Why We Need to Empower Students to Just Say “No”

By Deborah Federico posted 06-19-2018 07:42


Recently, I was walking across the campus of UMass Boston when a student eagerly approached me and asked if she could speak with me. I told her that I had some time and brought her into my office. It turned out that this senior had unknowingly applied for a scam position and was concerned because the employer was asking her to come in for an interview on a Friday night at a residential address. After some Internet investigation, I discovered that this was indeed a scam employer involved in a pyramid scheme. Good for this student for having the intuitive sense and confidence to say “no” to the interview.

Unfortunately, the scenario above isn’t always the norm. I remember working with a student who was interning for a financial planner who made her take his financial certification exams. As a bright and dutiful student who was taught by our career services staff to do whatever it takes to be successful in an internship, she believed that this was all part of being a good intern. Then he started to verbally abuse her. Not once during this period of abuse did she think to contact our office, but told us after the fact when she returned for the fall semester.

Those of us who work in career services are constantly coaching our students on how to be the very best candidate and the very best employee—to do whatever it takes to impress recruiters, hiring managers, and supervisors. But are they taking this advice too literally? What we may not be teaching them is how to feel empowered to just say “no” to a recruiter who is trying to make them take a job that they really don’t want….to an interview for a position that they’re really not interested in….to acquiescing to the inappropriate demands of a supervisor. This is particularly relevant for international students whose cultures would not permit it and for first generation, new immigrant students who may not feel empowered enough.

Students, just starting out in their professional careers, are young and vulnerable and naïve. That’s why it is up to us as counselors and coaches to incorporate the idea of student empowerment into our counseling appointments and workshops—to help students learn how to listen to and trust their own intuition—if it doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t. Rather than just espousing career advice, we should take the time to ask the student what they think, how they feel about things, as a way to show them that their opinions are equally as valid as ours and to get them to feel stronger about their own decision-making ability. I often encourage my students to challenge or disagree with the advice I’m giving them in order to help them trust their own instincts.

I’ll end with a success story. One of the seniors I am working with kept getting interviews for HR positions because her experience had been in HR. However, she was a marketing major and wanted a marketing position. I coached her on how to say “no” to the HR interviews in a polite and diplomatic way and was so proud of her when she had the courage to do so. We then worked on repositioning her resume for a marketing role. The other day she came into my office wearing a huge smile, and she gave me an appreciative hug for giving her “the hope” to pursue her true career dream.

With the recent worldwide attention on the “me too” movement, I believe the time is right to empower our students to just say “no” even in relatively minor situations so that they learn early on how to advocate for themselves in any situation.

NACE College Members: Share this information with your students through a student-directed article, Why Saying No Can Be a Good Thing in Your Career, in NACEWeb's Grab & Go.