A Lession in Negotiating – or, the Perils of Fielding an Offer on a Car Barge

Mylène Kerschner, Associate Director

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.

(The scene of my negotiating crime. *SO* obviously not a good place to conduct employment business.)

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.

CS Radio Episode 3: “Negotiating”

episode 3

In this week’s podcast, hosts A. Mylène Kerschner and J. Michael DeAngelis welcome Tamara Mason, assistant for the Wharton undergraduate and Engineering teams in Career Services.  The topic is negotiating job offers and we tackle everything from asking for the salary you want to Penn’s policies regarding “exploding offers” that employers sometimes impose on students.

As always, we also preview the week ahead, highlighting some of the great programming coming up form Career Services.  If you have suggestions for guests or topics you’d like to see covered, leave comment here on tweet @PennCareerServ!


Timely Advice on Job Offers

Right about now, some of you may be actively interviewing for jobs and internships, or in the process of receiving and deciding on job offers.  A big mystery is knowing “what you are worth” and evaluating the offers to make sure you are getting fair compensation, and the work conditions that will make you happy to accept the offer.  You can read tips on our website, “Deciding on Job Offers,” or gather data from Career Plans Surveys (including salary information for recent graduates) or learn about negotiation strategies.  Below is a short collection of blog entries written by career services advisors that provide great advice to anyone at this stage of the job search:

Advice on the Academic Job Search

This is the time of year when many advanced PhD students, recent PhDs and postdocs are in the midst of applying for academic jobs.  The search process for a faculty position is spread over several months and the interviews themselves are 1-3 days long.   In addition to being a scholar with an exciting research project and strong teaching experience another tool to have in your toolkit is good information.  At one of our recent Faculty Conversations, Professor Susan Margulies, SEAS, encouraged those on the job market to look at these resources:

  • The University of Michigan Handbook for Faculty Searches and Hiring which includes a Candidate Evaluation Sheet.  It gives a sense of the kinds of questions candidates may be asked.
  • Stanford University’s Dual-Career Resources can help “complex” hires, meaning those who have a significant other with job/career issues that may affect the candidate’s decision making.

Additional resources on work-life balance and dual career couples can be found on the Career Services website at http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/gradstud/resources/worklifebalance.html.

Other advice from Professor Margulies and Professor Justin DiAngelo, Hofstra University to keep in mind:

  • Candidates should look up those who will interview them and know something about them.
  • When you give your seminar or job talk, know your audience.  At a teaching-focused institution it may not include people in your field because there isn’t anyone in your field there.
  • Keep in mind that everyone you meet at the interview, including students and the person who walks you from one place to the next, matters.  Their input on your candidacy will be sought.
  • As you put together your start-up request, think about what you’ll need for 3-5 years.
  • When the interview is over, make sure you know the next steps.  If no one tells you, ask.
  • Negotiating offers usually takes place over the phone.

Students and postdocs who are preparing to interview for faculty positions are encouraged to talk with a graduate/postdoc career advisor and schedule a mock interview.  Career advisors can also be a resource for negotiating offers.