Another audience for your higher ed brand?

Every mStoner client engagement is about brand and every brand is about audience. Brand strategy is an important topic and our blog and other thought leadership activities demonstrate our commitment to helping clients engage with key audiences and move them to action.

Let’s face it: your integrated communication strategy already requires you to communicate across many platforms with a large number of audiences. Your magazine, website, social channels, email campaigns, viewbook, and more are your opportunities to connect with prospective students, parents, donors, alumni, legislators, current students…and the list of audiences goes on.

Frankly, the work is complex and you don’t need another audience to add to an already long list. But here it is: prospective employees. Consider the idea of an employer brand — your reputation as a potential employer to the talented people who could work at your institution.

Campuses are like small cities and you are recruiting for all types of positions needed to offer a solid experience for students and to make things run smoothly. Your reputation as a place to work can influence the decisions of faculty members who are the best teachers and researchers, IT professionals who have many private sector choices, nationally-known student affairs leaders who are willing to relocate, and skilled individuals who live within commuting distance of your campus.

If you are already underway with a brand strategy project, be sure to develop messaging for the prospective employee audience. I recommend these articles about employer branding to inform your thinking:

Review the digital content on the HR site.

Short of an employer brand project, I have a few suggestions for getting started. Consider partnering with your institution’s human resources team on digital content:

Conduct a careful review of the information architecture on the HR website.
Let the content serve as the way to navigate the HR site. Remove lingo and reduce the number of acronyms. Use clear language to help prospective employees explore web pages that explain the application process. Boise State University’s How to Apply page works well.

Consider a landing page for prospective employees.
Nearly all .edu website footers include a link to some variation of Jobs, Careers, or Employment. From that footer link, a landing page for applicants can represent an employer brand. Here are a few examples:

Talk about what people care about.

Content on the HR employment pages should focus on the benefits of working on your campus. Mission statements aren’t personal enough to connect with prospective applications. The Benefits page on the Johns Hopkins University site and Elon University’s About Our Region are strong examples.

What is the employer brand of your college or university?

Are you thinking about your employer brand? Does your .edu website include content for prospective employees? Perhaps it should.

Research Landing Pages: Take Two

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about research landing pages on university websites. As background for that blog post, I visited the websites of many large, research-focused universities, including Georgia Tech. I was drawn to (and shared) some compelling copy from Georgia Tech’s Research landing page. At the time, I didn’t know Georgia Tech was about to launch a newly-designed research section!

A few days after publishing that post, I heard from Kirk Englehardt, director of research communication. Kirk pointed me to Georgia Tech’s new research web pages and I want to share this follow up post as an additional resource for those who may be planning for new research landing pages. The team responsible for the new site:

  • Relied on market research for planning.
  • Tied decisions to the university’s research strategy.
  • Created content targeted to the industry audience.

For the big reveal, here’s the old landing page:

Georgia Tech Research Before


Here’s the new one:

Georgia Tech Research After


Gems from the new Research site @georgiaatech

  • The site’s simple navigation set creates a focus on industry collaboration and core research ideas. It makes external audiences a priority.
  • The amount of copy is reduced by about half from the prior site. The new content is more visual and more engaging.
  • The externally-focused Industry Collaboration page presents the idea of recruiting top students.  Georgia Tech’s “next big breakthroughs” are presented well on the Core Research Ideas page.
  • Pages for each of the core research areas include information on partnerships and outreach, sidebar content about research facilities and institutes, and related news. See Manufacturing, Trade, and Logistics as an example.
  • The News includes links to a research magazine and an undergraduate research journal. (The landing page for Georgia Tech Research Horizons is also well done.) The latest content from Research Horizons also appears on the homepage and is sprinkled throughout the site.
  • The Creating the Next video is a storytelling piece featuring researchers talking about how they’re creating the next….

Kudos to the team @georgiatech!

New Academic Year? New Website?

There’s just something about the start of the academic year. New students, new campus initiatives, and for some … the planning for a new website.

Are you starting the academic year with a website that has aged beyond the point of a quick spruce to get it back on track? Are you about to tackle (gulp) a redesign?

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote Thinking about a website redesign? for the mStoner blog. The advice in that post still holds. But 12 months later, I’ll add fair warning about three challenges you’re likely to face during a website redesign:

  1. The battle between external and internal content
  2. The importance of staffing for the web
  3. The need for messaging

1. The battle between external and internal content

We’ve spent years publishing information on our websites, right? “Make it available 24 / 7!” “It’s less expensive than print.” Well, no good deed goes unpunished. We’ve let a thousand flowers bloom and now — thousands upon thousands of web pages later — it’s time to weed our garden.

