A New Genre

In addition to continuing my writing consulting education, I also work to broaden my application. For example, late last year, I transposed my skills onto consulting in a more exotic genre. I added Bride’s Maid’s Speech to my repertoire even though it is a rhetorical act I could never nor would ever deliver. Now I am officially adding job negotiation consulting to my repertoire.

My first opportunity to conduct such a session came last Spring. Even though we were on the back-side of the first wave, the Writing Center offices weren’t yet opened. But rather than having the now-standard online session, this was a rare face to face meeting. Therefore, I was conducting the session at my dining room table.

The student had just barely graduated. She’d been going into her final two semesters last fall and briefly considered deferring a year. As Covid 19 raged across the globe, it was clear the University would be unwilling hold in-person classes but merely continue offering everything online. She was concerned that another two semesters without in-class, instructor-led teaching might not be worth the effort, so she’d floated the idea of taking a year off. “You’re so close to the end!” one friend exclaimed. “You might as well get it done now” she insisted. The student was convinced. Despite the temptation to quit, she’d powered through and had now come out the other side with a degree in Biological Sciences.

She was on short time working as a lab assistant for the USDA but . The position would close at the end of Summer. The job was never really designed to be a full-time benefited position anyway. Rather, it existed to leverage low-cost student labor while also giving them professional experience. Now that she wouldn’t be a student in the Fall, she no longer really qualified, so she was job hunting.

I was pleased when she scheduled the appointment and said she had an offer in-hand, but quite surprised at how she opened the session. “I’m not going to accept it” she said flatly. To her mind, she explained, this was merely the first full time benefitted position to which she’d applied and it was still only late Spring. She would have months before her options would begin to dwindle. “I just want an analysis of the offer.”

I was delighted. This put her in a position of real power. “That is the perfect attitude to have when opening negotiations,” I told her. If she was ready to walk away, she could ask for aggressive concessions without fear of putting them off.

“But I don’t want the job” she responded. Apparently, there was some website with former employees dishing the company. This had soured her on the idea of working for them. I was unconvinced.

“They’re disgruntled employees” I told her. “Nobody who leaves on good terms goes onto websites like that” I assured her. “It is a self-selective poll of negative feelings.” Getting back to the offer, I said “this company might be a good place to work.” Trying to get the session back on track, I asked “what don’t you like about the offer itself?”

“I don’t like the hours” she said. She went on to elaborate how the shifts were eleven hours long, four days a week, followed by two days off, regardless of weekends. “In whatever job I have, I want regular hours aligned with the work week,” she explained, “and I want my weekends free.” In technical terms, that was her interest.

“Well,” I replied thoughtfully, “you could ask for the hours you like.” She was silent. Contrary to what one might think, silence is golden in a consulting session. It is the span of time during which the student is thinking carefully. I let the silence stretch until just before it became awkward. I asked her what hours she might prefer.

She snapped back “I want First Shift, Monday through Friday and weekends off.” I was delighted. She knew exactly what she wanted. If she could say it like that in a negotiation, I knew there would be no arguing with her.

“What about the money,” I asked.

“It’s not enough,” she replied.

 “How much are they offering” I asked. The student came back with a number. “You can always ask for more money” I assured her, “but you’d better have a good reason. That’ll make your position stronger. A benefitted position comes with a healthcare package, part of which is paid by the employer and part by the employee” I explained. “You could ask for a higher wage sufficient to cover your share of the benefits.” That required us to do an analysis of the benefits package. She brought out her phone and pulled up the fine print. As we huddled together over the tiny screen, I realized this was no way to conduct a proper study.

“Let’s look at this on the big screen,” I suggested. We then moved to the downstairs TV room. I brought the wide-screen online and she put the phone on air-play. Projecting the document made combing through the fine print much easier.

It was really quiet a good benefits package. We walked through healthcare, vision, and dental benefits, calculated her share and annualized it. We then came up with an hourly figure and rounded up to the nearest dollar. That gave her a number for which she could ask with both authority and knowledge, even if she didn’t feel like explaining herself. Her interest grew. “Pick up a pen and start writing” I recommended. She began taking notes.

“Are they offering a hiring bonus,” I asked casually, looking for more points on which to negotiate. Indeed, there was: $500. “That’s pretty standard,” I said dismissively, “If you’re serious about negotiating, ask for a bigger bonus. You’re worth more than a few hundred dollars.” That seemed to catch more of her attention. “You might could even ask them to double it” I said offhandedly.

“Could I ask for a position in a different department,” she asked thoughtfully. She was now taking a real interest. She could feel her power and was ready to push the limits.

“I’d save that for last” I offered. It was the same thing as simply asking for a different job, without actually having to apply. That was edgy. Even I wasn’t sure one could get away with it in this job market. The student was out ahead of me. This was going to be a negotiation she really owned.

By the time we were done, she’d written down four solid negotiating points and was ready for her meeting. The offer had come with 24 hours for her to decide. She’d asked for a meeting to discuss the offer 23 hours later, giving herself a full day to consider her options. She was actually consulting with me eight hours into the window.

I tried not to think about her meeting the next day. She would do what she wanted to do. It is the same with all students. You can only do so much to help them improve their document and hopefully become a better writer, speaker, or negotiator. In the end, it was up to them to perform or not. The following day she came by the house to tell me the results.

I watched her closely as we made ourselves comfortable at the dinner table, taking the same positions as we had in the earlier session. I was looking for any indication of how the call went, but her face was blank. She wasn’t giving anything away.

She set the scene. She was at her home when she took the call. “Right at the start, I asked the hiring manager if the offer was negotiable” I winced inwardly. One doesn’t really ask permission to negotiate. It is another way one unintentionally gives away power. The employer, if they don’t want to negotiate, can simply say no, and that would be the end.

The student continued in her contralto “the hiring manager said … ‘yes.’” I was so ready for her to report a ‘no’ that I didn’t immediately understand what she was telling me. I asked for her to repeat herself. I started to get my hopes up.

“I first asked for regular hours,” she continued. “The hiring manger took a bit to consider, and said “we could make that work.”” That was a good moment. The student’s opening position was accepted without argument or counter.

The student says with a deliberately flat voice, “I then asked for more money, specifying the dollar about we discussed.” Don’t ever play poker with this one, I thought. She gives nothing away by word or deed. Not even the faintest smile crossed her lips as she reported the hiring manger saying, “I think we can do that.” Another position accepted without counter or complaint.

“I asked if there was a higher bracket for the hiring bonus” she said, without giving anything away. “The manager then said that, yes, there actually was a thousand-dollar bracket that wasn’t currently being funded, but she would look into bumping her up into the higher category.” That makes three for three. The student was getting everything she asked for. Her theory of the world, that she was valuable, was being validated and confirmed on all positions of her experiment.

Finally, the student asked if there were any openings in other departments for which she might be a better fit. The hiring manger said she’d see what she could find, that there was a position opening up at the higher pay and regular hours anyway, and the call was over. At every point, the student had acquired what she was looking for.

“Write that up into another offer,” the student reported saying, “and I’ll consider it.” Just like that, negotiations had been opened, positions taken, and at all points, interests satisfied. I’m definitely adding negotiations to my suite of consulting genres.

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