College is a bit of a tunnel. At first, it seems like that small dot of light at the end is a train coming at you. Some time around the third year, you realize that it is a light and there will be an end to this now comfortable tunnel. The exit requires some readjustment. Soon it will be your new boss talking to you and not a professor. The question addressed here is about having the conversations that bring you into the “club” called industry.
The first point is that knowledge of your industry is critical. Classes in school only give you a sneak peek at what life is like as a full time worker. It is imperative that you go beyond what the classes require. In our educational world, it is called self-directed learning. In your world, it is being a life-long learner. Read, then read some more. Read widely, especially at first. Know what your industry is all about. What are the trends? What are the industry wide issues? What brings value?
Second, the advice from History to “know thyself” is still true. What are your skills? What are your strengths? What character traits do you show others? When you leave college, you are not looking for a job, you are looking for a career. Here are a few thoughts on understanding the difference. It’s a job is when you get hired but do not have a stake in the game except to show up to work. It’s a job when you do the work only so you can get paid. It’s a job when you do as little as possible but try to get as much as possible from the company you work for. A career is vastly different. If it’s a career, passion for the work gets you out of bed in the morning. You show up early for work, you focus during the day, you value the relationships with coworkers, you work to plan a future with the company, and finally, you work towards making the organization better and not just enhancing your personal resume.
With all that said, what about negotiations for salary and benefits? Here is my short answer. You value your own stock correctly when you both know yourself and know your industry. If it is a job you are looking for, then entry salary is the primary concern. If it is a career, then weigh carefully what is important long term. The insurance and retirement are worth more than most students think. Where you are on the pay scale in 2-5 years means more than what you make as a new employee. Lack of any salary negotiation indicates weakness, but too much fuss over small things is also a problem. My advice is to choose your battles carefully. Employers will respect your long term thinking. A grudging concession to a higher starting salary is an unhealthy start. When you do get the job, keep your eyes and ears open, ask questions and take good notes. Build a foundation of trust and communication. The salary and benefits will never be a issue.
– Brian Wasserman, Department Chair/Assistant Professor, Construction Management