions.


Prior to joining OfficeMax, Bob Thacker held senior marketing positions in major agencies and corporations, including Target, Sears and BBDO. Bob and his creative work were featured earlier this year in a Business Week article, "OfficeMax's Wacky Marketing Strategy."


A Baker's Dozen Career Boosters

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

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Former colleague and long-time friend Tim Conway is a consumate mentor who advises scores of college graduates about their careers.  Over the years, he has developed 13 proven techniques to enhance work/life results. 


Here are Tim's career-boosting tips:


1. Head-To-Toe:  people notice details so take extra care to always look professional.   Examples:  comb hair; shave; use mouthwash; iron clothes; shine shoes; don't wear flip-flops; limit cleavage/jewelry/cologne.

2. Take The Road Less Traveled:  try a different bus/train; or ride a bike.  Be observant for oddities such as new advertising billboards touting a competitor.  By changing commuting habits, you can alter your "world view" to spur fresh thinking.

3. Wear Your Game Face: when you arrive at office, be ready to deliver peak performance; so be punctual, say "hello" to everyone; check-in with colleagues to ensure that you're focused on team priorities.

4. Be a Daily Reader:  allocate 20-minutes to skim breaking news; go to bookstore/library to scan mix of publications (e.g., academic journals, consumer magazines); discover specialty blogs/e-zines.  Clip articles that relate to client's business; then send with "For Your Information" note.   

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Career Networking 101

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

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My first experience with a "speed networking session" last week was more fun than I imagined when I reluctantly accepted the invitation to participate. 


Frankly, I prefer more traditional, informal networking that takes place during civic and nonprofit meetings such as the Executives' Club of Chicago and the Economic Club of Chicago.  However, speed networking has become popular with soon-to-graduate students and young professionals who want to expand their business and social relationships.


During my speed networking session, I exhanged business cards with 63 graduating seniors in fast-moving 90-second conversations.  Several did an effective job of describing their experience and career goals.  After the session, I was asked to assess the event and offer suggestions.  I applauded the group for understanding the importance of networking, and I urged the students to continue networking throughout their careers, but avoid being too forward and overly assertive. 


The importance of building a strong network is underscored by the number of people I've met in recent years who had been so thoroughly engaged in their jobs that they had no time for "outside contact" or relationship building.  When they lost their jobs, they had to start from scratch to establish a professional network. 


Valuable networking tips are provided through an helpful site called Career Networking 101.


For anyone engaging it networking it is criticially important to avoid the Three Deadly Sins of Career Networking:


    1.  Waiting until you need a job to begin networking
    2.  Developing an "all about me" mindset
    3.  Expecting others to do your networking for you

20 Career Tips from Chicago Business Women

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

I recently had the good fortune to be the only guy at dinner with 78 dynamic women. 


I helped arrange pro bono PR support for Camp CEO, sponsored by the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, so they invited me to the group's reunion dinner where high school and college-age women reunited with C-suite executives who went to camp with them over the past three summers.  It's an amazing program that is inspiring and changing lives of the students and volunteers. 


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Girl Scout Board Member and Camp CEO chair Mary Lee Montague, EVP for the executive recruiting firm DHR International, is so passionate about the program that she has agreed to chair the week-long camp for the fourth year in a row.  Camp CEO helps young women better understand and navigate the business world.


Mary Lee closed the dinner by unsealing a list of top-of-mind "words of wisdom" that had been shared by the executive women while participating in this year's camp program called "Dreaming Your Future". 


These 20 short phrases are motivational for everyone, not just Girl Scouts:


  • You don't always know what you want to be when you grow up until you get there.
  • Have the courage to make the change.
  • Move to new places...a wonderful world out there!
  • Be a good listener.
  • Have the courage to stand alone.
  • Whatever you do be the best at it you can be.
  • Leadership is...the ability to bring the best out of people.
  • Create the Unexpected.
  • Find your passion in life.
  • What will you do to bring hope to others?
  • You can have everything but not all at the same time.
  • Find your voice.
  • If you come to a bump in the road don't make it a mountain.
  • Treat people with respect; Tell them the truth.
  • Consistently challenge yourself.
  • You may have to reinvent yourself.
  • Partnering is key.
  • Leading is not about being the boss...it's about having people follow you.
  • Get away from people who don't believe in you.
  • Show up on time!

Build Resume and Network: Volunteer

Ron Culp

Corporate executive turned agency guy.

As the holiday season gets under way, many nonprofit organizations desperately need volunteers.  This is a perfect time to help others while strengthening your resume and personal network. 



If you're personally interested in certain organizations, reach out to those organizations directly.  Or you can use an impressive online service called Volunteer Match.org, which matches volunteers with current nonprofit opportunities.  Simply enter your zip code and you'll see volunteer opportunities in your area. 


In the Chicago area alone, Volunteer Match lists more than a thousand volunteer openings ranging from tutors to mentors to board members.  One organization seeks help with a major conference that is coming to the city and others need finance and strategy assistance.  Among the many worthwhile organizations are Taproot Foundation where business professionals nationwide can donate their skills to a wide variety of nonprofit groups, and Chicago Furniture Recycling Center, which provides recycled furniture to people in need. 


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