Exceptional Communication? Designers front and center!

As a strategy consultant for higher education, I visit a lot of campuses and talk to many individuals in senior leadership roles. In conversation, campus executives ask for advice about how to strengthen their brand and engage more effectively with key audiences. Usually, the leadership team already recognizes design as an important component of a successful marketing and communications strategy. The execs I meet often ask what they should invest in—they want to know about the secret sauce. Most aren’t surprised when I say: The secret sauce is people! Exceptional communication requires more than a committee. It requires an investment in skilled professionals. Every campus needs people who get up every day and come to work thinking about the best way to tell the distinctive story of their college or university.

When asked more concretely about staffing for communications and marketing teams, I emphasize both the roles of individuals and the importance of the collective team. And, for many campuses, I recommend hiring a designer. This text often finds its way into the strategies I write, “A skilled designer is essential. Nearly everything you’ll want to do to enhance your communication efforts will require visual design. The amount of photography, graphics, iconography, widgets and other visual elements needed for print, websites, email campaigns, and social channels is insatiable.” I also recommend a team of talented people, who collectively contribute to marketing and communication goals. In my view, how the team is organized, and how they work together, is as important as getting the right number of people to do the work.

Let’s explore the role of the 21st century designer on a college or university campus. What does it look like? What are the characteristics of successful individuals in higher ed design positions these days?

Also, where do designers fit within the campus structure? In communications and marketing units? In publications offices? On a web team? As team members within an “in-house agency” model?

Designers as Individuals

A lot is expected from designers on our campuses. Budgets are tight, decisions are made by consensus, and naive perceptions about design as “the way to make things look good” persist. I have five suggestions for designers in higher ed:

Develop a passion for your campus.
Great design comes from a deep understanding of your institution. Regularly involve yourself in the life of your campus, fully understand the mission, and let the ethos and culture of your school seep into your consciousness. That’s where the on-brand, hit the bullseye target design comes from. When you develop a passion for the people and the places of your campus, your best, and most nuanced, creative comes out.

Design for everything.
Most campuses don’t invest in specialists. There is rarely funding to support several full-time positions for specialized design roles. More typical a few years back, a set of individuals in web design positions separate from a different set of individuals in print design positions are being replaced with people who can design for it all. The most successful campus designers evolve their skills—they are adaptable and flexible. I assert this leads to better results. An integrated marketing strategy requires consistent messaging and creative across multiple channels. The designers who can work within all mediums and platforms will continue to be in high demand.

Think about the art and the science of your work.
For me, the art of design is the ability to use creative to make an emotional connection. I am regularly wowed by just the right color palette or paper choice or typeface as a communication tool. But don’t neglect the science for the art. Data driven creative means paying attention to goals, identifying calls to action that work, and thinking about conversions and metrics to support design decisions. Engage your audiences, confirm your design choices with data, and tweak your designs after measuring results.

Educate the people around you.

Design is about solving a problem. It’s about effective and clear communication. You know that, but the people you work with don’t. Help those around you understand you are not designing for flourish or to make things look nice. The people you work with need to know you are designing for effectiveness, to enhance the meaning and impact of a piece—whether a web page, a post card, an HTML email, or something else. Educate others about incredible design; help them understand it is a consistent expression of the brand and always informed by the preferences of target audiences.

Avoid working alone.
Designers are communications professionals and a collaborative approach is best. Now, that doesn’t mean you need individuals standing over your shoulder “helping” you do the design work. While there are usually plenty of volunteers for that, what you need instead is collaboration about content and concept and goals! I realize brainstorming is cliche but it’s still worth doing. Share ideas with others—before, during, and after the design work. Bring others in on the challenge of generating many ways to use design, copy, and photography to achieve what you’re after. Equally important, work with other people on projects that enhance and extend your skills.

Designers as Members of a Team

For designers, and for all of us, work environment makes a difference. An environment of multi-functional, cross-platform thinking is rich with possibilities. When designers, writers, technologists, photographers, videographers, and digital strategists work together, they build on each others’ strengths and the results are exceptional.

