O’Neill alumni are spread out across the globe creating and building networks of support and success. This connection of contacts not only provides a resource for O’Neill students as they work to hone their skills and vision for the future, but it also serves as an invaluable source of advice for other alumni in a variety of fields.
Vivi Lamb, Cheryl Hall-Russell, and Kathy Koehler weighed in on three topics that can help any alum—or student—on their career path:
- How to advocate for yourself and others at work
- How to negotiate your salary
- How to take the leap into a career as a consultant
Advocating for yourself and others
Dr. Cheryl Hall-Russell
President & Chief Cultural Consultant, BW3
MPA’99 – Nonprofit Management
Q1: What is the biggest challenge when it comes to advocating for yourself and/or others?
- “The challenge in being an advocate is breaking through the race and gender bias that seeks to limit your impact. I’ve made a conscious decision to not allow it to mute my voice or those of people and causes I support. My voice has grown stronger with age and experience. I’m definitely a fearless advocate!”
Q2: What are the most important ways to be an advocate?
- “Use your voice and position to advocate for others. As a consultant, I coach women of color as they move toward finding their authentic voices. I also help organizations and corporations develop equitable practices, and I volunteer on boards whose missions are meaningful to me.”
Q3: How did your education help you learn the importance of being an advocate?
- “Because my MPA concentration was nonprofit management, I launched into executive leadership soon after graduation. I was equipped with an historical understanding of the impact charitable organizations can have on communities, and I felt confident in my own capacity to also deliver that change.”
Human Resources | Human Resources Retail, Brookfield Properties (Chicago)
BSPA’05 – Management
Q1: What advice do you have when it comes to negotiating salaries?
- “It’s important to never fear negotiating. First, determine your goals, rank your priorities, and establish your walk-away terms. Know your value and be confident with what you bring to the table. Then, schedule a time to discuss the offer, recap it to ensure you understand it fully, and raise your questions as necessary before asking if there is any flexibility with the terms noted in the offer. Work toward a win-win solution for both parties and do not sign any offer until the terms discussed are in writing.”
Q2: What are the most common pitfalls to avoid when negotiating a salary?
- “One of the most common pitfalls to avoid when negotiating a salary is to not get too personal. Also, take time to review the offer. It’s okay to ask for a few days to ensure you have all the details in writing before accepting. If you plan to counter the offer, take the time to research and prepare your talking points. I recommend it’s best to schedule time with the person who presented you the offer to discuss your counter verbally and work toward a win-win solution for both parties.”
Q3: How has your education helped you hone negotiation skills?
- “My college education helped me hone in on my negotiation skills, by working with diverse teams toward a common goal. Some of our team members had commitments after school or worked full-time (myself included) and we had to work through these challenges together to ensure we had good communication and time management to complete our projects.”
Becoming a consultant
President, Koehler Partners
MPA’98 – Policy Analysis
Q1: How did you make the leap to starting a career in consulting?
- “While working in state government, I was recruited by Crowe, which was starting a new government consulting group. I loved public service—and highly recommend it—but consulting offered the opportunity to work in multiple agencies and projects. This variety of work allowed me to significantly expand my areas of expertise and my network.”
Q2: What personal and professional attributes make for a successful consultant?
- “Personal preferences are critical—successful consultants are excited by the idea of learning new things and doing something different every day. If a consistent routine is preferred, consulting wouldn’t be a good fit.”
Q3: How did your education prepare you for a consulting career?
- “My MPA from O’Neill taught me all sorts of transferable skills in teamwork, program evaluation, data analysis, budgeting, and finance that I use every day. It also gave me a nuanced understanding of the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, which allows me to serve a wide range of clients with an awareness of their specific motivations, stakeholders, and goals.”