Nobody buys a car like my dad. Actually, I take that back. LOTS of people buy cars like my dad. They’re called “savvy” or “informed consumers.”

After my brother and I graduated from college, my dad got the chance to buy his first “splurge” car. It would be all his, none of us would drive it. He poured over dog-eared issues of Road and Track, Car and Driver, and Automobile. This was before the Internet. He knew how the new models fared in rankings and performance comparisons. He referred to Consumer Reports for reliability and Edmunds for pricing. He even thumbed through Popular Mechanics to see how the turbos and new sound systems worked.

When he finally went to the dealership, he knew more about the car he wanted than most of the sales staff! He knew the exact model he wanted, the options he’d pay for (don’t sell me no stinking wheel well protective coating!), the total price he’d pay, and how he’d finance it. By taking time to look for information he was a knowledgeable negotiator.

Recently, I met with two students on separate occasions who didn’t understand this concept. Both came in to see if we could “negotiate” the requirements of my class. Both used that word, both thought they could be charming and get out of doing a required class activity. Both were wrong because both were woefully uninformed.

The first started his negotiation by reminding me of all the “popular people” he’s worked with at our school.  Because of his association with all these people and his accumulated awesome-ness, would I reconsider making him do things that I require of all students to develop their career? Son, I have never been one of the popular kids. So telling me how popular you are because of the cool kids you run with is kind of like telling me that you’re better than me. Kind of a stick in the eye. Not a good negotiating tactic.

The second student was not as obnoxious, but also ill-informed. He too wanted to negotiate. He works full time and also felt that the activities I’m asking students to do are of no benefit to him. He has a job. A job he’d like to keep. Why would he do things to find a “new” job?

In both cases the students failed to actually read the requirements of the assignment. They didn’t take the time to go through the information provided the way my father read through the data on his car choices. In both cases, had the students read the Activity List, for example, they would have seen activities for entrepreneurs and working professionals as well as traditional students seeking an entry-level job. Things both of them could do to secure additional resources, connections, and experience. They would have also seen that I welcome activity suggestions from students if they don’t see something that exactly meets their needs.

In this case, the Activity List is like a menu. And if you’ve ever dined out with a picky eater you know that orders can be modified. That’s ok. As long as you can justify how the activity benefits your career, I will usually be accommodating. It’s up to you to select activities that benefit you and complete them in a way that accomplishes your career goals. What doesn’t work is if you just come in armed with assumptions. Trust me, I used to work in the car business. If you go to a dealership and negotiate from a position of ignorance, they’re gonna take ALL your money!

To avoid being ridiculed, harassed, or fleeced, I recommend the “rule of three.” Before asking for help, look in at least three places to find an answer to your question/problem:

  1. Read the documents I’ve given you and watch the videos I prepared for you. Yes, they are long. So are service manuals and operational instructions. But that’s because they are full of information. I could write your syllabus on a gum wrapper, but then you’d be ill-informed.
  2. Look at the Discussions in Webcourses. Your GTAs have posted a “FAQs” discussion and others may have asked the question you’re asking. My son is a Computer Science student who frequents programming forums. There’s an ongoing thread on 4chan’s /g/ board titled “Stupid Questions.” You should see how they flame people who ask questions that are already covered! Take a few minutes to read before you ask.
  3. Review the resources I provide. If you have a question about a Career Services event, for example, try reading the Career Services website. Same thing for Experiential Learning, Blackstone Launch Pad and the community groups I reference. When all else fails, Google it!

If you think your boss, clients, and investors are going to hold your hand, you are sorely mistaken. Learn to find answers on your own by doing a little research before you ask. And by all means, don’t think you are going to successfully negotiate if you don’t do your research ahead of time.  For example, anyone who looked at some of my past blogs (, would see that even my taste in music isn’t very popular…