“Playing it cool” is a time-honored game that seems to be a consistent mating ritual whether reading Shakespearian plays, watching the 80s Brat Pack, or analyzing a millennial’s Tinder habits. And yet, while being aloof may work out well at a bar or fraternity house, we’ve seen similar mental models in how young job seekers look at their first opportunity at significant risk.
Recently, we became aware of a motivated student whose dream job was to work for a venture capital firm (a difficult prospect for anyone, nevermind someone 0-2 years out of college). He followed Vocate’s suggested pathway to make himself qualified and was in a good position to get the job. Finally, the VC firm tells him they’re planning to make him an offer and he replies, “Great. I’m very pleased and look forward to reviewing the offer letter.”
When we spoke to the student he said, “I heard from upper-classmen that you should play it cool on the offer.” Now, this isn’t fatal, and we’ve heard a lot worse post-offer behavior (e.g. a student who began asking all the questions he should’ve asked earlier and we had to talk an employer off the ledge from pulling his offer). That said, he’s likely just shot himself in the foot. Most likely, he’s killed a small amount of the momentum and goodwill he has entering the company (where succeeding right away is the goal and first impressions are critical). In some cases, companies will change their minds (contrary to popular belief, offer letters are often broken, verbal offers even more frequently).
The reason I’m bringing this up is because we frequently see entry-level candidates who have mental models that employers should “recruit” them. Even the name, “recruiting” is a misnomer, implying that the companies think of the students like prize athletes.
The reality is that companies want the geeky kid who tries way too hard to impress, buying flowers and calling all the time. Employers see very little differentiation amongst entry-level candidates, and there are 20M students in the US. They want to know that the person coming into their organization really wants to be there and is going to have a great attitude, be a positive culture fit, and is going to work extremely hard.
Pretending that you have options isn’t going to move the needle on your offer. Most employers have a set compensation for junior people and you’re probably not skilled enough to successfully navigate the negotiation anyway. More importantly, one of the best pieces of career advice I got early in my career (which I ignored) was “what you make early on does not matter; it’s all a rounding error in the long-run.”
If you’re looking to get an offer from an employer, pretending like you’ve got other options could cause them to think that they won’t get you and it’s not worth the investment to interview/sell you. They also might think that you’re not that interested.
We frequently get the question, “should we follow up?” The answer to that question is always yes. Persistence is a virtue and shows interest. There’s no downside to that and often you can sway an opinion. In my first job, the employer told me he waited until I followed up three times before calling me back.
Now, this doesn’t mean that all you learned in college around attraction rituals is false. Later in life, when the balance of power is more equal or in your favor, the old rules will apply. I’ve heard fundraising accurately described as “middle school dating,” for example. That said, for the purposes of your first job search, it’s ok to be the dorky kid holding roses and chocolates rather than the cool kid in the corner.