The Ruse of the Unemployment Numbers

US UnemploymentHungry? Imagine being served your multi-course dinner by a Ph. D. in Pharmacology, or getting your burrito delivered by an experienced human resources professional. Both of these scenarios are very real. Both of these individuals, one a friend, the other an acquaintance, lost jobs due to economic downturns at their respective organizations and both have taken jobs, simply to pay the bills, while they seek out new opportunities in their chosen professions.

Both of these individuals are examples of many that have succumbed to a massive, but hidden, problem called underemployment. Watching falling unemployment numbers now being reported below 6%, down from nearly 10% four years earlier is, in many ways, simply misleading.

I believe it was Mark Twain who quipped, “statistics are like an alienist; they can work for either side.” The ‘official’ unemployment rate (technically called U3) is a simple and broad measurement that divides the number of people who are not working, want to work, and have been actively applying for jobs by the sum of the people working and those loosely defined as unemployed. In doing so, today, you get a number that’s just below 6% as stated above. While many seem to accept this as THE measurement of employment health, this is merely one measurement though; The unemployment rate can be calculated using a variety of differently ‘useful’ parameters and the U3 rate leaves out many that should be included as they are in the U6 statistic (see below).

With the Fed preparing to raise interest rates as soon as they believe the labor market is strong enough, determining that strength is difficult. But one fact everyone should be able to reasonably agree on is that the ‘official’ unemployment rate does not even attempt, and can’t really, measure the actual strength or health of the labor market exemplified by the openly known fact that Fed Chair Janet Yellen looks at a “dashboard” of at least nine labor market indicators!

Thus, lots of people who are unemployed by many reasonable definitions may not count as such, depending on the metrics used, in the official government statistic. In fact, using the government’s own definition, workers who are discouraged or marginally attached to the labor market do not count in the official unemployment rate. There are different, broader, unemployment measures available, but they do not get the headlines.

In fact, of the over 90 million Americans 16 years old or older that are not working, hence not part of the equation, fall into several categories: retirees, stay-at-home parents, students, and those who would prefer working but have given up on finding a job. Policy makers have been reduced to making educated guesses about the relative size of each subgroup of those not working because the capture of the actual numbers is speculative at best, and then their potential to reenter the labor market as conditions improve remains in question too.

Despite the significant decrease in the official U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) unemployment rate, the ‘real’ unemployment rate is most likely over double that approaching near 13%. This number, which is a better portrait of the nation’s REAL economic health, reflects the government’s U-6 report, which accounts for the full unemployment picture, and this includes those that are marginally attached (describes individuals not currently in the labor force who wanted and were available for work)to the labor force, plus those “employed part time for economic reasons.” In July, this marginally attached group accounted for 2.2 million people. To put that in perspective, there are currently 16 states in the U.S. with populations smaller than 2.2 million. Another number, large in and of itself is the 741,000 discouraged workers – workers not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them. These are included within the list of marginally attached people. Another 7.5 million were not considered unemployed because they were employed part-time for economic reasons. Those people are also called involuntary part-time workers – working part-time because their hours were cut back or because they were unable to secure a full-time job.

Unemployment is really a measure of labor market disequilibrium; it measures the mismatch between employers’ demand for labor of various types and workers’ willingness and ability to supply that labor. Unemployment that is “too high” or “too low” in aggregate, or in specific job categories, is really about these mismatches, not the overall health of the labor market.

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Don’t suffer the mistake of incorrect word usage on your resume!

0076-everyday-wordsToo often, I’m reading documents (and sadly, articles on-line); resumes, cover letters and/or college essays, seeing some confusion around some of the issues of proper word usage. Commonly, the mistakes I am seeing typically involve words that are similar sounding in nature, but actually different in definition and/or homonyms, words that sound the same but provide a different context in their use. These mistakes, simple oversights really, immediately reduce the credibility of said reading and, particularly, when it is in the construction of a resume/cover letter, it can be a death-knell for its chances on the author’s behalf.

For some simple clarity and an attempt to help those in the midst of constructing some important writings, I have outlined some examples below that can help your writing make a positive statement!

There are more, many more in fact, to consider, this really just being a primer to get one thinking about grammar when making a written presentation when it counts!

Too, to and two – Sure, they all sound the same, but they are different! “Too” is used when you are including something or someone. For example, “I would like one too.” “May I come too?” If you can substitute the word ‘also,’ then ‘too’ is the right option. “To” tends to be a destination or an action. “I’m going TO the park.” “I need TO get the dog.” Finally, “two” is numerically relevant. “I have TWO dollars with me.” “I need TWO hundred pieces of paper. Easy rule of thumb, if it’s inclusive; “too.” If it’s a destination or action; “to.” If it’s quantifiable; “two.”

