Spotlight – William Jones, Rutgers University – New Brunswick
Director of Operations & Strategic Initiatives, Rutgers University-New Brunswick
William earned a Master of Education from the College Student Personnel program at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2008 and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government and Politics from University of Maryland, College Park. Wil started at Rutgers a year and a half ago. After spending 7 years in the University Career Center at the University of Maryland, it can definitely be stated that Wil is a “Terp for Life.” As Wil says, “the placard on my door states, ‘my inner turtle bleeds scarlet red’ now that I am at the home of the Scarlet Knights”!
What was your first job? My first job was as an employee at a fast food restaurant in high school. That was the job that made me decide to go to college. However, the position that probably single-handedly led me to a career in higher education was my part-time role in undergrad as a student graphic designer within the Department of Resident Life. Not only did I get to augment my passion for marketing and design, I developed amazing mentor relationships within Student Affairs. More importantly, it was through that role that I discovered NASPA through the Undergraduate Fellows program. During the NASPA experience, it finally clicked for me that the professionals I crossed paths with as a student actually got paid for doing the work that they loved.
What was your career path to get your current role? I was first introduced to Career Services through a NASPA fellowship, which landed me an undergraduate internship in the Career Center at the University of Maryland. I spent my final undergraduate year helping that office to recreate their web presence. My previous experience as a student leader on campus also led the Executive Director at the time to assign me the task of helping student leaders to understand their transferrable skills.
Upon graduating, I was offered a full-time contract position as the Special Assistant to the Executive Director for Student Leadership Programs. I worked to help student leaders transform their experience into the working world, co-chaired the student advisory group, and coordinated a new program called the Student Organization Reception & Employer Networking Dinner (SOREND). SOREND was part reverse career fair (student leaders are on display while recruiters walked around) and part networking dinner.
After my first year, my supervisor strongly urged me to apply for the graduate program at the University of Maryland. Honestly, I wasn’t quite ready to jump back into the books after a year of “freedom”. I loved having my evenings and weekends back and didn’t miss the homework and hundreds of pages worth of reading. However, I knew that if I wanted to go further in my career, I would need to pursue an advanced degree, so I enrolled in graduate school. While in graduate school, I remained in the Career Center as a graduate assistant. I still focused on my student leadership portfolio within the center while also dabbling in career advising. My graduate program introduced me to a variety of counseling theories while my work in the Career Center assisted me with understanding the real life application of the theory. My graduate program, while strongly emphasizing counseling, also had an assessment requirement. It was through my statistics, research methodologies, and organizational assessment courses that I learned the value of data driven decision-making. To this day, I am thankful for those experiences and they have certainly helped me get to where I am today. It certainly comes in handy when working with our academic partners! I also continued to assist with the design of publications – primarily for events that I was overseeing. Graphic design was a passion that I discovered through various undergraduate positions I had held. During my last semester in my graduate program, our Marketing Coordinator took another role elsewhere. I was asked to step into the full-time role as Marketing Coordinator. Later, upon graduating, I was asked to also take on the assessment role in the office as the Special Assistant to the Executive Director for Marketing & Assessment. I led both teams full of graduate assistants and undergraduate employees.
Fast-forward a year; I was once again faced with a new challenge. The leadership of the now named University Career Center was changing. I not only lost a great supervisor, but a mentor and friend that was a few office doors away. She went on to become the Vice President for Student Life at The Ohio State University. That summer, we hired a new director. For anyone that has ever had a great supervisor that left to take on a new role, you understand the fear that can be invoked within when you now have someone else that you work for. You always wonder, “will he recognize what I bring to the table” or “will he continue with my role”. At times I remember panicking and doubting my own skills and abilities. “Maybe I am not as good as my previous director led me to believe?” ran through my mind. All the irrational thoughts that you learn about during the cognitive behavioral therapy class you take as part of counseling theories 101 came to light. Change can be rough. Three months into the new tenure of our director, I was called into his office. Sitting there was he and our Senior Associate Director. Of course, I assumed the worst. I sat down, he started to speak, and all I remember was him saying (paraphrasing), “I want you to be our Assistant Director for Employer Relations” followed by, “Wil, are you ok? You look like you have some questions.” I just kept thinking to myself, “Why employer relations?” I was the marketing guy. I was the assessment guy. I can’t do employer relations. So he sweetened the deal to make it more palatable for me. I was now the Assistant Director for Employer Relations AND Marketing. Only a student affairs professional would call adding even more work to my plate as “sweetening the deal”. But that can be an entirely new blog post. Here I was, overseeing an employer relations team filled with a staff that had more employer relations experience than I had. I can now admit that during the first three months of this experience I was nervous. However, after a while, I remembered what I used to tell student leaders about transferrable skills. Employer relations was a lot like what I was doing on the student marketing side of my role, just a different audience. Cold calling was no different than an intake counseling session with students, just with a different audience. Figuring out what priorities, among the many that employers felt we should focus on, was just another assessment project. Added on to all of this, was a great staff that was willing to teach me what I didn’t know, while allowing me to introduce them to the strengths that I was bringing to the table.
