It’s Nothing Personal, Just Business

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This post was written by Derek Cameron, Associate Director of Employer Relations in Cooperative Education and Career Development.

It doesn’t take Luca Brasi or an ill-fated thoroughbred to successfully negotiate a job offer. As a matter of fact, most of the negotiating takes place from the first point of contact and candidates can improve their lot with just a little bit of homework.

“We’re going to invest a lot of money and time into this person so there’s a lot of risk involved”, says Brenda Mitchell ‘92, Senior Recruiter for Criteo, a Paris-based market leader in targeted online advertising, with a new office in Boston.  “When I’m talking with a candidate I’m looking for their value proposition, right from the first point of contact, so I know what compensation range they fall into. A student graduating college hasn’t really proven themselves in the workplace, like someone who’s been on the job for 2-3 years, so I look for the value they can bring in right from school. If I see a student has completed 2 co-ops or 3-4 internships I know they are going to take less time to ramp up and that’s important when bringing someone on board.”

When an employer picks up the phone or emails a candidate about an opportunity they’ve determined that there is value in reaching out to that person.  From that point on they’re trying to determine three essential qualities:

  • What skills and experience can the candidate can offer?
  • How quickly can they offer it?
  • How do they fit, personality-wise?

This comes in the form of a variety of tools such as: case interviews, behavioral questions, competency tests, team exercises or coding challenges. If a candidate has done their homework on the company and assessed their skills and experiences this goes a long way in making it a smooth process.  Making it even smoother is if the candidate has also done the necessary salary research.

“I like to soft-close the candidate along the way and will ask them up front what type of research they have done to evaluate themselves in terms of compensation.  If they state a number at the beginning that seems much higher than what the current range is I’ll ask them how they came to that figure and have them explain it in detail.”   If a candidate has done their homework ahead of time they should be able to provide metrics and specific examples to justify the number and in many cases this proves successful.

Considering the wealth of salary information available online it’s never been easier to run the numbers and get familiar with how much a position, in a particular market and company is going to pay, so by the time an offer is made there shouldn’t be any great surprises. Even if the employer hasn’t broached the subject in the first couple of discussions it’s still important to do that research early.

Another important takeaway in doing this, is it also gives the candidate critical insight about how the organization may values its employees.  If an employer makes an offer far lower than research indicates or the entire benefits package looks shoddy then it could be a reflection of what the company may be like to work for.  “A poor offer package is a good indication of a poor company,” shares Jon Camire,  VP of Risk Modeling at Unum Group, a Tennesse-based disability insurance company. “A company that values its employees is going to offer the best benefits it can so if you’re getting a competitive package then it’s a pretty good indication the company cares about its employees.”

If you’re going through the interview process or think you’re about to receive an offer don’t forget that Career Development is also here to help you.  Feel free to set up an appointment with a career advisor or if you’re pressed for time come on in during walk-in hours.

Just remember:  It’s nothing personal, just business.

Derek Cameron is a member of the Employer Relations team and when he’s not helping develop jobs then he’s either out walking his dog or working the grill.

References available upon request

Emily Brown is a Career Development intern and a graduate student in Northeastern’s College Student Development and Counseling Program. She is a lifelong Bostonian interested in the integration of social media into the professional realm.  Contact her at e.brown@neu.edu.

Looking back to high school, I didn’t realize how easy I had it getting recommendations for college applications: one from my guidance counselor, ask two favorite teachers, done and done. With big plans to enter college undeclared, I wasn’t at all worried about the subject matters taught by these teachers.  I also wasn’t worried about etiquette of the recommendation process, since I had explicit instructions from my guidance counselor –  provide a stamped and addressed envelope for each college you’re applying to and post-it with earliest deadline on top.  Send a thank you card no later than that first deadline.  So simple. Looking back now, I realize that these concepts are also relevant for getting professional references.

  • Of course I chose my favorite teachers, right? Why would I even consider that pre-calculus teacher who gave me the stink-eye all of sophomore year for giggling with my best friend through each class (I’m sorry, but he shouldn’t have seated us next to each other). The same concept still applies. Choose people who have positive things to say about you and will be able to speak to your overall character.
  • At this point though, subject matter matters. It is important to consider who will be able to speak to the specific skills that will be required in the position you are targeting. It’s okay to tell a reference which skills you believe will be most important and to ask her/him to emphasize those.
  • Since job references probably won’t be a one-shot deal like mailing a stack of college applications, it’s important to keep your references updated as you apply to jobs. Since you won’t often know when exactly a potential employer is going to call a reference, keeping her/him updated on jobs to which you have applied ensures that s/he can speak knowledgeably about your goals.  In the case of a written recommendation, you should ask about 5-6 weeks in advance of the deadline. However, it’s rare that an employer will ask for a written reference, they usually want to speak to the person directly.
  • The most nerve-wracking part of asking someone to serve as a reference is probably the initial request. Hanging around after class worked in high school, but, as a professional, stopping by someone’s desk unannounced is not recommended. Asking via email ensures that the person knows exactly what you want and has time to think about his answer. It’s important to be clear about what you’re asking – the subject line might read “Job reference for [your name]?” – and you should get right to the point at the beginning of the email before further explaining the specifics of why you are asking this particular person.  It can be helpful to mention specific projects or tasks you’ve worked on with that person that you think will relate to skills needed for the new job. This helps the person understand why you are specifically asking her and gives her some guidance in regard to which of your skills to highlight. Even if you’re 99% sure the person will say yes, it is polite to give him/her an out. Use language like “would you be comfortable…” or “Do you feel you know me well enough to…”
  • I remember seeing classmates being scolded for being late with thank you cards. Though it is unlikely anyone will directly scold you for skipping this step, people will surely take notice and it’s just good manners to thank someone when they do you a favor It’s important to follow up once someone has agreed to serve as a reference by sending a thank you (email or US mail are both ok, but no need to send both). It’s also good practice to update your references on your job search periodically and DEFINITELY let them know once you have accepted a position. Thank them again for their support in helping you reach your goal.

So maybe it’s not quite as simple as it was in high school, but it’s not bad right? There may not be a guidance counselor holding you accountable (read: stalking you in homeroom), but you can totally handle this. Choosing appropriate references and maintaining open communication with them is going to be key for strengthening your job candidacy, long-term professional contacts, and ultimately taking that leap into the “real world.”