Till and ‘til – The word “Till” can be used as a transitive verb or a noun. “I need to TILL the garden” and “put the cash in the TILL” are examples. Whereas “’til” is a truncated or shortened substitute for ‘until.’ If meant to say ‘until’ and shortening, then it is “’til.”

Adverse and averse – Adverse meaning harmful or unfavorable: “Adverse weather conditions canceled the trip.” Averse refers to feelings of dislike or opposition: “I was averse to the idea of paying $400 for a ticket to see U2!”

Affect and effect – Affect is a word of influence: “Aaron’s inclusion in the soccer match can affect the team’s performance.” Effect means to accomplish something or an outcome: “Aaron’s goal was effective in securing the win.” Use effect if you’re making it happen, and affect if you’re having an impact on something that someone else is trying to make happen.

Bring and take – Both have to do with objects you move or carry with the difference being in the point of reference. For example, you “bring” things here and you “take” them there. You ask something to be brought to you. You ask someone to take something to someone or somewhere else.

Compliment and complement – “Compliment” means to say something nice to someone as in ‘pay them a compliment.’ “Complement” means to add to, enhance, improve, complete, or bring close to perfection.

Criterion and criteria – One is “criterion,” two or more is “criteria.” Pretty simple in that the former is in the singular and the latter, plural.

Discreet and discrete – “Discreet” meaning careful, cautious and/or showing good judgment while “discrete” means individual, separate, or distinct.

Elicit and illicit – “Elicit” means to draw out or coax whereas “Illicit” means illegal or unlawful.

Farther and further – “Farther” involves a physical distance whereas “further” involves a figurative distance or goal to be met.

Fewer and less – Use “fewer” when referring to items you can count or quantify, like fewer hours or fewer dollars. Use “less” when referring to items you aren’t necessarily quantifying as in less ability or less time.

Imply and infer – The speaker or writer “implies,” which means to suggest. The listener or reader “infers,” which means to deduce. Whether correctly or not is another issue.

Insure and ensure – This one’s easy. “Insure” refers to insurance. “Ensure” means to make sure.

Regardless and irregardless – Simple here too. “Regardless” means without regard or respect to/for something. “Irregardless is NOT a word but, sadly, has started to appear in some dictionaries as a slang mis-usage of ‘regardless.’ “Irregardless” has, wrongly, become an amalgam of “regardless” and “irrespective.” One can pretty much use regardless or irrespective synonymously, but “irregardless” just doesn’t cut it! For those on the receiving end, it can really cloud their impression of your speaking/writing ability.

Precede and proceed – “Precede” means to come before. “Proceed” means to begin or continue.

Principle and principal – A “principle” is a fundamental. “Principal” means primary or of first importance.

It’s and its – “It’s” is the contraction of ‘it is.’ If you are using the apostrophe, that means that you could substitute ‘it is’ appropriately and it isn’t in any ownership. Whereas “its” typically DOES mean ownership, for example “its color is blue.”

They’re, there and their – All sounding exactly the same but quite different in context. “They’re” is the contraction for ‘they are.’ “There” is a destination or an action. “Their” refers to ownership. Here’s an example of all three in the same (rough) sentence; ‘we are hoping “they’re” home early as we planned on meeting “there,” so they can show us “their” new house in the woods.’

Who’s and whose – “Who’s” is a contraction of ‘who is’ whereas “whose” typically refers to ownership.

You’re and your – Once more, “you’re” is the contraction of ‘you are’ while using “your” means you own it.

There you have it! Some ideas on what to watch out for and be thinking of when you’re constructing anything it writing, but especially when putting together important documents such as a resume and cover letter for employment consideration. Proper grammar, all things being equal, can be a determining factor in your candidacy! Good luck!

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How to Best Use the Holidays in your Job Search!

Hiring During the Holidays

Hiring During the Holidays

There is a common misconception that hiring is to fall off during the holidays. Where in reality, it can be a time of the year when chances of getting recognized by a prospective employer are actually better odds for the active job-seeker. Finding success during this time of year requires, perhaps, a slightly different set of skills or techniques, but for those that embrace it, the New Year could ring you in on somebody’s payroll!

But, many wonder, if the holidays are such a great time to find work, why don’t more job seekers take advantage? Actually, there’s a pretty simple answer to this. Many think that the hiring process is in a bit of a stall mode and that, combined with the many distractions of the holidays; family, get-together’s, shopping, seasonal festivities, etc., it’s easy to have the search be resigned to the back burner for a bit.

I mentioned a ‘different set of skills or techniques’ and what I am meaning by that is an individual who can persevere, shake off the ever-present seasonal blues and be flexible enough to quickly change tactics to address varying situations, will have better luck during the holidays in their quest to find employment.