Be there for collective thinking about goals and messages.
The most skilled communicators think about goals and message first—determining the tools, platforms, and mediums always comes second. As members of a marketing or communications team, designers should participate fully in early discussions about goals and tools. Contributing to this upfront thinking makes your design work better and allows you to be a part of the planning for an integrated approach where all channels reinforce themes and messages with the target audience.

Contribute to the whole.
You have a role and you have a responsibility. Your role is your day job; the body of work you do most often—design. Your responsibility is to contribute to great work. So spread your ideas and suggestions beyond design, across all areas. Be part of the conversation about the copy, investigate a technology solution, identify patterns on the web, suggest a social campaign, and more. Thinking broadly about what you contribute is the first step towards evolving your skills. The breadth of what you can do increases as you gain understanding about the whole of a project, not just the design aspects.

Advocate for a team without silos.
In recent years, I’ve observed a trend toward setting up “in-house agencies” in higher ed. The bailiwick of the team may vary from campus to campus but the important result is the team thinks differently. The perceived barriers between communication mediums are gone, the silos are no more. All the right people are there when the project (or challenge, or problem, or initiative) is born. The team generates creative solutions enhanced by a blending of capabilities across mediums and platforms. In this multi-functional team:

  • Designers design for print and web and social and video.
  • Writers write for web pages or posters or email campaigns.
  • Technologists make it possible to use steams of social content, and custom URLs for print, and content management systems for easy publishing and consistent visual design.

A diverse team of communicators—designers, writers, social strategists, photographers, videographers, and technologists—should be let loose. This is where the creativity happens! We simply need to move our legacy organizational structures out of the way.

Designers Front and Center

More than any other time in my career, the work of designers is at the forefront. New tactics like “visual content marketing” regularly find their way into our discussions. Time after time, dozens and dozens of college students on campuses across the country tell me their college search was dominated by a need to “see what a campus is like.” As a designer, your part in the compelling and effective communication that happens in higher ed is front and center. Own it!

(This first appeared as a feature in the Winter 2015 edition of UCDA Designer Magazine. “Exceptional Communication? Designers front and center!” was published as Vol. 39, No. 4.)

Leadership: The good, the bad, and you.

For simplicity’s sake, we can boil leadership down to: the good, the bad, and you.

This is the first of three posts to cover all three. When the topic of leadership comes up, most people think first about “bad bosses” — they skip right over the good, to the bad. So here goes, I’ll use this first post to explore bad leadership.

Really, is there anything left to write about bad leadership? I’ve been known to say that every problem within an organization can be tied back to a lack of leadership. Bad leaders, I’m talking to you about six behaviors that don’t serve you well.

You don’t listen.

When you interrupt, you might shut off information key to your decision making and you potentially discourage someone from coming back to inform you in the future. If you aren’t listening to your team, they can’t ask get the answers for directing and improving their daily work. While listening, you should ask questions to clarify or learn more. No questions might send the message you aren’t listening.

You don’t understand your own success depends on the quality of your team.

A leader leads people, not a department or unit. People are the secret sauce for completing projects that accomplish your goals, support your vision, and frankly, make you look good. The ability of your team to do high-quality work depends on your leadership.

You use phrases like “my employees” or “the people who work for me.”

Your collective team is made up of individuals with unique skills and talents you need to develop. Remember, different people require different leadership styles. If you think of them as employees who work for you, you aren’t building a team; you won’t have their loyalty and the good ones won’t stay.

You don’t say thank you.

You point out the negative and are silent about the positive. This is not the right approach: in fact, the no news is good news mantra for leading people was never right. Individuals you work with need to know you appreciate and value their contributions. Saying thank you is the out loud way to be sure they know you are grateful for their work. Really, how hard is it to do?

You aren’t honest about feedback.

At the end of the day, people want to know where they stand. If you’re unable or unwilling to look someone in the eye and share honest feedback, you are unfair and a bad leader. When you accept a leadership role, you take on responsibility for helping people improve and the only way to do that is by confronting them directly about what they need to do differently.

You act like a manager.

