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.

More from the mStoner blog:

Fordham’s New Website: Responsive, Fresh, and On Brand

Fordham University launched a new website last week. An important goal for the new site was to infuse it with what makes Fordham, Fordham.

“We’re a Jesuit, Catholic university. Our spirit comes from the nearly 500-year history of the Jesuits. It’s the spirit of full-hearted engagement—with profound ideas, with communities around the world, with injustice, with beauty, with the entirety of the human experience.”

A partnership between mStoner and the talented and dedicated digital team at Fordham—and a lot of work—resulted in a new site that is a fresh and glorious digital representation of the University brand.

Why did Fordham focus on brand expression for the new website? Because the senior leadership at Fordham understood the website as the University’s primary communications platform. And, the University Relations team recognized that is every bit as important as a campus visit in encouraging students to apply, a timely magazine or email in encouraging alumni to stay engaged, or a well-placed news story in raising general awareness and reputation.

Your brand is what distinguishes you and translating what makes you you into language for your website allows your college or university to:

  • Attract best-fit students.
  • Distinguish your school from the competition.
  • Influence parents about value and outcomes.
  • Help prospectives imagine themselves on your campus.

What’s the secret for successfully translating the brand for prospective students?

How do you do it? Listen and ask! If you listen to real people in the target market talk about the brand, you’ll learn what you need to know. And the only way to be certain you get it right, is to ask prospectives to respond to early prototypes and designs that express the brand creatively.

  • We used small focus groups of first year Fordham students to inform our work and we timed the focus groups to occur early in the academic year. So although we spoke with current first year students, they were only five weeks into their freshman year. Because of this timing, the individuals we spoke with were more like prospective students than current students. They were still very close to their college search process and to their decision to attend Fordham.
  • We surveyed prospective students to get their impressions about how well design concepts gave positive impressions about Fordham. We also evaluated their ability to internalize (and remember!) key messaging.

Translating your brand into creative is not for logos only. The best websites come for a tight connection between brand and content. Use photos, words, graphics, video, and navigation labels to make your brand real to the audiences you are trying to reach, influence, and move to action. Content is a creative expression of your brand and critical for communicating with your key audiences.



The User Experience of Scheduling a Visit

Scheduling a campus visit is common practice. Prospective students and families are regularly using .edu websites to arrange campus tours or sign up for information sessions. It’s an expected part of the college selection process.

Do we make it easy? Not usually.


  • The forms are dense and clunky. There are lots of fields to complete and what seems like a lot of unnecessary information is required.
  • The registration form doesn’t work well on a phone. It’s difficult to see the date and time options.
  • There’s lots of clicking to get to the right web page for registering for the visit.

Pretending I wanted to visit, I spent some time on a few .edu sites. Here’s what I found:

Clemson made it easy to get there from my laptop. From the Clemson homepage, Visit is in the global nav and Register for a Tour is obvious from the Visit page.

Clemson Visit

Cornell has an impressive mobile experience — works well and you can quickly get to a calendar with a list of tour times by day.

Cornell Visit

Paul Smith’s College makes it easy. Finding the visit dates is straightforward and completing the registration form on a phone was simple.

Paul Smith's

Virginia Tech offers a clear cut way to register for a campus visit. Each step in the path is presented and the experience is a very good one.

Virginia TechVirginia TechVT


In the broadest of terms, we need to do a better job on the user experience for scheduling visits and tours:

  • We are a generation of individuals who use our phones to book a flight, get a reservation at our favorite restaurant, and order shoes. Expectations about the mobile web don’t change when prospective students and parents get to .edu sites.
  • Fully accustomed to using the Internet to find information and do stuff, requests for too much personal data are barriers. High school seniors will do the digital version of never mind and bounce away from web forms that ask for too much.

Is your college or university offering a great user experience for prospective students and families? I’d love to feature your site’s approach to scheduling campus tours and visits. Use the comments to let me know what you’re up to.

Digital Strategy for Campaign Websites

Campaign websites generally have two primary goals — to explain the priorities of the campaign and to build a culture of philanthropy by reengaging alumni. I have six pieces of advice as you develop the digital strategy for a campaign website:

  1. Let content be the navigation.
    Avoid meaningless labels and let content guide your visitors through your campaign site. Gettysburg College’s Gettysburgreat Campaign is a strong example. Focusing on communicating campaign priorities, the Gettysburgreat Campaign site navigation is clear, simple, and telegraphic. The five campaign pillars become the navigation for their site. So visitors explore the site by clicking on the five areas they can support:

    • Scholarships
    • A First-Class Faculty
    • Engaged Learning
    • Global Initiatives
    • Annual Giving
  2. Use clear, understandable language.
    Rely on succinct prose that is accessible and does not include (pardon us) “development speak” or fundraising jargon. Many people, especially young alumni, find a fundraising campaign intimidating; don’t reinforce this with language they don’t understand. Make the website copy conversational and concise.
  3. Follow brand standards for the visual design.
    The look and feel of a campaign website should be consistent with your brand standards. While a microsite approach can make the site distinctive and a bit bolder than the main website design, campaign sites should capitalize on the institutional brand. The Campaign for Harvard Graduate School of Education is fully integrated with, providing a cohesive look and seamless navigation between the campaign content and the main site.
  4. Design for the life of the campaign.
    Keep in the mind that the campaign website design must be fresh and yet possess a shelf life that extends through the life of the campaign. Because fundraising campaigns are multi-year, a clean design that relies on high-impact photography is a safe bet. Using this approach, new photography can refresh a site over what is likely to be a five- to seven-year campaign period.
  5. Reconnect your alumni through storytelling.
    The best way to reconnect with alumni is to make it personal through the age-old craft of storytelling. The Competition Taught Me feature on George School’s Fit for the Future campaign website presents the unique stories of coaches and athletes. Demonstrating the lessons learned from athletic discipline and competition, these stories make the case for the importance of supporting athletics. George School alumni can share their own stories on this campaign site — the Compendium offers a rich history of George School athletes and more.
  6. Integrate your social channels.
    People give to people. The stories you tell through your campaign website make the case for private support, and your social channels can enrich the narrative through a fresh and authentic diversity of voices. Young alumni are an important constituency for most campaigns and they are more likely to use social. You need to find them where they are and let their peers help explain why giving back is important. Establishing and promoting a consistent social hashtag is key. A curated feed from a hashtag on Instagram is a source of dynamic content for the #Gettysburggreat campaign site. The emotional response to the Gettysburg College photography is clear from the hundreds of likes. Remember, your current students are your best ambassadors. In a flash, current students can make an authentic statement about your college or university with a quick photo, a caption, and a hashtag or two. Let your students be the best illustrations of your distinctive culture, value, and societal contributions.

I’m proud of recent mStoner partnerships with some wonderfully talented campus teams: