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Become an Assertive Job Seeker

New Professionals and Graduate Students
July 21, 2020 Dave Eng

Being an assertive job seeker can be incredibly difficult. Especially if you’re just starting out in the student affairs job search. However, being assertive in the process – particularly when it comes to salary negotiation – can yield a candidate greater benefits down the line. But what does it mean to be assertive? How can job seekers be assertive without being “pushy?” What are some challenges with candidates asserting themselves during the job search? How can those challenges be addressed?

What does it mean to be assertive?

Sometimes assertiveness gets a bad rap because people think that someone is pushy or self-centered. However, being assertive means providing a specific and balanced interaction with another individual.

Being assertive means that you’re willing to stand up for yourself – but not at the expense of others. This can look like different things to different people in practice.  Being assertive can include saying “no” to additional committee work for the overworked student affair professional.  For a student affairs job seeker, being assertive means that you’re willing to state and ask for what you need. This is a job seeker who knows what they want – and what they can get – from their next position. Their goals could be for a greater starting salary, but it doesn’t have to be. Being assertive means sharing your needs. 

Reasons to be assertive

Oftentimes new job seekers are not assertive because they are shy or don’t want to “shake up” an already sensitive search process.  This often manifests itself by being uncomfortable in the presence of authority figures. This can often make these job seekers look less assertive.

Part of training yourself to be more assertive comes from two areas: confidence and preparedness.  Confidence stems from faith in your knowledge, background, skills, and abilities. Oftentimes this comes from years of experience in the field. But it can also come from having specific applicable knowledge in a functional area.

Assertiveness is within reach. Particularly for millennials and generation Z job seekers who are negotiating salaries for the first time. There is often a line between being assertive and being aggressive. Often that line can be crossed instantly and accidentally. But knowing when to be assertive to help your own position and when to be receptive to the other position will help student affairs professionals for the rest of their careers.

Steps towards becoming more assertive

Learning to be assertive in your career can be done. But it does take some practice. This is particularly relevant when negotiating a salary or compensation package in the student affairs job search. Part of being assertive is being prepared. That preparation means that you need to enter the negotiations knowing what you want to ask for. You can gain that information by researching salary levels prior to starting the negotiation process.

Have you practiced with a colleague? Good! You are ready to put your new assertive skills to the test in a real world example. One of the most effective ways to start is small. At the very beginning, ask if the institution has room to move with their compensation package. Asking this question early, politely, but assertively; will help you out later in the process.

You can do this by asking in a firm, smoothly flowing, and well modulated voice. This is the kind of voice that conveys sincerity and a dedication towards finding a mutually agreeable solution.

Here’s an example of a script that I’ve used in the past:

Talking to the hiring manager at the final stages of the student affairs job search:

“I’m incredibly excited for the opportunity to join the student affairs team at University College. I want to make sure that we can both come to an agreement on our final steps. Can you please let me know if there is room to move with the final offer? If, so what aspects of the compensation package are negotiable?”

Being assertive

When you are assertive you share your autonomy with your future employer. Your autonomy demonstrates that you are a strong and capable person who is here to bring value to the institution, office, and role.

If you found this helpful and need some additional tips on navigating the student affairs job search then check out the free eBook Getting Started in your Student Affairs Job Search available here.

Happy searching,

Dave Eng, EdD



Author: Dave Eng is an intellectual and creative educator, designer, and researcher.  He has extensive higher education experience working in student affairs, administration, and the faculty. His accolades include the books On Campus Interview: A Student Affairs Guide: Insider tips for Mastering the Final Round and *Other Duties as Assigned: Student Affairs on Semester at Sea; an interview by the New York Times on serving “Suitcase Schools;” as well presenting and speaking at over 20 different academic and professional conferences. Dave serves as a faculty member & educational technologist at New York University’s School of Professional Studies. Dave hosts the podcast The Student Affairs Job Search and advises student affairs professionals with their career development at the Job Hakr. His interests include professional development, learning theory, technology, and games. Find out more at www.davengdesign.com


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