You think about the org chart, the non-people parts—the process, policy, scope, and tasks. When you act like manager, you are less focused on goals. Tied to the here and now, you are likely to protect turf, invest in the status quo, and reduce risk. To be innovative, people need vision and inspiration. If you manage, you must also lead.

In my next post: The Good Leaders

This post appeared originally on Start Smart Career Center, a virtual mentoring network that helps women navigate their nonprofit careers and thrive as leaders in the workplace.

Web Governance: How do you get the right kind of feedback from your advisory committee?

One element typical of web governance frameworks in higher ed is a website advisory committee. If you are a digital professional on a campus, you may be facing challenges from a committee that is unwieldy, slow to act, or focused on the lengthy discussions needed to get to consensus decision making. Getting timely and useful feedback from an advisory committee isn’t easy. Here are some suggestions:

Create a structure for providing useful feedback.

A committee of non-experts might need direction on how to provide useful feedback. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that, absent a structured process, individuals will default to watered-down responses that don’t get you what you need. To structure the process:

  • Provide context. Present background and detail to fully explain what you recommend.
  • Allow a set amount of time for discussion and perhaps allow your committee time between meetings to process.
  • Consider getting feedback from individuals after holding a committee meeting for group discussion.

Make it a no-brainer.

Whenever you can, ask for feedback on ideas and recommendations grounded in research. Use best practice, benchmarking, and testing to inform what you present to your committee. The less the committee has to connect the dots, the more successful you’re likely to be.

Ask the right questions.

The way you phrase your questions during feedback discussions can make a difference:

  • Avoid open-ended questions like, “What do you think of this design?” or “Which message platform do you like the most?”
  • Instead, use more focused questions like, “How well does this copy explain the strength and uniqueness of our academic programs?” or “How well does this design communicate that our college offers high quality academics and a range of opportunities for students?”

Be sure you’re clear about your committee’s role in making decisions.

I think the feedback loop is endless because we aren’t clear about when a decision is required from the committee. If yours is an “advisory” committee, you don’t need a decision; get the best feedback you can, and move on. If decisions are made by the committee, structure your meeting agendas to indicate which meetings are for update and discussion and which are for a final decision. Also:

  • Make it clear you will sometimes need to decide even when all committee members aren’t present.
  • Take a vote. Sometimes, consensus takes too long and you need to force a decision.

Identify a release valve.

If you’re leading a website advisory committee, make sure you have an executive sponsor. If you’ve done the best you can, but the committee is stuck and needs to get back on track, ask your executive sponsor for cover. Avoid asking for help making the decision; just make sure your decision is in sync with the leadership team that charged you to lead the committee.

Your First Job: What you want out of it.

When you’re searching for your first job, you don’t usually concentrate on much beyond the starting salary and general aspects of the work you’ll do everyday. Once you land that first gig, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief and start managing any jitters about the first day. For most people, it takes hindsight to understand what they got from their very first job. You can think ahead by going into year one with a plan for gathering these tangibles as you start your career:

  • Opportunities to do a wide variety of tasks. Think broadly about your new job and embrace changes to learn, to experiment, and even do things you weren’t hired to do. You might find out you’re good at something that leads to a promotion or a new position. Development of your work style.
The first job helps define how you operate in the workplace. Are you a collaborator? Someone who works best solo? Do you participate in office gossip? Do you pitch in when a co-worker looks stressed? Do you make comments that imply you aren’t loyal to the boss? Develop your work habits based on the kind of person you want to be on the job.
  • Confirmation about types of work you don’t enjoy. We all have to do tasks that aren’t on our list of favorites. But you don’t need to fill your future jobs with work you don’t enjoy. Maybe you’ll figure out you have strong project management skills, but don’t like the intensity of event planning work. Maybe you’ll be successful at giving presentations to customer groups, but don’t want the pressure of traveling ever month. Use your first job to help you figure out what you want next.
  • A strong reference. Your first job is temporary; you will leave it. One key element for a promotion, or a better job with a new organization, is a strong reference. Sustaining a good relationship with your boss is not easy. Sometimes it takes curbing your own behavior in favor of a positive reference. Consider it an investment in your own future.
  • Observations about leadership. When looking for a first job, the leadership ability of your new supervisor isn’t usually a deciding factor. If you’re lucky enough to work under positive leadership, it will smooth your road immediately and in the future. Frankly, the reverse situation is more likely; there are a few bad bosses out there, and a lot of mediocre ones. When your first job is working for a subpar or negative leader, it is not fun. However, at the risk of sounding like a parent, it is a learning opportunity. I once wrote about what I learned from bad bosses. Use your first job to observe good and bad leadership qualities.

