Win-win Tips for Working With Student Employees

by Lynn Whalen
Lincoln Land Community College
Springfield, IL

As the school year gets underway, you may be planning to hire student workers. Student employees in the marketing and public relations office are a win/win if all goes well. And starting students off on the right foot will help ensure that it does.

Hiring student workers provides the extra hands our busy offices crave and so much more. For one, we get a students’ perspective on our work. I’ll often have a student employee look over a draft ad, viewbook, or magazine story and ask, “What message does this convey to you?” “Are there other words or phrases you would use?” “Which graphic do you prefer?”

When the press calls and asks for a student to comment on a particular subject, your student worker can be a perfect and convenient choice. Do a mock interview with the student prior to the real thing with questions you anticipate the reporter may ask. From the beginning of their employment, involve student workers in media relations so they can observe how you prepare for and implement media interviews.

In the midst of launching a new advertising campaign? Student workers are great models for photos and videos, and they likely have friends and classmates they can invite to form the groups of students you may need.

Writing an article or blog for a college publication or your website? Invite your student worker to write it instead. I’ve asked several to write about their study abroad trips, their journey from “I didn’t want to attend a community college” to “this is the best decision I ever made,” to a typical day in the life of a Lincoln Land Community College student.

And of course, student workers are invaluable for social media ideas. They’re involved in student activities and know the hot topics students are discussing. With guidance and supervision, try turning over your Instagram account to a student worker for a day.

For the student worker, the advantages of working for you are many: They get real-world, hands-on experience in a multitasking office. They can boost their resumes, including references from PR professionals who are happy to provide them. They get the thrill of seeing their words in print or online, experience in public speaking, opportunities to lead tours, and the chance to have their voices heard and valued.

To make the experience win-win:

Choose wisely. Look for students who are enthusiastic and pleased with their choice to attend your college. Are they interested in communication, public relations, journalism, graphic design, marketing? All pluses.

Set clear expectations. Post specific job descriptions for the student positions open in your office. Emphasize professionalism. They are now a representative of your college.

Remember they’re students first, employees second. Make it clear that students’ academics come first. Be flexible if a student wants to alter their schedule because of a field trip, exam or assignment. 

Determine a designated workspace. Ideally, student workers should have a space of their own that is visible to their supervisor and/or all of the team. Make sure they have the proper equipment and online access/permissions to do their jobs.

Tailor the job to students’ strengths. Do they like public speaking? Have them speak at a recruitment event. Do they like to write? Have them prepare press releases, blogs and social media posts. Are they outgoing and don’t mind walking backward? Have them lead prospective student tours.

Listen to them. Pick up phrases they use to update your copy. What are students saying about their experience at the college? What media are they using? What complaints are they hearing? Student employees can be the eyes and ears of your office.

Celebrate together. Recognize birthdays, graduations and successes. Make them part of the team.

Say goodbye. Some student workers may love their job so much (as we do!), that they want to linger. It’s our responsibility to encourage them to proceed on their academic path so they move on to a transfer institution or into the workforce.

Enjoy watching them take flight. It’s rewarding to see a former student worker progress to a successful career. Some will stay in touch, some won’t. It’s icing on the cake when you receive a hand-written note or card thanking you for your mentorship and the experience gained working in your office.

Lynn Whalen is executive director, public relations and marketing at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Illinois, and serves on the NCMPR Board of Directors as vice president.

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