Most .edu websites are mammoth, mixing marketing-critical content and branded storytelling for prospective students with information about how to appeal a parking ticket and meeting notes from the committee on committees. On almost every campus I visit, the marketing team is planning for a smaller website focused on external audiences. One typical goal for a website redesign project is to move that internal content to a portal or intranet.

Separating external and internal web content makes a lot of sense. But, frankly, that decision births a parallel web project. Yes, moving internal content out of the public website narrows the scope (and complexity) of the redesign project. However, keep in mind all that internal content destined for the portal/intranet will need an intentional information architecture (IA), design, and content strategy.

2. The importance of staffing for the web

The web is not free. Your website is an always-on communication channel that requires an ongoing investment. The secret sauce is people! Exceptional websites require more than a project committee. The .edu website is infrastructure, and you need a dedicated team of skilled professionals to own it. Every campus needs people who get up every day and come to work thinking about the website.

Despite my many years directing web services in a campus IT shop, I know the purpose of your .edu site is not technology. Yes, a strong partnership with your IT team is critical, and yes, you need expert web developers and CMS administrators. My point is you also need people who focus on content strategy, editorial oversight, design, and IA for ongoing results that matter outside of a “project mode.”

3. The need for messaging

For years in faculty focus groups or meetings with campus leadership, the debate was about audience. Now, nearly everyone agrees prospective students are the primary audience for the website. But it’s not enough to be talking to the right people, you have to have something to say.

First and foremost, your website is for publishing brand-based messaging. I always keep “Marty Neumeier’s three questions about brand-building” in mind:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Why does it matter?

The messaging for your website should elevate your differentiators and talk about things that all education institutions offer in a unique way. Many .edu sites rely too heavily on mission and vision statements to make the case. (And as we learned from Gallup, mission statements are not a differentiator.)

We tend to highlight the features of our institutions, but not the benefits. There’s a lot of talk about the number of buildings on campus, but not a lot of talk about the benefits students get from those buildings. We assume the benefits are obvious, but often they’re not. For example, does your campus have a lot of diversity? Then tell prospective students how they’ll benefit from that diversity. With an emphasis on benefits, you’ll strengthen your brand.

You’re ready! Sure there are challenges. Going in eyes wide open, you have the opportunity to build solutions into the website redesign process.

Research Landing Pages on University Websites

I did some research on research landing pages. Why? Because Research is typically the topic of a top-level landing page on most university sites, and I wanted to get a sense of the content strategy for these pages.

You may already know that Carnegie classifies 108 universities as having very high research activity (RU/VH). I looked at about 17.5% of these by randomly visiting 19 homepages and navigating to the research landing page on each one. Here’s a quick summary of what I found:

  • 10 include navigation to information about student research; most of these use the “undergraduate research” label.
  • Only four use infographics or type for bragging points or to highlight key pieces of information.
  • Only four include video.
  • Some have a presence on social media: 5 use Twitter (@AUSResearch, @CU_UndergradRes, @osuresearch, @umichresearch, and @uvavpr); 2 have Facebook pages: OSU Research and ASU Research Matters; and one, ASU, uses Instagram.
  • 13 include links or content for research centers and institutes.
  • 16 link to internal content about research administration.
  • The landing pages of three focus almost exclusively on internal, research administration content.

My Thoughts about Research Landing Pages

I think research landing pages are an opportunity. Done well, they are content-rich pages where you make the case for your institution’s research impact. Because landing pages are often the primary points of entry, you should think of them as secondary homepages. When a prospective graduate student or faculty member at another university googles “research University of __”, will they find what you’d like them to find?

Also consider there is limited understanding by the public of the value of the research mission. Landing pages allow us to connect the dots for key audiences. Engaging and assessable content will help prospective students and parents see the value of research — in terms of educational opportunities, career preparation, and reputation. We want to position a university’s research activity to demonstrate impact and how scholarship betters the world.

Research at Georgia Tech inspires game-changing ideas and new technologies that help drive economic growth, while improving human life on a global scale.

Repurposing stories about research from university magazines is a worthwhile investment. Research features in these two magazines are fine examples of digital storytelling and superb sidebar content for research landing pages:

When creating or re-envisioning a research landing page:

  • Limit the amount of internal content. Detailed information for researchers should be placed elsewhere in the IA.
  • Use stunning photography that tells a story.
  • Use infographics and microcontent to make the impact of research understandable.
  • Include news and announcements but also include evergreen content about your research mission and its benefits to students.