Another factor that tends to help in the search during the holidays is that many seekers buy into the myth that hiring falls off so they’ve effectively removed themselves from the mix. Essentially, lessening the competition and bettering the odds for one who is active and motivated, as it opens up more opportunities for those that choose to be actively engaged.
Remember these five reasons why actively looking for work during the holidays and the New Year could ring in nicely:

Less competition

Not only do many potential candidates tone down their search during the holidays, some stop entirely. In addition, those with jobs already that are considering a career change will usually stay put into the New Year to make sure they receive bonuses, vacation time and whatever else they might be accruing throughout the year. For every person who takes a break or drops out of the search means one less you’d be in competition with.

Hiring managers are easier to reach

Hiring managers and decision makers, for the most part, are less likely to be traveling during or as the holidays approach. Instead, they may be ‘home-based’ focusing on wrapping up the year, finishing projects, attending year-end meetings with colleagues and all the obligatory holiday parties and gatherings that are constantly parodied in prime-time television.

The holiday spirit pervades

Let’s face it, everyone (most) is a little happier at the holidays as it seems a welcome distraction for many in the workforce, so leveraging that good-will can be made to your advantage when trying to get your foot in the door and meet prospective employers. A great time to really nurture your networks and keep yourself visible – contacts are often more available and willing to meet as the correlation in work demands slow down, helping turn short discussions into long-term opportunities.

Getting a jump on January and the New Year

People who are fortunate to be starting a new job in January really had been planting the seeds well before. Applying and interviewing for that job in December, November or even earlier? For organizations that are to review their staffing needs in January each year, you’ll have had a head start wth these opportunities and be at the ready in case a need arises quickly.

Avoiding ‘the rush’

The New Year is full of count-downs, lists – 10-Best’s, 100-Best’s, etc… All reminders to be starting fresh, ‘turn over a new leaf’ and all that. And while very true, it CAN be a great marker to be setting, or re-setting career goals, you, by being active, can beat all of those to the punch by maintaining your job search throughout the holiday season. You’ll be at the advantage and on board by the time others are making their first calls.

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The “(E)ssault” of the Extrovert!

IntrovertVsExtrovert1I write this post on a slight tangent from my norm, combined with a new and refined empathy with a long-time friend of mine, Bob McIntosh, who writes a blog called “Things Career Related.” Frequently, his entries are prompts or opinion leading to healthy debates about the differences between ‘introverts’ and ‘extroverts’ as related to the Myers-Briggs continuum. Bob has long taken the stand of needing to define, defend and promote the world from the introverts’ side of the spectrum reasoning the argument being that the world is essentially created, defined and facilitated by extroverts.

Whether true or not, this post is not intent (here) in debating about which side of the fence has the ‘healthier’ attributes, or is more competent or capable in the world of work. This would be better left to pundits and experts that are far more experienced and studied than I. But that now being said, it IS written, as stated above, with a new-found empathy on my part in understanding what Bob has long been authoring about the introvert/extrovert debate as the other day I was, for lack of a better word (so I’m making up my own), experiencing an “essault!”

A quick definition of introvert vs. extrovert will define the former as one who essentially likes to charge their batteries by retreating inward, into their head. A good book, some quiet time, walking, something not necessarily alone, but with the stimulus meter being dialed back a bit. The Myers-Briggs, the Holy Grail of personality definition and character trait, defines it as; “Introversion (I) – I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with. I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I’ll be doing when I decide to act. Ideas are almost solid things for me. Sometimes I like the idea of something better than the real thing.”

Whereas an extrovert, swinging the pendulum the other way, gets their recharge by talk, and I mean lots of it. Verbal engagement would be the key, and the need, to an extrovert’s indulgence.  Again, according to the Myers-Briggs; “Extraversion (E) – I like getting my energy from active involvement in events and having a lot of different activities. I’m excited when I’m around people and I like to energize other people. I like moving into action and making things happen. I generally feel at home in the world. I often understand a problem better when I can talk out loud about it and hear what others have to say.”

With definitions in place, recently I met, or rather was ‘essaulted’ by what can only be called, the poster-child of the extroverted side of the spectrum.

observe-more-than-you-knowSitting in a crowded cafe, I happened to have a table that still had some open real estate. With the available chair, a woman plonks down and says ‘hi.’ Staring into my laptop, writing, yet with a book available by my side, cover side-up, stating it’s intent with baited breath to be read. To many it might be obvious I’m in the middle of a task or two? I answer, saying ‘how are you?’ in return and go on with my writing.

That was a mistake; answering with an open-ended question as this was apparently taken to mean that I was wanting to know not just ‘fine’ or ‘not-so-fine,’ but everything.

