Two separate but related topics this week. First, Mylène hopes a story from her own past will help you have a better future as we talk about the down and dirty truth about negotiating salaries. Then, we’re really happy to welcome our colleague Helen Pho into the studio. Helen is an adviser on the graduate student and postdocs team and has specifically been heading up programming and initiatives aimed at first-generation graduate students. Find out about some of the work she’s already been doing and what’s being planned – there’s a lot to get excited about. Enjoy!
Negotiating has not historically been my strong suit. In fact, I once accepted a job offer over the phone while standing outside on a car ferry between St. John and St. Thomas. I was eager to move back to Philadelphia, and while I was waiting to hear from a prospective employer my sanity completely evaporated when I saw a 215 number calling my cell phone. I answered excitedly and when my future boss warmly offered me the role and indicated what my starting salary would be, emotions got the best of me. I couldn’t hide my delight, even though the salary was lower than I had hoped.
“YES!” I was shocked to hear myself exclaim, overjoyed. “Yes, definit…”
Shoot!! I had wanted to ask for more money! What happened?! I tried to recover.
“I mean. That sounds great,” I backpedaled. “But do you think there’s any flexibility on the salary?” There was an awkward pause on the other end of the line. (I’m fairly certain my future boss was laughing at this unorthodox approach to negotiating.) “Um. Suuuure. I will see what I can do.”
What had I done!? Of course she wasn’t going to “see what she could do.” I’d already accepted! Why would she give me a penny more?! I kicked myself the rest of the way into Red Hook. No additional money was ever offered.
Naturally, with this in my not-so-distant past, when I started back at Penn in a new role as an advisor for the first time, I approached negotiating conversations with trepidation. How could I advise a student on asking for more anything when I’d done such a poor job of it myself?
Realistically though, that fateful December day in the USVI taught me a couple of very specific things that I’m adamant about when I speak with students about negotiating.
Number one – You don’t need to answer on the spot! I absolutely should have asked for more time to consider. Heck, I should have asked for any time to consider! My enthusiasm got the better of me, and as I imagined being back near friends and family for the holidays, the practical side of my brain shut down. And that’s fine! It can be overwhelming to receive an offer, which is why there is ZERO obligation to respond immediately. Buy yourself a little bit of time to evaluate. No decent employer should force you to answer on the spot – it’s not expected.
“Thank you so much! I’d love to have a little bit of time to consider. By what date do you need me to decide?” Not saying these three sentences definitely cost me actual dollars in my paycheck.
Number two – Know your worth. Going in, I should have had a clear number in my mind of what I wanted to make based on research I’d done by industry and by location. I had spent so much time considering my own personal intangibles – being back home in Philadelphia, the fact that I’d be able to buy a box of Triscuits for less than $8, etc. – I hadn’t done my research and evaluated what I actually wanted to be earning, and what I could reasonably ask for based on my background. This made it all the easier for my emotions to take over during that call.
These are two pretty straightforward basics, but of course there are many nuances involved in negotiating and lots of things to consider before you even receive an offer.
I loved reading Ellen Pompeo’s story in The Hollywood Reporter about salary negotiation. The Hollywood Reporter points out that “actors typically hate discussing their paychecks in the press, but Pompeo… has chosen to do so… in the hope of setting an example for others.” And this is important. The more transparency there is with salary, the more parity there can be. So, resist the sentiment that it’s uncouth to discuss your earnings. Crowdsourcing can be valuable very literally when you’re considering an offer. Channel your inner Meredith Grey.
Also check out the Career Tools Series Webinar “Don’t Leave Money Behind: A Negotiation Webinar for Women,” whether or not you are a woman. Career Services director Pat Rose addresses everything from what to enter in the “Desired Salary” field on an application, to how to dodge the salary question if it arises during an interview.
With these resources and my two fundamentals, I’m confident you won’t field an offer unprepared and on a car barge between two Virgin Islands. And that makes me feel a little bit less terrible about the time that I did.