Gems I Uncovered

The 19 Research Landing Pages I Visited

Arizona State University
Boston University
Columbia University
Cornell University
Dartmouth College
George Washington University
Georgia Institute of Technology
Johns Hopkins University
Ohio State University
University at Buffalo
University of California Riverside
University of Chicago
University of Michigan
University of Miami
University of Rochester
University of Texas at Austin
University of Virginia
Vanderbilt University
Virginia Commonwealth University

More about landing pages (on the mStoner blog):

What about you and the leaders you meet?

The fact is, when you have a job, you are going to run into bad leaders. Why? Because leadership is difficult. Even for those with natural leadership ability, it is not easy. As the saying goes, “People quit their bosses, not their jobs.”

In earlier posts, I wrote about two extremes of leadership: the good and the bad. This post is about you and what you do with the leaders you meet: 1) Be reasonable in your own expectations; but 2) Remove yourself from a bad situation when you can.

Don’t expect your boss to be able to do your job.
Often, people have the belief that, in order to supervise a [occupation here], you have to have worked in the trenches as a [same occupation here]. It’s a mistake to think the leader must be able to do your job before earning your full respect. The right kind of leader — and I hope we are all trying to be that kind — can lead individuals in all types of jobs. I can name several web programmers who would serve as references for my leadership, and, to this day, I don’t know javascript or PHP. Leadership is not about performing the specific job duties of individuals on the team you lead. We all need bosses who lead, not people who would know how to do our jobs when we take a day off.

Don’t expect every good idea you share to be acted upon.
A leader is listening to you even if she chooses not to act on your idea. If your leader doesn’t follow through on a suggestion you make, it doesn’t mean you weren’t heard. When you’re the leader, people regularly come to you with advice about the problems you face. From the outside, it probably appears easy to solve a particular problem. Give your leader the benefit of the doubt! Assume there is information, detail, or context you don’t have about a situation. Given full information, your easy-to-implement solution might not be the right one. By the way, the worst thing you can do is stop expressing your ideas. I have watched people do this as a way to get back at the leader for not accepting an idea or two. It is your job to have good ideas, to share them with the leader, and to realize what you have to say is not the be all to end all in every circumstance.

It’s not you, it’s them.
I am keenly aware that bad leadership is a serious problem — it can ruin careers we love and organizations we are otherwise passionate about. I’ve worked for my share of bad bosses and I don’t minimize the effects on us as individuals. At the risk of sounding trite, I suggest staying true to yourself when faced with a bad leader. Draw from internal motivation but don’t internalize the negatives from your situation. And, when you are able, you should change jobs.

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 know a good leader when you see one?

My earlier post identified leadership as the good, the bad, and you. I wrote about six behaviors typical of bad leaders. While the opposite of my six observations of the bad are a place to start, there will be no getting off easy for me. Here are my top six qualities of good leaders.

You work hard to build trust and earn respect.

Sure, your team will trust you at the start, and your leadership role comes with some built-in respect. But strong leaders work continuously to prove themselves. At the beginning, in the middle, and throughout, your actions are your leadership. When a person you work with shares a confidence, you keep it. When a complaint comes in about someone on your team, you reserve judgment and talk directly to the person involved to learn more. You say what you mean, and you mean what you say. Yes, it’s just that simple.

You are who you are.
You should learn from, and be inspired by, the leaders you’ve observed. You should also be who you are because the strongest leaders are authentic and true to self. Take a tip from Judy Garland, “Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”

You hire people who aren’t you.
Leaders build teams. When you hire someone new, avoid the stereotype; don’t hire people exactly like you. Instead, hire individuals that bring new points of view and different work styles. Your team can better respond to current challenges and more successfully evolve to meet what will come in the future when you have a powerful mosaic of perspectives and styles.

Your modify your approach as needed.

You are leading individuals. What works with one may not work at all with someone else. Getting to success will require you to modify your approach based on what you understand about the motivations of different types of people.

You roll up your sleeves and work shoulder to shoulder.

In the middle of the challenging times, you are in the mix with your team. During a crisis or when a lot of hard work is needed, you are visible and participating in whatever needs to be done.

You keep in mind that people are counting on you.
In a leadership role, you have more ability to influence the future and you know your job is to evaluate risks and identify opportunities. You are responsible for positioning your team to do important work that has value to your organization. After all, the individuals you lead are counting on you to protect their future livelihoods.

You celebrate successes!

Strong leaders understand the long-distance race and the mileposts along the way. You think long term, and you intentionally pause to call attention to goals achieved. Cheers and shared rewards for great work lead to team solidarity.

In my third post about leadership: we’ll talk about you, and your approach with the good and bad leaders in your life.

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.

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.