Several weeks for the next hour, I was barraged, spoken at, ‘essaulted’ with such a flurry of words that I was dumbfounded! I had never seen such a thing nor experienced someone who simply just, to use a metaphor, ‘drops all their luggage in the hotel lobby!’ Every possible factoid of this person’s life that could be pried to fit within a one-hours’ time-frame! I heard all about her childhood. Her move to Massachusetts from Virginia and the Carolinas. The details of her divorce. The fact that her daughter is with her ex and ‘shouldn’t be.’ How the ex is such an a** and all of the facts, details and supporting evidence as to why. How her work has been so compromised and how, now carrying two jobs, as a PCA and a delivery person for Domino’s that she’s making ends meet while ‘on the way to her Ph. D. in something.’ Of course once she’s done with her associates’ degree! How her Jeep Liberty came about from her ex selling off the Honda Civic without her consent and getting a Dodge Ram pick-up. Not sure of the connection but she drives a Jeep Liberty.

Quickly, I could feel the pressure of the walls as the cafe seemed to be really closing in on me. My side of the table drew smaller and smaller. I was tempted in the earlier part of the completely unilateral ‘conversation’ to say something polite to properly euthanize what was to become an interminable event.  The internal dialogue begging, shouting actually, to say “Please SHUT the heck up! Can’t you see I’m doing something and not your sounding board?” But the external dialogue was, “that’s nice,” or “too bad,” etc. Surprisingly, I did nothing, as a sort of anthropological switch flipped and I became a bit curious to see, simply, how this would go if I were to let it play out to its organic end?

But on it went, and at one point within all the verbiage, a question from her court popped out. She asked “what am I doing?” As I started to answer, “I wear a few different hats and….” That was it.  She stomped on my response mid-sentence and interrupted saying she “has many hats too and that she wears them in support of her teams, etc.” Many of them are “actually in her Jeep Liberty so she can switch them up! Gotta support your team, you know!” With that, I tried to throw in that I meant ‘many hats’ in the metaphorical sense, but when I spoke it, like before, as my words were leaving my lips in an attempt to make it across the table, they were met with her verbal defense system being fully armed. Her arsenal of words carpet-bombing and obliterating my response like a thought bubble with a dart through it.  It never made it near the half-way point across the table and just crashed down looking like a collection of Scrabble letters.  I could as well have been talking to a house plant.  My words would have no audience with her.

So, there I sat, glassy eyed, bored, not really being able to intake or process any of the words being thrown my way. What most concerned me was that my dazed look, my glance bouncing off her forehead to other distant parts of the cafe, the fact that of the hour in total my inclusion in the ‘conversation’ could have been counted in syllables much less actual words, never seemed to register on her part in any way? Not one iota of content was needed from my side of the table and there was absolutely no measure on her part as to how her verbal mortaring was simply distributing shrapnel in my direction? When, after said hour, she FINALLY seemed to slow to catch her breath, I started to pack up and excused myself. I said “nice to meet you” and headed out on my way, quickly. I don’t think I’ve ever been so exhausted in my life compared to how I felt after fielding the time sitting across the table from this woman.

Bob, you’ve long argued, to paraphrase, ‘that it is the extrovert that runs the world while the introvert quietly maintains things behind the scenes.’  Bob, as a fellow introvert, I sympathize with you.  I empathize with you even. But, I disagree with you.  In my observations, the world is run by the introvert.  It may be ‘advertised’ and ‘marketed’ by the extrovert, but it is the introvert doing the planning, thinking, calculating, creating, reflecting and executing of how it is to move forth. The extrovert necessarily carries the bullhorn!

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Are College Students Prepared for Life?

In progress!  Check soon….

Seniors – Welcome Back to Campus!

Seniors: Are you ready?

Seniors: Are you ready?

Once again, as predictable as the earth’s rotation, the annual fall migration of students heading to/back to campus is now in full-swing! Like all seasonal happenings, it comes with tell-tale indications – Winter’s arrival told by that foreboding metallic taste in the air. Spring comes with relief from the long winter, blooms popping and the fragrant scents of ‘new-ness.’ Summer’s ‘official’ beginning being marked by the shrill buzz of the cicadas and the obligatory queue of beach traffic. Finally, fall announcing itself with cool winds, bursting colors, the evening clatter of katydids and… moving trucks!  For the nation’s campuses, fall also means newly erected directional signs, a litany of ads and postings for rooms/apartments to rent, lost parents asking for directions, and back-to-school sales on every channel, station, newspaper, with ads assaulting all one’s senses.