Fast-forward again a year later, and I was once again promoted to Associate Director – this time adding fundraising and information technologies to my portfolio. Fundraising, partly due to my employer relations work, and information technologies, due to my background in web development (side hobby).
In 2013, an opportunity presented itself here at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. While I loved my time at the University of Maryland, it was time for a new challenge. Here, I am the Director of Operations & Strategic Initiatives at University Career Services. I provide senior executive leadership for the areas of marketing, technology, assessment, budget, strategic planning, and special initiatives. Everything that I have learned in my previous experience at Maryland is applicable to what I am doing right now. AND I LOVE IT!
Why did you choose this career? Like many in our profession, this career kind of found me. I love working in a college environment. One of my previous colleagues once told me that I was like an amoeba; able to transform into whatever the times called for. I eventually will learn to like whatever it is I am doing, as long as the environment is right for me. My original goal in life was to become a political on Capitol Hill; based on the approval rating of congress right now, I think I lucked out.
What is the skill that is most important in your current role? In my office I have a framed project from a staff development exercise from early in my career. Staff members were instructed to go around to each person’s sheet and write various attributes that they appreciated about the person. I have items such as, being a great supervisor, able to juggle many tasks, dependable, etc. Some of the others I won’t mention (embarrassing!). I sometimes look back on these attributes and wonder if people would still say the same thing about me today. One thing that I never fully appreciated about my previous supervisors, until I was in a position of leadership myself, was their need to prioritize. I think this is the number one skill that is needed in my role. Being able to look at multiple issues, all of which are important to the people presenting them and prioritizing them. Also, it is important to be comfortable with the fact that not everyone can always be satisfied. For example, if you keep adding things to other people’s plates (based on request of other audiences) you may need to take something else off of that plate. This process will inevitably make some group unhappy, but I would rather do a few things well than a lot of things at subpar levels.
How did you develop this skill and how do you fine-tune it regularly? Sometimes it all comes down to trial and error. Watching certain staff members burn out after trying to be everything to everyone. Feeling my own self-burn out; you learn from your experiences.
Did you have a mentor? I have developed many meaningful mentoring relationships with people over the years. Dr. Javaunne Adams-Gaston, my former executive director and now Vice President for Student Affairs at The Ohio State University, really introduced me to Career Services. She is also the person that strongly encouraged me to apply to graduate school. Rick Hearin, my last director at the University of Maryland and current executive director here at Rutgers University, has always told me to learn from his challenges and accomplishments.
What is your biggest career accomplishment? In 2012, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) acknowledged my contributions to the field with the 2012 Rising Star Award. This national award recognizes one individual each year who has demonstrated strong leadership and contributions to the career services profession and NACE. I was also awarded NACE’s 2010 Innovation Award for creating the Marketing, Assessment, & Programs (MAP) database and the American College Personnel Association’s 2009 Innovation Award for my work with the Commission for Career Development.
What is your advice to students looking for their first job? If I could give one piece of advice to students it would be to utilize the resources you have while on campus. Take advantage of the Alumni Career Network to find potential mentors in your field of interest. Take part in the On-Campus Interviewing (OCI) program and meet with employers seeking to interview candidates for full-time, part-time, and internship positions. Also, visit University Career Services for an individualized session with a Career Development Specialist.
What is your advice to young professionals in the field who aspire to your current role? If I could offer one piece of advice to young professionals in the field it would be to ask a lot of questions and LISTEN for a response. It’s ok to ask someone to be your mentor. You can learn a lot from other people’s mistakes and accomplishments. Plus, the network that this will help you to build is invaluable.
What was the best career advice you have ever received? The best advice is simply to trust in the people you hire and your ability to train them. It’s ok to micromanage in the beginning as they get acclimated to the role, but eventually you need to take the training wheels off, allow them to fail sometimes, and let them grow. Also, persevere!
What would you like colleagues to know about your organization? University Career Services at Rutgers is a great place to work. The staff is very committed and passionate about their work. We have a shared vision and the senior administrators seem to be rooting for us. If you ever have a chance to work here, apply!