Want my tip for how to stand out in the workplace? Do what you say you will do, and do it when you say you will. I’m 54 and this tip still works.

This post appeared originally on Start Smart Career Center, a virtual mentoring network that helps women navigate their nonprofit careers and thrive as leaders in the workplace.

Do you need a website advisory committee?

Who owns your website? A simple question that prompts many more: Who sets your editorial direction? Who controls access to your CMS? Who do you go to when you need a microsite? Who decides what goes on your homepage?

The best website governance models answer these questions by offering the right balance of oversight and support. Campuses need processes and policies for effective and sustainable website management. And individuals who write, produce, and edit site content need training and tools.

Website governance is a blueprint — an intentional, specific plan for who does what, when, and how. Be aware: figuring out the plan is only the first part of website governance. No model, framework, or structure will substitute for the ongoing communication between the people involved in your website.

Often, discussions about governance start this way, “Okay, I know I need governance but do I need a website advisory committee?

Three reasons you might:

  1. Your website is currently wild and woolly. After years of everyone doing their own thing, it’s time to relaunch your site and put a structure in place to keep it fresh, vibrant, and sustainable.
  2. You want to take your already solid website to the next level. You know the site is critical for recruiting students, raising money, and enhancing reputation. Maybe you have no budget for creating new positions, so you need a decentralized way to manage your site. You need to gain support for distributing website tasks to people in different units across campus.
  3. You have a website governance plan…that no one follows. The people you designated to update your site are busy with other tasks and responsibilities, and your website is their lowest priority.

Two reasons you might not:

  1. Your campus has a mature and talented communications operation and website relaunches are a thing of the past. People across campus understand that you have authority for your site, you are regularly updating your content, and you have a team of highly skilled people enhancing your site daily.
  2. You’ve just completed a highly successful website redesign project on your campus. The redesign team wrote policies, set up a training and support plan, and have gotten website editors across campus into a good groove.

Let’s suppose you decide you need a website advisory committee…then what?

Considerations when planning for a website advisory committee:

What is the charge of the committee?
The charge, or charter, is the purpose of the committee — it outlines what they do, and what they don’t do. You also will need to determine if the committee is truly advisory or actually the final authority for decisions about the website. The website advisory committee could:

  • Review and enforce the website governance plan.
  • Reinforce with deans and directors the importance of web page management as an official responsibility and high priority for staff in their respective units.
  • Provide feedback about enhancements and changes to your website and related digital communication initiatives.
  • Recommend the allocation of shared resources for future projects and enhancements.
  • Consult on policies, procedures, standards, and guidelines related to the website.

How large is the ideal committee?
Keep it as small as you can get away with. Avoid the typical Noah’s ark, two-by-two approach where every division has to send one representative. Large committees are typically not successful: they create more scheduling difficulties (nightmares!), require more time for getting feedback, and are more likely to resort to consensus-based decision- making. Committees get large because we view them as the only way to offer feedback and suggestions. If your governance plan includes other feedback options, you’ll be able to control the size of your website advisory committee.

Governance matters. Along with vision and staffing, it is how the sustainability of your website actually happens.

More on governance:

Communications Audits: Let your cage be rattled.

Back before we called it disruption, I called it “rattling cages.” Originally defined as annoying behavior, rattling someone’s cage means getting their attention in order to get something accomplished. Maybe this seems less relevant to you because you are already doing exceptional work despite a high volume of meetings and to dos. The cage rattling is relevant to you. Shifting your focus and letting others influence your priorities can be a means for taking your own already high contribution to the next level.

Which one are you?

