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Why college students should study salary negotiation

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LISTEN: All college students should learn to negotiate a salary before graduation

I have often lamented the fact that I was not taught in college the basics of salary negotiation. Everyone who graduates college should learn this crucial skill.

But after a recent radio rant on the topic, I got an email from a student at the University of Washington telling me that she took a negotiation class at the UW’s Foster School of Business taught by Christina Fong. Fong told me it’s common for business students around the globe to learn negotiation skills.

“The negotiation courses I teach are elective courses,” Fong said. “They are not required. So probably about 50 percent of the MBA students take this class and the most common comment I receive at the end of the course is: this should be a required course.”

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It’s important for women to learn the art of negotiating, especially when it comes to salary negotiation.

“There’s a gender difference that is really clear,” Fong said. “Most women, when they receive a job offer, they feel like they want to make sure that the company recognizes that they’re really grateful and happy and they don’t want to seem like they’re asking for too much. There’s a lot of discomfort with engaging in a salary negotiation. So a lot of what we talk about is building up the skills to get comfortable with asking.”

She says confidence is key.

“I think particularly for people who were born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, there is a real fear of being told ‘no,'” Fong said. “One of the exercises that my students do, that I think they get the most out of, is an exercise called Collecting Nos. They have one week where they are required to have 10 different people say no to them. That exercise is incredibly scary for some of our students because for some of them they’ve never been told ‘no’ by anyone. It’s part of being a good negotiator. How am I going to respond to no? Am I going to leave it? Am I going to push for more? And that takes practice.”

This exercise ranges from asking someone for an informational interview to asking your cable company for a lower rate to asking someone out on a date.

Beyond salary negotiation

Fong also brings in guest lecturers throughout the year, including a Seattle Police hostage negotiator.

“He talks about the different types of tactics that the police department uses when there are negative situations where emotions are running high. I think one of the interesting things is to be able to see the ways in which the work that he’s doing is not so different than the work an MBA would be doing sitting around a conference table negotiating over a merger and acquisition when it’s something people have really strong emotions about.”

Fong encourages people to negotiate beyond salary. To think about what would really make you happy in regards of what kind of work you want to do. And express all of this to an employer. But remember, if you do low ball yourself on salary, and don’t negotiate, it could take years to dig yourself out of that hole.

“One of the things I always tell my students is this is something that is going to help you do better in business, but it also helps you in all the aspects of your life. Whether it’s negotiating with your spouse or with your kids or with a waiter at a restaurant. All of those kinds of things.”

I checked with the UW to see if any other departments offer negotiation classes. It looks like the career center and Information School both offer a couple workshops a year. But I couldn’t find another course like Fong teaches.

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