As this annual happening unfolds, for all college students, but seniors in particular, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. And with graduation now simply months away, I thought I’d compile a list of a few things that, as a senior, you might want to be thinking about as you’re beginning your final year of college!

You’ve most likely just come off the last summer where, going into it, you knew exactly what was to happen next; another year of school. But now, as a senior, uncertainty can be the rule as the summer of 2015 is waiting with a new and great ambiguity for the first time.

Addressing the unknown by being prepared, proactive and by embracing the 10 suggestions below might be of something to think about! If you do so, the clouds of uncertainty will have a good chance of clearing on the horizon for graduation day!

1) Career services – Your college/university has it! Use it! No worries as, contrary to what you may think, they are NOT there to ‘place’ you in a job or career you’re not wanting to be in! Their job, their role, what they do is get to know who you are and try to feed you as much career-oriented learning, understanding and opportunity as possible. Your Career office is a place to meet, greet and introduce yourself and they’ll run with you from there. You have to take the first step though! Good engagement takes time and being proactive. Your career office is there to help get from campus to the next step in your career!

2) Network – And then network, network and network some more! Usually when the term is used, beads of sweat start to emerge from the foreheads of those being told they need to do so. Let me first start off by saying that networking is an organic process of engagement that takes time, energy and proactivity to make work well. If you’re doing so simply to ‘collect’ names on LinkedIn or ‘likes’ on Facebook, that is not networking, that is accounting and not a lot of fun. Networking means simply talking to people. Speaking with people of like interests. Letting people know, that are in influential positions, where you’re at and what you’re looking for. It really is nothing more than building a circle of people that are wanting and willing to help and this is essentially how the world moves. You do it every day when moving about campus and chatting with friends! Remember, also, that networking is a two-way street and if people get the sense that you’re doing such simply as a means-to-an-end, then it’s lost its effectiveness.

3) linkedIn – See ‘Networking’ above! As part of one’s integration with the world, LinkedIn is becoming an important tool to brand and market yourself! It is a great avenue of ‘meeting’ people and what LinkedIn perhaps does best is allow you to do so by bridging the various ‘degrees of separation.’ Want to meet someone in the solar industry? You will! As you build your LinkedIn network, you’ll start to see, through your contacts, their contacts and so on as many concentric circles out start to develop.  As your network grows you’ll have access to people that can be influential in all industries.

4) Resume & Cover letter – Time to get them ‘ready.’ When I say ready, I don’t mean necessarily ready to send out as that implies having an actual place/person to send them to! What I mean here is that it is time, before they are needed, to be thinking about how you want to portray yourself and your experiences. In regards to your resume, how to tailor it to various, respective industries.  How to use its structure to best highlight your experience and accomplishments and like any good writing, how to best edit what will be on such, and just as important, what will remain off! If you think of the resume as a ‘cast of characters,’ to use a Hollywood metaphor, the cover letter should be the ‘screen play,’ meaning it has a story and that it is well connected to the audience you’re intending.  They need to work together and the cover letter needs to be specific, directed, and very much personalized while giving the reader something that engages them with you, the prospective applicant. There’s an old marketing term, “you’ve got to sell the sizzle not the steak!” Think about what you’re wanting to say but make it such so that the employer ‘wants’ to read such.

5) Meet with all prospective employers – This is an interesting area of conversation. When I say meet all prospective employers, I mean this in a sort of literal sense. For example, as the semester rolls on, your Career office will have numbers of employers coming in to meet with you, the student. Don’t define them by their industry or job being offered! Look at them as contacts in the field. You’re not interested in (as an example) banking!? Fine, but go meet with that recruiter as 1) they may say something you’ve not thought of and actually be of interest(?) for you and, 2) perhaps more importantly, they KNOW people and may have a key contact in an industry or field you’re wanting to enter.

6) Intern, volunteer, shadow – Guess what!? In may of 2015 you’re to get the diploma you’ve worked hard for! You should be both proud and feeling accomplished for that! But, and here’s the catch, yours comes with about 4.5 million others! I’ve been saying this to graduating students for years now; essentially, everyone’s got a college degree. The new “high school diploma” if you will. What can make you different in the process of the job search? Experience. Real, tangible, “I’ve done more than simply study/research the field” sorts of experience. Think of how this can not only help with your clarity in your search but also being able to speak the employer’s language when approaching them!

7) Informational Interviews – Are you ready to be put on the spot? Informational interviews are simply that, information. Essentially, asking someone in an industry/job that you’re interested in if they’d be willing to carve out a little time to talk with you about their work-life? Great opportunity to learn what it’s like on the inside AND you’re building a network (see above) in the process. These can be really great in terms of your personal stewardship and defining what you want to do and where you want to go with your first job or career.