  • Are you annoyed when an outside expert gets your attention? Or do you embrace the unexpected idea because the result might be worth any potential disruption?
  • Do you discount a proposal because you were already planning to do it but just hadn’t gotten to it yet?
  • Are you committed to continuous improvement and always thinking ahead? Or do you shrink from guidance that stretches you beyond your own experience and impressions?
  • When you have a problem, or when you suspect you might, is getting advice the first thing you do?

Understanding communications audits.

If you lead a communications team, when’s the last time you stepped back and thoughtfully evaluated why your team does what they do?

A communications audit can help you answer these questions:

  • Are we doing work that is valuable?
  • Can we stop investing time in tasks that don’t really benefit anyone?
  • How do we prioritize projects and initiatives we could be involved in?
  • Do we have the right number of people in the right kinds of roles?
  • What should we do to gain support from the executive leadership on our campus?

In 2006, Michael Stoner wrote a blog post that referenced a Communications Consortium Media Center paper on communications audits by Julia Coffman. Strategic Communications Audits, written in 2004, offers an excellent overview for a leader who needs to understand and conduct a strategic communications audit. It’s a classic.

How to get started.

Go to Google.
At a minimum, research on the web can inform your path. Find out what others in situations similar to yours are thinking, planning and solving. Keep two things in mind: 1) You can make whatever case you want to make with your search results. Reading blog posts and white papers that support your current position and shying away from content that rattles your cage is not the best approach. And 2) You are interpreting what you read and sometimes translating what works for Fortune 500 company to the .edu context. Fresh ideas from outside .edu can be good and/or not applicable enough.

Create a visiting committee.
Ask a few individuals you respect to audit your team’s work. Pay them a small stipend and cover the costs of their travel to your campus. To begin, outline your goals and challenges for them, and share relevant research and background. Next, let them meet (in person) with your staff and a sample of those you and your team work with in other departments. The visiting committee’s discovery work, summarized in a report, should include recommendations, considerations, and points of action for you.

Hire a partner.
Identify a consultant who can bring higher ed experience to the table. I’m proud of mStoner’s focus on sustainability. Our deep understanding that it takes people and process to sustain communications work is one of the reasons I hired mStoner when I worked at William & Mary. People and process is the simple answer to sustaining your team’s work. But you’ll need to wade through a lot of complexity to get to that simplicity. Perhaps a collaborating with a partner is the best option for doing that.

Look for asteroids.

You need your cage—it represents your purview, your sphere of influence, and the resources you control. You can do exceptional work in your cage; but occasionally, let it be rattled.

One of my former bosses described unexpected ideas from outsiders as asteroids – for him, they were transformational projects that we couldn’t pass on. He embraced the opportunities, and because of my time working in his organization, I look for asteroids. You should too.

Where you lead, I will follow. #HigherEdLeadership

There are many talented and dedicated people working on campuses these days. Yet, in front of your laptop or while swiping on your phone, you might get a different impression. There is scrutiny on higher ed in particular, and often the emphasis is on the failures or inadequacies of individuals and groups on our campuses.

When I’m away from my devices, I am face to face with warm and engaged leaders who sometimes are making a nuisance of themselves trying to make higher education better. They inspire me. They talk about how education transformed their own lives. They recall students, by name, sharing their fascinating stories with detail. These leaders are working hard every day on creative and visionary solutions to chore challenges at their institutions.

For me, leadership and strategy go together. If you’ve heard me speak during a conference or webinar, or you read the mStoner blog, you already know a few of my own catch phrases about strategic leadership. Here I pair up some of my thoughts with those of higher ed leaders who inspire me.

Strategy is difficult, it takes time, it involves risk, and it requires decisions. But there is a huge pay off.

A college president I interviewed recently said it better when she recalled the advice she got from her earliest mentor: “Write down everything that’s important and then put it all in priority order. And, by the way, all the items on the list can’t be priority number one.”

Without a strategy to guide your choices, everything you do (or are asked to do) seems like a reasonable option.

On HigherEdLive, Rebecca Bernstein, director of digital communications strategy at University at Buffalo, said it better, “Everything I do is something I don’t do.” If you haven’t watched her appearance on HigherEdLive, The Homepage is Dead; Long Live the Homepage?, you should. You must.

