First jobs aren’t always glamorous but they can teach you a great deal. As another class of college graduates begins the next chapter of their lives, the CS team reflects on our own experiences entering the workforce and shares our advice to the class of 2013.


Dennis Culloton, President and CEO

Graduates, thank you for inviting me here to be with you.  Before Dean Wormer gives you your sheepskins here are four things you need to know. I’m bottom-lining you on this, kids.

First of all, to quote the great college basketball coach Jimmy Valvano, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”  This year, more than a million students will graduate college with a bachelor’s degree. While the job market has certainly improved over the last few years, it’s still tough out there.  You have to show persistence. Guile. Gumption. Expect a few doors to slam in your face as you begin to make your way.  The bruises will teach you something about yourself. And about those doors…

…And windows. When an unexpected one opens up, it might be worth a try going through. Someone once said, man plans and God laughs. So you may be graduating with a degree in dance or Russian lit and wind up in politics; or you may have an econ degree and end up with a great career in public relations.

Secondly, show humility. I remember being 22 and thinking that I knew everything. And the truth is, college graduates, you are smart.  In fact, you’re smarter than I was 25 years ago.  But I can assure you, you don’t know everything. Know what you don’t know and listen…

…To your elders.  In fact, go out of your way to do so.  I’m not talking about going to visit grandma and grandpa, although you should. You need mentors, people you admire who are succeeding.  This is especially important if you are fortunate enough to land your first job and you don’t want to blow it.

In the Chicago public affairs and strategic communications world, college grads can take advice from Eliot Ness in “The Untouchables.” Fans of this classic Chicago film will recall that before Ness meets Jim Malone, the grizzled Irish beat cop, he laughably tries to disrupt Al Capone’s bootlegging efforts. Officer Malone schools Ness in the cynical “Chicago Way” (They pull a knife, you pull a gun…that’s the “Chicago Way”) but also takes Ness under his wing to help him eventually take down Capone.

Hey, I’m from Chicago. You didn’t expect candy, flowers and a reminder to wear sunscreen, did you?

Fourth, well there is no fourth. The late writer William Safire once said in a column urging grads: be a little more concise and focused. Why do a four-point plan if a three-point plan covers it?

No matter your professional aspirations, don’t give up and don’t be a know-it-all. Find your own Officer Malone. Through networking, an internship, a job, or some other channel, find an expert in your field that will serve as your mentor and heed their advice. After all, before Ness meets Malone, he goes looking for a shipment of booze and all he finds is a bunch of parasols.


Tracey Mendrek, Executive Vice President

My first career advice was “you better learn how to type!”  I often think back on that remark, given in all seriousness by a female executive in the organization I was about to join.  She meant it and while it would be decidedly un-PC now, I think her point was to be prepared.

So as the class of 2013 makes their way into the workforce, my advice is to simply be prepared.  Treat your first day like an exam, do the homework, learn something about the company you are about to join and be prepared to work long and hard.


Angela Benander, Vice President of Advocacy and Corporate Responsibility

The summer after I graduated from college, I moved to Washington DC with about $250 and an offer to stay in a group house on Capitol Hill while I looked for a job. I had been interning and volunteering steadily in different political jobs since my junior year and had made some good contacts along with a reputation as someone who would work harder than anyone else. I was hired as a Legislative Correspondent in Senator Dick Durbin’s office after about three weeks of job searching.

I know the economic reality for today’s college graduates is a lot different than what I experienced in 1998, but the advice I would give based on my first post-college experience is this: don’t be afraid to take a big risk. I could’ve stayed close to home. I even had a strong job lead in Detroit when I left for DC that summer. But I knew if I didn’t at least try to get a job in national politics when I was young and without anything tying me down, life would overtake me and I would never have the chance again. I slept on borrowed futons in crappy rooms without air conditioning. My first apartment was tiny, ugly and infested with cockroaches. I ate boxes of macaroni and cheese for dinner. But taking that job launched my entire career. I’m so proud of my 22-year-old self for going after what I really wanted, even though I had no idea how it was going to turn out.


Jodie Shpritz Kaplan, Vice President of Media Relations and Branding

My first post-college professional experience was as a television reporter in Columbia, Missouri.  I always say it was like getting my masters in journalism.  While I was there, I learned to do live shots and shake my nerves, work under pressure and often times under tight deadlines, write news stories about the people and not the talking heads and most important how to work as a team.

I think if I were to give anyone advice as they head into the real world, it would be that you need to look at everything as an opportunity.  Don’t be scared to take risks and step out of your comfort zone.  You’ll never know until you try.  And always give it your all whether you like what you are doing or not.  Ultimately, you are building a reputation and relationships that will stick with you for a lifetime.


Jeanne Atkinson, Vice President

My first post-college professional experience was as an intern at a small public affairs firm in Chicago. I fell in love with the work immediately. I learned that, especially as you’re starting out, you should make yourself available for any assignment, any time. Be open-minded and willing to do things that might not seem to make a lot of sense at the time, but trust that it contributes to the big picture.


Nancy Pender, Vice President

After graduating from college I jumped right into television news. I was hired as a general assignment reporter by CBS affiliate KMST-TV in Santa Maria, California. I had never lived away from my family until then, so the initial learning experience was about fending for myself both personally and professionally.

My best advice to young souls beginning their professional careers is to keep learning. A degree may get you in the door, but only experience can make you an expert.


Manny Ozaeta, Account Supervisor

The graduation season is here. Many of us will gather in vacuous stadiums to hear inspirational themes from Thoreau or Frost including:

“Go confidently in direction of yours dreams” or “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.”

I know the only profound words most graduates want to hear are, “You’re hired,” but take a moment to ponder on those positive themes because along the way you will stumble, you will make mistakes, you will fail. Just because you took the road less traveled doesn’t mean that it was a paved superhighway leading you to your dream destination. Those errors in judgment and bad calls don’t define you but they are a part of your journey and you need Thoreau or Seneca*(one of my favorites) to keep you motivated and moving forward.

Congratulations to the class of 2013!

*Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. – Seneca


Julia Schatz, Account Executive

Immediately after graduation, I spent the summer interning at a large advertising agency. When the internship ended I started full-time as a Marketing Associate for a restaurant group in Chicago.  Working in a 200-person agency versus a five-person internal team were very different experiences, but they both taught me the same lesson. The workplace is no different than high school, college, etc. It is a game of strategy, politics and PR.

Everyone has a different style of managing, working, writing, etc. Learning how to work with and manage different personalities on your team is just as important as the actual work you are doing. My advice, the quicker you learn how to navigate the different personalities and work styles of your coworkers (and clients) the easier your life will be and the more effective (and happy) your team will be. Also, no matter how large your company or team is, you are your own best advocate. Remember that you can learn and grow from every experience so always work hard and make the best of any situation.


Ashleigh Johnston, Account Executive

It’s no secret that entering the workforce is an uphill battle. I don’t envy new graduates. In fact, I don’t envy my own class because I know many of us are still struggling to find our way. Nonetheless, the best advice I can give new graduates is to not get discouraged. It may take longer than you hoped to land a job in your field but endurance will set you apart from those that give up on the search and move on.

Be bold and ask whoever you can for help in your search, whether it’s a neighbor, a friend’s parents, teachers, advisors – anyone you think is willing to pass along your resume and put in a good word for you. It’s tough out there guys, but it’s not impossible. Keep at it.