8) Sidle on up to your professors – And ones that aren’t! They know people and like any other form of networking, getting to know people, letting them know where you’re at and what you’re looking for is building a great network of allies.

9) Be aware of your friends’ contacts – Same thing here. Know someone on-campus who’s father, mother, uncle, whatever, works in a field of interest? Speak with them! Get introduced and start to plant seeds of interest!

10) Clean up your on-line image – While related to ‘LinkedIn’ above, I’ve left this one for last as while as important as any of the previous 9 entries, this one can easily be left to a passive status and if not treated and managed properly, it can be a death-knell in your job search. If you look at the collective output of your LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (and I could go on here) accounts, they are a biographical mosaic of you in an on-line forum. If you think employers will not be looking at these, think again, as they will and judgments, fair or not, will be made! That 1am rant on twitter about something you saw in the news? The Facebook post with the pic of you at the party? Whatever the case may be, these will be seen and conclusions will be made. Clean up your on-line persona and ask yourself when looking at any piece or component, “is this positive or at least neutral?” If neither, it needs to go!

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What happens if I do not re-pay my student loan?

student-loan-debtStudent Loans for college can be one of the most significant debts one may ever incur, both in a good way, and potentially bad.  They are necessary for many to attain their educational goals and aspirations, but on the back end, once done with school, they are waiting and, if not managed properly, can haunt people for life.

By some estimates, nearly one in three student loan borrowers in the US that are in repayment are actually behind on their payments.  Six months after graduation student loans come due and the first payment request will come to the door.  Many students I’ve worked with in the past were not even aware that, if graduating in a traditional form, in May, November meant loan payments were to be waiting and the lender expecting a nice response! 

While some take it on as a responsibility and manage their debt accordingly, others tend to put a blind-eye to the subject and that is a dangerous approach especially when dealing with the federally funded loans.  Let me explain.  Any loan is an agreement, a contract, that gives one money now, in the present, with agreed terms that you repay it back over time with interest.  The interest (and penalties) being where the loan providers make their monies so when repayment doesn’t happen according to the terms signed on for, the lenders tend to take it seriously.

Ignoring your debt only makes it worse in a general sense.  While some loans can be ‘negotiated’ away or walked away from with minimal (relatively) negative effect, when it comes to student loans in particular, there is truth in the adage that if ignored it will only get worse. Student loans don’t just go away, and the consequences of making no attempt to pay or resolve them can be severe.

Sometimes one even ‘ignores’ their loan by accident.  For example, many students I’ve worked with have been under the misconception that by deferring loans, say attending grad school for example, that the loans just sit there doing nothing.  While partially true, ‘doing nothing’ in that there is no immediate expected re-payment, when they come due after the deferral time frame, what’s now waiting in addition to the loan, is all the new accrued interest that HAS been racking up on the meter while the deferral time has ticked away.  The loan doesn’t just sit there inert, interest is adding up and added on to the original tally, so while your payments may have been deferred for a year or two, the interest has grown and is tacked on and your debt has ballooned more.

So, what DOES happen if student loans are ignored and/or mismanaged?

1) the debt will simply grow.  Predictably, account-ably, the maths increase and one gets deeper in debt.  Interest will continue to accrue and be added on as payment balances, that seem so daunting now, will only get even larger.  Additionally, loans that go into collection will incur additional penalties that can increase costs up to a significant percentage (State law, depending on where, may limit collection costs).

2) Credit scores will suffer and especially bad at a time when trying to build this number.  Late payments will appear on your credit reports and your credit scores will go down.  Negative information may be reported for up to seven years, and for many graduates their credit scores are more important than their college GPA’s when it comes to real life.  Need an apartment?  Many landlords are checking credit scores to measure potential tenants.  Need a car?  Credit scores are used to determine your risk and loan interest rate.  Want a job?  Many employers, more as time goes on, are checking credit scores as a way to determine how well one manages responsibility.

3) You will eventually go into default.  Federal loans generally can be considered to be in default when a payment has not been made for a period of 270 days.  Once in default, the government has “extraordinary powers” to collect (see below).

4) Private student loans are a bit different, though. The definition of “default” depends on the contract, and may include simply missing one payment or the death of a co-borrower. Private loan lenders don’t have the same collection powers as the federal government but they can sue the borrower, and if they are successful, then use whatever means available under state law to collect the judgment.

5) Expecting a tax refund?  If you’re lucky enough to have a job, you may have to kiss your tax refund goodbye.  If a federal student loan and in default, the federal government can intercept part or all of you tax refund.  Married filing jointly?  Yep, good guess!  A spouse’s portion of the refund may be at risk too, and they may have to file an injured spouse claim to recover it after the fact (although private student loan lenders cannot claim tax refunds).