Marketing and communication plans are easy to create when you don’t have to pay attention to the facts.

My mStoner colleague, Greg Zguta says it better, “Not everything can be measured. And not everything that can be measured is worth measuring.” Learn more from Greg about measuring results on the mStoner blog.

Speaking of following higher education leaders, their use of social is at an all-time high. In an upcoming mStoner webinar, #HelpWanted: Supporting Higher Ed Leaders in their Social Media Engagement, Dan Zaiontz, author of #FollowTheLeader: Lessons in Social Media Success from #Highered CEOs, will discuss recommendations, counsel, and tips for those looking to help their college leadership enhance its social media profile.

You also can meet many education leaders virtually—live and on demand—on HigherEdLive. (Did you know HigherEdLive has a new website?) When your week needs a little inspiration about strategic leadership, go to your device of choice and watch an episode.

More from the mStoner blog:

8 Job Hunting Mistakes Made by Recent College Grads (Part 2)

Wait, what were we talking about? Oh, yeah, job hunting mistakes. We started this conversation with the first four in part one. Notice I’m skirting around the typical—bad grammar in your cover letter or not sending a thank you note—that stuff is table stakes. Read on for my final four.

1: Failing to coach professional references.

The professionals who will stand up for you are more than the bottom three lines of your resume. Beyond the typical vouching for your character and strengths, they can make a better case if they know a little about the job you’re in the running for. Coach your references! Send them a few sentences that describe the job and a bit about the organization. Your references will then be able to sharpen their comments, tailoring your background to a specific job opening.

2: Revealing too much information.

Your questions reveal and perception is reality. When you ask too early about a higher salary or opportunities for advancement, the hiring manager may worry that you won’t be satisfied with the job. (Those questions are best during a second interview, or after an offer.) Avoid being memorable in the wrong way.

3: Revealing too little information.

The opposite can happen too. You panic when the questions point to your lack of professional experience. Go in prepared to align specifics from your summer, internship, or volunteer work to the duties of the position. In an informational interview, a recent college grad once told me she had no experience working on the web. I pushed, hoping she’d talk about her involvement in campus organizations. She didn’t, so I asked if she ever set up a WordPress site, organized an online community, or used social media to promote events. Of course, she had done all three but didn’t connected the dots between that experience and the skills required for a communications job.

4: Expecting the first job to be perfect.

At the risk of sounding old, so few jobs are perfect. Your priority has to be getting some experience to pair with your strong educational background (and getting out of your parents’ basement). Redefine perfection: maybe the salary is high enough you can eat out for lunch on Fridays or maybe the team you’ll work with is about to start an interesting project. Going for the job that’s perfect for you at this moment is enough for this moment.

Bonus: I’ve interviewed hundreds. Here’s a whopper of a mistake and it’s not made only by the new college grad: not having questions during an interview. When an applicant has no questions (or struggles to come up with one on the spot), it’s a warning sign for me. I wonder if you are genuinely interested, if you typically make such important decisions with so little information, or if you prepared for the interview.

Use comments on this post to add your own wisdom. Let’s make it a point to help out early career individuals. Cheers!

This post appeared originally on Start Smart Career Center, a virtual mentoring network that helps women navigate their nonprofit careers and thrive as leaders in the workplace.

8 Job Hunting Mistakes Made by Recent College Grads (Part 1)

Who doesn’t remember their post-college-graduation job search? It’s a milestone and a time filled with anxiety. It’s the time when you most need professional advice, and the time when you are the least likely to ask for help.

It was 33 years ago for me and I’m on my fourth career—in HR, IT, communications and marketing, and now, strategic consulting. When advising recent college graduates, I observe eight job hunting mistakes.

1: Applying for one perfect job and waiting to hear back before applying for more.
Very early in your search, you find the perfect job—it’s in the right location and requires exactly the background you have. You send the perfect cover letter and resume and then…you stop your search. This job is the one, so you hold off applying for more jobs because you’re pretty sure this will come through. What happens next? You lose four to six weeks of time. Perhaps you get a phone interview, but ultimately not the job. It’s a lesson that knots my stomach even now: There are potentially hundreds of people who also are right for that job. Apply for the perfect job and then forget about it. Move on. Keep applying.

