Career Corner: Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable

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Written by: Emilio Lorenzo and Emily Tasca

Emilio Lorenzo is the assistant director of career advisement in NSU’s Office of Career Development. Emilio understands the importance of helping students reach their career goals and works with all students, including undergraduate, graduate and professional level students, to achieve their professional goals.

Emily Tasca is a member of the career advisement team in NSU’s Office of Career Development. She works with current students and alumni at the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels.

Growing up, you had to deal with many weird situations, including your parents forcing you to introduce yourself to strangers. Or how about the time you went to your first dance? Let’s not forget about asking someone or being asked to go on a date. In life, you will come to understand very quickly that you have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, which applies to your career as much as your personal life. Some of these uncomfortable career situations can include engaging professionals and faculty in conversation, answering difficult interview questions, networking with professionals and negotiating salary.

One of the first things you can do when getting into college to start building relationships and gain further insights into your career, or even just a subject matter you are passionate about, is to engage faculty or professionals in conversations. There are various types of conversations you can have with these individuals. For example, you can go to your professor’s office hours to get feedback on the course materials. You can also use his or her office hours as an avenue to build a relationship, which can prove valuable in the future if you’re interested in research opportunities or in need of a letter of recommendation.

Engaging your faculty in these types of professional conversations can also help you inquire further about steps you should be taking early on in your career such as internships, targeted projects or just gaining further insight as to what he or she did to reach their individual career goals.

This strategy can also be applicable when reaching out to professionals in your field to set up an informational interview, which involves asking the professional a variety of questions to get a glimpse into the position, display your knowledge in the field thus far, and talk about what you can offer the employer, including your passion for the industry.

A good way to practice getting comfortable with these types of activities is working with someone you already feel comfortable with and talking to him or her as if he or she is the faculty or professional you plan on reaching out to for an informational interview. Just like an athlete has to practice to perfect his or her skill set, you, as a student, need to practice articulating your passions and interests and be able to develop relevant questions when engaging others in conversations, which will come easier the more you practice.

Practice can also come in handy when visualizing other difficult or uncomfortable situations, such as salary negotiations. When discussing salary, you want to wait until the employer has indicated that you are their choice for the position before bringing it up to avoid any negative messages.

Once your employer selects you as their ideal candidate and offers you a position, it is more than fine to not just evaluate the offer, but to also negotiate certain aspects of it. One of the more common areas of negotiation is the salary and benefits involved with a position. Before entering salary negotiations, it is important to have thoroughly researched the market value of the position, as well as taken stock of your background, level of education, and previous experiences that relate to the opportunity. Two great websites that can assist with research include www.salary.com and www.jobsearchintelligence.com/etc/jobseekers/salary-calculator.php.

Using these sites before entering the interview process will allow you to find an appropriate salary range if you are asked the question, “What are your salary requirements for this position?” In this situation, before you answer, a good strategy is to say, “I have done my research, and I have an idea of a range I am looking for, but I am interested to see what you are planning to offer for this position.” Keep in mind that you can play this game of tennis only once; if the employer serves it back to you and does not offer up what they are willing to pay, you need to give them something. Ideally, this will be a range of within $5,000 to $7,000 of the desired salary, to give you both some flexibility. Just be sure that you will actually be able to accept the lower end of your range.

Salary is not the only thing that you and your employer can negotiate; the employer may have room to adapt other benefits, even when they can’t offer more money. For example, say an employer is offering you a position in a major city that includes a paid parking spot, but you live close by enough that you plan to bike to work daily. You do not need the parking spot, but you would be interested in a new gym membership near work, especially one where you can shower after your bike ride into the office. You can then approach the employer about using those funds for a nearby gym membership in place of the parking spot, especially if the total for the gym membership ends up being less than the parking spot. In this case, the company is likely to work with you, as they will be saving money, and you will be getting a benefit that you find to be more valuable without having to negotiate the salary part of your position.

Overall, salary negotiations are uncomfortable types of conversations in your professional career; however, you only get one chance to establish the parameters of your employment and benefits package. In a career, just like in life, the more you step outside our comfort zone, the more you end up growing as an individual. Building relationships with faculty, professionals in your desired field, or key stakeholders that will help you reach your goals, not only stretches your comfort zone, but also plants the seed to create avenues, which may lead to job opportunities upon graduation.

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