6) Wages may, and most likely will, be garnished.  Normally, a creditor must successfully sue you in court in order to garnish your wages, and even if they are successful, there may be state limits on whether and how much income can be taken.  But if you are in default with a federal student loan, the government may garnish up to 15% of one’s paycheck.  While you may be able to challenge the garnishment under certain circumstances, but in the meantime, do you really want your employer to know you are in serious trouble with your loans and financial management?

7) Any co-borrowers/signers are in trouble too.  Anyone who co-signed a student loan is on the hook for 100% for the balance.  It doesn’t matter if it is a relative, friend, stranger; anyone that puts their name on the loan contract is then liable for whatever is left/accrued on the loan.  Simple.

8) One can be sued.  Lawsuits are less common with federal loans than with private ones. (After all, why would the government sue when it has so many other ways to collect?) But a lawsuit is always a possibility especially if you ignore your student loans.  If/when sued, it is advised to seek the help of an attorney experienced in student loan law to raise a defense against the lawsuit and come to some agreed resolution.

Essentially, one in default will be haunted by this debt for life.  It may sound blunt, but it’s the reality and better the devil you know.  There is no statute of limitations on federal loans, which means there is no limit on how long you can be sued and it simply does not go away.  State statute of limitations do apply to private student loans, however, limiting the amount of time they have to sue to collect.  But it doesn’t stop them from trying to collect — and if one doesn’t know their rights it may go on indefinitely.

But What if You Can’t Afford to Pay?

For starters, get your free annual credit reports to see where things stand.  Personally, I like and use CreditKarma.com.  It’s free, secure and easy and will give constant monitoring and one will have a clear understanding of how debt is affecting credit.  There’s also the National Student Loan Database to track down your loans.

For federal loans, you can get back on track with a reasonable and affordable payment plan.  Programs available for federal loans such as Income-based Repayment (IBR) that allow some borrowers to qualify for a lower monthly payment based on income, and then discharge the remaining balance after a certain number of years of repayment may be an option.

For private loans, talk with an attorney who understands how to discharge certain private student loans in bankruptcy.  It can be tough to qualify and it’s getting more difficult, but not impossible. If that’s not an option, you may be able to try to negotiate a settlement?

While it’s never a good idea to ignore loans, there are times when a borrower simply cannot afford his or her loan payments. Fact of life but if ever in said situation, remember to prioritize.  Federal loans are more important than private ones.  Ignoring any debt/loans can be painful and have negative consequences to your lively-hood, but doing so at the federal level is life-long.

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Power of the “Thank You!”

"Thank You" can make a world of difference!

“Thank You” can make a world of difference!

“Thank you!”  Two words.  Two syllables.  Quite simple, really. Right?  Well, what’s happened to such as of late?  Is it of such simplicity that the value of its social currency has been diminished?  Now lost and forgotten no longer deemed as being a necessary part of our communication & interactions?

I write this post while it is relatively fresh, a live blip on my radar. Two blips actually and  I say this with no condemnation, no judgement, just an observation that as people navigate the world, they may be shorting themselves of quite a lot of opportunity. Doing so, merely because they did not demonstrate one of the ever present soft-skills bandied about so much in the job search punditry.  Saying ‘thank you’ used to be so common place, an exchange heard throughout the day, but now seemingly relegated to a blind omission that could be scuppering chances of making connections, getting assistance and/or generally receiving people’s support.

The first ‘blip’ that I am referring to being from a recent interaction I had with a relatively new graduate, class of 2013, when speaking at Alumni Weekend at the University of Massachusetts.  I was invited to be one of the presenters/speakers for a day of career packaging for the alumni/ae visiting for the weekend.  I was involved in two sessions; Job Search Strategies for New Graduates followed by a ‘speed dating’ type of event for quick career advice and questions. Both were fun and I think of some really good utility for the participants.  

At the end of the former, the Job Search Strategies workshop, I was approached and asked if I’d be willing to look at someone’s LinkedIn profile and give some feedback?  I said that I’d be happy to do so and when I had a chance, later that evening or the day next, I would look at it and write up some thoughts.  As requested, this person connected to me via LinkedIn both as a reminder and so that I could see the profile in full.  

Later that evening, as I said I would do, I went through this person’s profile and gave it a good read, looked at all the categories and listings and came up with a  few suggestions that, while already good, might simply make it a little stronger.  I did this while in the comfort of my home, in front of the television actually, so certainly not suffering by any means.  But, the fact of the matter is that I DID put an hour or so into fulfilling this request; examining the profile, thinking about what could make it stronger and better for ‘brand building’ and then wrote a long-ish email explaining my thoughts and recommendations.