2: Misunderstanding the purpose of the phone interview.
Speaking of phone interviews. You will have lots of them and they serve one purpose: to rule out candidates. Of course, prepare and take them seriously. (Google can advise you.) Make a good impression but don’t say or reveal anything that might remove you from consideration. At this stage, your only goal is to avoid getting eliminated; you just want to get to the next round of interviewing.

3: Hesitating to take advantage of personal contacts.

When looking for your first job, tell everyone. Talk to as many as you can about your search; go way beyond informational interviewing and official references. Take advantage of your personal contacts! Maybe you’re uncomfortable about getting a leg up because of someone you know. Get over that feeling quickly. Remember, when your contact puts in a good word for you, they are actually helping the hiring manager. Hiring is risky, and managers look for ways to reduce risk by knowing more about the people they are considering.

4: Applying only for jobs for which you are fully qualified.

You will not find this ad. Wanted: a new college grad with a degree in anything and no experience, good salary and benefits. (Actually, you might see that ad but it’s for a sketchy, all commission sales job.) You will need to apply for jobs that ask for more experience than you have. Stay within the range of one to three years of experience. Why? Because you are competing with only those in the applicant pool. Maybe the particular combination of location, timing, and a personal contact will mean you are just as qualified as everyone else in the pool.

Stay tuned for part two and four more mistakes.

This post appeared originally on Start Smart Career Center, a virtual mentoring network that helps women navigate their nonprofit careers and thrive as leaders in the workplace.

Project Managers: Be thankful!

I know first hand that our project managers have a direct impact on the quality and success of the work we do for our clients. I don’t say it as often as I should, but I am thankful that mStoner’s project management practice is mature and top-notch.

When I read Paul Boag’s post, Be proud of your digital project managers, it made me smile. It’s a timeless post about an important topic. He’s right, project managers help us offer great service to our clients. Paul Boag, I’ll see you and raise you. I go one further and say, “Be thankful for project managers.” We most certainly are at mStoner!

I know what it’s like on campus. Your day job is filled to the brim with email, meetings, unfunded mandates, and high expectations about more cool communication work your small team could do. Even when you hire a partner like mStoner—and firms like ours hope you view that as getting what you wished for—it means you are kicking off a complex project as an add-on. The project is critical and exciting, but it’s still more work. And no one says, “Stop your current job so you can focus all of your energy on this project.”

Here’s where I’m thankful on your behalf. When you hire mStoner, you get a team of passionate, smart, and funny individuals and that team includes a project manager. At mStoner, the PMs are super heros. Without the benefit of capes, the PMs at mStoner keep it all looking easy, seamless, effortless, and oozing wow. Every day, Jennifer Presley and Patrick Powers:

  • Build relationships by connecting often (and everywhere) with our clients.
  • Manage time lines, schedules, budgets, and daily tasks for both the mStoner team and the campus team.

Let’s dig into this PM thing a bit more. Here’s what we’re really talking about:

Communication and Customer Service

When you hire an external partner, you have questions about approach, you have concerns about how we’ll get it all done, you have ideas about what we should do and how we’ll work together to do it. Your mStoner PM knows all. They will put a communication structure in place; they’ll even modify that structure slightly to better suit your needs and for greater project success. Our PMs are available. They will be there via email, phone, text message, chat, and hangouts; it’s not unlikely they will get a sense they should get in touch with you and they will.

Technical PM

Think about all of the teeny, tiny details and all of the big strategic decisions that are essential for all types of communications projects. Now think about all of the stuff in between. The PM creates the plan to cover it all. The technical PM work will address who does what when. The PM will schedule people and tasks, monitor budgets, adjust and enforce time lines, lead meetings with clients, gently remind mStoner team members, and the beat goes on. I’m exhausted just writing about it. People, this is where the magic happens. This detail and technical approach is what gets you from an idea to done.

Thank you sincerely, Jenn and Patrick. We salute you today and always.

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