D.A. Benton, President of Benton Management Resources, has spent years helping top executives and politicians improve their effectiveness and impact. In her latest book, The Virtual Executive, she gives practical advice for individuals who want to lead effectively in today’s digital world.
Can her strategies improve the image of your admissions office and help you recruit more students? Barry Lenson from Today’s Campus spoke with Benton recently. Here’s the conversation.
Today’s Campus: What is the most important thing that admissions officers should know about creating a strong image?
Benton: Although students and parents will look at your college’s website before communicating with you, your admissions office is their first point of direct contact. So at that point, the admissions office IS the college in their eyes. That is why it is vital to handle those first communications well. Staffers who answer the phone should slow down, listen, answer questions, and never give the impression that any call is an intrusion. If applicants make the first contact via an email or voicemail, your office’s response should be immediate, warm, and personalized with the name of a person to contact directly.
Today’s Campus: How should admissions officers and staffers dress?
Benton: It shouldn’t be left to chance. You need to fully understand and appreciate the type of people you are trying to attract – and who are attracted to your school - and dress accordingly. If you are an arts-oriented institution, your staff can dress a bit more creatively, while still avoiding anything that is too revealing, short, or accessorized with wild jewelry. (I often tell my clients, “Your clothes shouldn’t be more interesting than you are.”) If you are a conservative institution, your staff should dress accordingly, while avoiding anything that is too old-fashioned, dated, tired, or lacking in energy.
Today’s Campus: Can the dress code be relaxed in the summer months?
Benton: Admissions is not a summer job! Your college is a year-round institution. Your staffers are representing it, and should be consistent in their appropriate dress. I don't believe in casual dress or casual Fridays in admissions offices. Even if parents or students come in looking like they work in a car wash, your admissions staffers should be crisper, better, and sharper. You want people to look up to you, not down.
Today’s Campus: What kind of communication style works best?
Benton: Slow down a little. You need to let things sink in. Your admissions officers might have made the same presentation hundreds of times before. But most parents and students have only visited a handful of colleges, and you need to stand out. So slow down your walking, gesturing, and talking. When you move from one topic to another, pause and tell people what you are going to talk about next.
Today’s Campus: What about body language?
Benton: Everyone on your staff should sit and stand with good posture. If your receptionist sits hunched over a computer, it sends a message that he or she is slaving over a hot desk, screening thousands of applicants. Your staffers should have a relaxed expression on their faces - preferably a slight but sincere and welcoming smile. And remember that all your visitors get the same treatment. It’s respectful, at the least.
Today’s Campus: Any secrets to share about getting more visitors to actually apply?
Benton: When parents and students are about to leave, someone from your staff should stand up, get out from behind a desk, and accompany them to the door, to the elevator, or even out the front door. It sends the message, “this is an institution that cares.” That will be noticed and remembered in both conscious and subliminal ways.
Barry Lenson, who writes on college marketing for Today’s Campus, also writes the blog at StraighterLine.com and contributes daily marketing tips to StepByStepMarketing.com. Barry has previously held positions at the National Institute of Business Management (Senior Editor), The Trump Organization (Executive Editor of The Donald Trump blog), and at Bottom Line/Personal (Senior Staff Editor). He has written and co-authored more than 10 books, including two on marketing. Barry earned degrees at McGill and Yale and is currently enrolled in the UCLA Extension Division’s certification program in college counseling.