Six-figure salary? There’s a class for that.

September 24, 2019

By Nikole Ottolia

WASHINGTON⁠, D.C. — As SAIS students settle into the joys of economics problem sets and language proficiency training this fall semester, our contemporaries at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (HKS) are diving into, “Fundamentals of Negotiation Analysis.” Taught by Professor Brian Mandell, who has been teaching public policy, international conflict resolution and negotiation for 30 years, the course is known for having an intense pace and heavy workload. He begins the first class each year with a statement: “I am going to teach you how to negotiate your way to a six-figure salary.”  

The statement highlights the culture at HKS, where the importance of graduating students into high salaried positions remains a top priority. All HKS students are required to take the course during their first semester at school, where typical programs require two years of study.  “It’s one of the most difficult classes because it’s a huge time commitment. You meet twice a week, once for lecture and Tuesday evenings for case study role plays,” explains Pedro Armelin, a Master in Public Policy candidate, HKS ’20. “But it’s super rewarding in the end.” 

However, there is more to the course than salary negotiation. In addition to an introduction to negotiation analysis and bargaining, the course includes weekly exercises covering real life case studies with topics ranging from dealing with piracy of U.S. intellectual property to the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the JCPOA). “The case studies are the real beauty of the class because they are actually historical cases, and we [the class] are broken up into teams and have to decide what we would do in that situation,” Armelin went on to explain. “All of the HKS first years have to take the course—no matter if they were expert negotiators before coming to Harvard or not. At the end of the term, Professor Mandell meets with each student individually to discuss how each of us can move forward.”

This is not to say that SAIS is lacking negotiation courses; on the contrary, the Conflict Management Department offers several such classes including “International Bargaining and Negotiation,” taught by Professor Sinisa Vukovic, which has a comparable syllabus to its Harvard counterpart. What is striking about the Harvard model is that all HKS students are required to take the course. While HKS also uses a bid point system for class selection, all first-year students are enrolled in “Fundamentals of Negotiation Analysis” automatically; whereas at SAIS, non-priority students needed to bid a minimum of 500 points to squeeze into “International Bargaining and Negotiation” this semester.  

Should SAIS institute a school wide negotiation course that all students must take to graduate? Matt Eiss, a Latin American Studies concentrator graduating in 2020, agrees, “It’s a very useful skill to provide students—and to make it mandatory, that’s key.” Meanwhile, others cite the fact that many students come to SAIS in order to focus on economics and the specialization of their choice, while negotiation skills are something they have already acquired or feel they have no need to study. As for HKS’ Armelin, the skills he honed while taking “Fundamentals of Negotiation Analysis” assisted with negotiating the terms of his housing lease for this academic year. What’s next for him? That six-figure salary, no doubt.