Michael has been on the road again exploring careers in entertainment. This time, he takes us out to LA to learn about the having a manager and/or an agent and pitching a screenplay to Hollywood. Back on the East Coast, Mylène honors President’s Day by helping you navigate the sometimes difficult process of applying for jobs in the federal government. All that and more on this week’s bi-coastal episode! Enjoy!
One of the most exciting collaborative projects that I’m working on this semester is creating a new video- and discussion-based workshop on informational interviewing for graduate students and postdocs. This means writing scripts of fictional informational interviews gone painfully wrong with my colleagues, working with actors who can perform the scenes, and collaborating with students and colleagues who can film and edit the videos, which has been and will continue to be a lot of fun leading up to our workshops in April!
Throughout college, I found the processes of networking in general and conducting information interviews in particular to be somewhat mysterious. As a first-gen student, I knew that networking was important but didn’t have any frame of reference. My parents didn’t work in offices, so growing up, I never saw them model what networking as a professional looks like. Additionally, informational interview meetings are generally private, one-on-one conversations between two people. Unless you’re already in the hot seat, you really can’t be a fly on the wall during someone else’s informational interview to observe how to do one well—or to observe what not to do!
When I work with graduate students and postdocs who are seeking internships and jobs, I often speak with them about why it is crucial to do informational interviews with professionals in the career fields they’d like to be in, brainstorm questions that students can ask during the actual conversation, and explain the whole process step-by-step from crafting an introductory email to staying in touch with the professional after the informational interview is over. With this new workshop, you’ll be able to get up close and personal with the do’s and don’ts of informational interviews and actually be a fly on the wall! By having students watch and talk about a filmed informational interview gone awry and another one gone well, with pauses in between scenes to discuss the good and the bad, we hope that you’ll learn to make the best first impression, ask the right questions, and come away with helpful information and a valuable professional contact as you venture off on your own to do informational interviews.
As a sneak peek into our workshops, here is a do and a don’t of international interviews that we’ll watch and discuss in details:
•Do: Be curious and prepare a good list of questions: Being the student to request an informational interview with someone who’s more senior, sometimes it can feel uncomfortable to come to a meeting ready to drive the conversation with a list of questions. You may feel reluctant to do so for any number of reasons, but remember that professionals who agreed to meet with you are eager to help you as much as they can. Think about the goals you have for meeting. Are you interested in learning about how they prepared for their career? Do you want to learn about the employers they’ve worked with? Are you hoping to find out how they transitioned from academia to industry? Your goals can help frame the questions you devise, so you can get the most out of your informational interview, and the professional contact can be as helpful as possible.
•Don’t: Stumble on the “Tell me about yourself” question: One of the common mistakes that graduate students make when they introduce themselves is to simply state that they’re a graduate student and then provide a 5 minute detailed explanation of their research. While discussing your research is a good idea, keep it short and talk about it in a way that someone who doesn’t share your expertise can understand why your research is important. It’s also helpful to relate the skills you’ve used in your graduate work and any prior work experiences to how you might apply them in a future career in the professional contact’s field or industry. By establishing common interests and shared connections, you’ll make a good first impression and begin to build a relationship with the professional at the outset of your conversation.
Come to one of our two interactive workshops (info below) to learn more about the other do’s and don’ts of informational interviews. You will laugh, you will cringe, you might even laugh-cry, but it’s sure to get you thinking about how you can present the best version of yourself in these important networking conversations!
•The first workshop (open to all graduate students and postdocs as part of the Job Search Series) will take place on Thursday, April 5 from 12-1:30pm in the McNeil Building, conference room 97. Please “Join the Event” on Handshake for updates and reminders for the program: https://app.joinhandshake.com/events/112840
•The second workshop (tailored specifically for first-gen grad students as part of our Generation First series, although all graduate students and postdocs are welcome) will take place on Thursday, April 12 from 3-4:30pm in McNeil Building, conference room 97. Please “Join the Event” on Handshake for updates and reminders for the programs: https://app.joinhandshake.com/events/112841
Michael and Mylène take you live (on digital tape) to the Spring Career Fair to speak with two recruiters – one from the world of finance and engineering and the second from a non-profit look to recruit diverse talent into the housing market. A brief but fascinating episode this week! Enjoy!