Captain Obvious: Do What You Want to Be

by Staff - Original publish date: February 11, 2015

There are times when negotiating your salary can be a multi-layered and complicated process. I’ve seen jobseekers juggling three or more offers, playing companies off of each other, stalling for time, and getting counter-offers to counter-offers like a circus performer spinning plates. Other deals can get complex quickly when you start to weigh the choice between a sure-thing salary, potential bonuses, and long-shot/high-upside stock options. And then there are the situations that have nearly everything in play: compensation, bonuses, equity, job title, relocation costs, vacation time, start date, health care, and expense accounts.

On the other hand is Captain Obvious. Someone has been at his job for years, feels underpaid, has been working harder than anyone else in the department, is bringing in real results, is dying to be included on an upcoming project, and yet hasn't received a raise or promotion in two years. He's frustrated, confused, and doesn't know why it has to be that way. So I ask this incredibly complex and earth-shattering question:

“Have you asked?”

They respond, “Wha… what do you mean?”

“You haven’t received a pay increase. You love your job. You’re kicking butt. You’re making the company a ton of money. You know you’re underpaid in relation to the market. Have you actually sat down and asked your boss for a raise?”

It’s amazing how often the answer is no -- they weren’t doing the most obvious task to reach their goal.

I was reminded of this in terms of the job search at an event recently. I got to meet dozens of young jobseekers trying to secure their first position. I was there to help them with negotiation, but I quickly found myself offering career advice to make sure they even got to that point (you can’t negotiate without an offer).

One person told me that their goal was to be a writer or editor. So my next question was excitedly saying, “Great! I’m a writer as well. So… do you have a website? Are you blogging? What are you writing right now?” I was caught off guard to hear they were doing none of those things.

A short time later, someone told me that they really loved event planning. That’s definitely the type of job they wanted. So I said, “Very cool! I actually run a little conference on the side myself, it’s a blast. What about you? I’m guessing you’re the person that organizes trips for all your friends, right? Do you have any events that you run now? Do you have a book club or meetup group or networking happy hour that you put together on a regular basis?” Once again the person got uncomfortable and stared down at their shoes without an answer.

Lastly, I found myself speaking with a talkative, outgoing, friendly person. She said her goal was to work for a media company and some day be an on-air personality. You can see where this is going. I thought she’d be perfect for that role, so I held my breath and asked, “So, are you doing anything like that now? You must have a YouTube channel or podcast or constantly be making quick videos on your phone to post on Facebook or have some other creative outlet to share your personality, right?” Strike 3.

My take-away couldn’t be more obvious.

  • If you want to be a writer, you should be writing. A lot. (And reading).
  • If you want to be on camera, you should be making videos.
  • If you want to work in event planning, plan some events.
  • If you want to work in non-profit and give back, volunteer.
  • If you want to be a designer, you should have a website, a portfolio, and have so many designs that you’ve done in the past 6 months that it’s painful to select just a few of the best to display.

There was a great thread on reddit that ties in pretty well to this topic.

A man wrote in to say he was having a heated debate with his wife. They had worked really hard, saved well, and promised to pay for their daughter’s college education. His daughter was now looking at schools and announced that she wanted to pursue a film degree.

His concern was that they would be paying $60,000-$70,000 toward a major where she’ll have an extremely hard time getting employed. He genuinely wanted the best for his daughter, but doesn’t want her to think they’ll simply take care of her if things don’t work out. He also wants to be on the same page with his wife, who says she’d be livid if he refused to front the money for their daughter’s education. What should he do?

The comments that ensued were insightful and passionate. Some focused on the ridiculous cost of education these days. Some said that he needed to keep his promise no matter what. Some said he had every right to give input since it was his money. A debate grew between those advocating, “follow your passion” vs. “be realistic.”

However, I thought the best piece of advice was from the user “stibera,” a college counselor at an art school that took the time to reply with a 1,000 word response, echoing the main theme people had brought up, which was:

“Does your daughter show a true passion for film?”

He asked, “Has your daughter made any of her own films? Is she expressing strong interest in the technology and philosophies around filmmaking? Does she watch films and show a desire to want to understand its history?”

In other words, does she watch films whenever she can … not as an ordinary teenager, but with a director’s eye and appreciation. Does she have her own video camera and gear? Does she care about things like audio quality and lighting? Is she spending every weekend creating short films, honing her work, and showing that creativity on YouTube? Is she a film nerd, constantly quoting from movies and pointing out script inconsistencies in bad romantic comedies? Does she have a strong opinion between lav mics and shotgun mics?

If that’s why she wants to be a film major, then he can feel a little bit better about her choice of major.

His suggestion and advice:

“If she's just interested in putzing around with a camera, spend $6k, not $60k, and buy her a nice camera, let her take a gap year and travel and play around with her fancy new technology. She'll figure it out one way or the other that way. If she's an engaged child who shows a passion for film, $60k in the right place could help launch a successful career for her.”

So in other words, if she’s choosing film because “it seems cool” or she “likes going to movies,” he should think twice.

User StegasaurusTom added, “It's win/win/win. If she bums around and wastes the opportunity then she has no one to blame but herself and you don't waste your money. If she really takes advantage of it then she'll have great experience and even more passion. Ultimately this puts the ball in her court and I'd be willing to bet that the majority of film/art students would have killed for this opportunity.”

So will doing what you feel you’re meant to do at age 18 or 21 or even 41 guarantee that you’ll be good at it, it will lead to more job offers, and the potential to negotiate a higher salary? No. There are millions of people that choose a major and end up doing something completely different in their career.

But in an age when starting a blog or recording a video or planning an event with friends is essentially free, there’s no reason not to. Isn’t that obvious?