Now granted, I’m not expecting accolades, applause or anything of the sort.  Also, it wasn’t any sort of paying thing, so remuneration was out of the question too.  I did, however, think that a simple, after-the-fact, ‘thank you’ for putting in the time to do so might come my way?  Just a note acknowledging my time and effort. Nothing. Crickets. Not a peep even saying that the email was received, much less any sort of ‘thank you’ or acknowledgement to its receipt much less benefit.

The second ‘blip’ is one where it DID make a difference, and an example of a big one at that.  A friend of mine is a dance professor, and a very good one, at a very prestigious liberal arts college.  She has many students that go through her ranks year to year and in this process good rapport is developed with many along the way.  In her role, and alongside the longevity of such, she has many contacts outside of the college and this makes her an invaluable resource for those students in the creative arts.  Not just dance, but her contacts are widespread in theatre, museums, publishing, television, etc.  The list is long and deep.  

Often, she will recommend a student to her outside connections as one that might be a good fit for an internship or off-campus experience, essentially putting her own reputation on the line.  This not being uncommon, offering up a student to an organization for a potential match.  But also, not uncommon is that after the fact, she’ll then tend to never hear from the student(s) again.  

However, one student that was recommended by her for an internship separated himself from the pack.  He ended up accepting an internship position upon her recommendation and it was a very good summer’s endeavor in the end.  What WAS different in this particular situation was that, after completing such, he made a point of sending her a nice hand-written note thanking her for making the connection, bridging the opportunity, and telling her what he did and learned. Wow!

Fast forward a year and she gets a call from one of her contacts who happens to work in the movie industry.  He is ‘needing someone to do the labor – set set-up, grabbing the coffee, schlepping materials, grunt work, nothing glamorous, no promises, just hard work.’  She thinks back to this one student who sent her the note and told her contact, “I think I may have just the guy you’re looking for…”  She makes the connection and he, now graduated, flies off to Australia to be the gopher.  He did such and did it well apparently as she received a call thanking her for the connection and was told ‘the guy worked out perfectly.’  Long story short, this guy went on to work on some major Hollywood productions and blockbusters, now having established himself in his unexpected, serendipitous new career!  A career that started with a simple, hand-written, “thank you.”  

A ‘thank you’ is such a simple way to say to someone, especially someone that’s gone out of their way to provide assistance, that you appreciate what they’ve done and want to acknowledge that fact. So simple. So effective.  So many opportunities perhaps missed but never known….

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Job Search Strategies for New Graduates

Success!  Congratulations as you’ve worked hard and toiled in the classroom for 4+ years and now it’s time to see it all come to fruition as you enter working adulthood! The job market is a huge entity and for those walking in, it can be a cold splash in the face for even the most seasoned job-seekers, much less new grads just getting their feet wet! Below are 10 common mistakes of job hunters (new ones in particular) and following that are 10 tips to get your search going so that you can stand out!

Tips for a Successful Job Search

Tips for a Successful Job Search

Ten Common Mistakes of the (New) Job Hunter

1) Not Being Proactive
2) Using the Internet AS your job search
3) Not Networking Effectively
4) Not Tailoring Resumes and/or Cover Letters
5) Misusing/under-utilizing the Internet
6) Failing to Follow Up
7) Setting Expectations Too High
8) Not Appearing Professional
9) Not Taking the Job Interview Seriously
10) Not Utilizing Your College’s and/or professional Career Services

Now, Ten Tips to get you Really Moving in your Job Search!

1. Research, research and then research some more!

As with any job search plan, one of the most important steps is to do the up-front research. If you have a degree in a chosen field, it’s best to research opportunities and get a general feel as to what the requirements are to be and how organizations differ from one another. Sure, Google and Microsoft (Bing) specialize in search, but are they the same? No. Ford and Chevrolet both manufacture and sell automobiles, but are the two companies the same? No. It is your ‘job’ to be able to distinguish an organization before approaching. Today, especially, there’s an inordinate amount of information available for job-seekers, and to an employer, there’s no excuse you didn’t use it in identifying what makes them unique.

2. Get your resumes (yes, plural!) ready.

Make them specific and tailored for each position and industry. Use your headings, categories and descriptions to give your resume flow and ‘a story’ that speaks to each employer. A generic resume smells of desperation and/or indifference and when an employer has hundreds, if not thousands, it can go by unrecognized.  If it doesn’t ‘speak’ to the role and the nuance of each organization it gets put in the ‘circular file,’ damned for eternity.

3. Just as important, get your cover letters to speak.

Make them so they are not the generic – “as a new grad, I am really interested in a position at your organization… etc., etc….” This doesn’t SAY anything. Use the cover letter to speak to them.  Connect your experience, skills and, most importantly, interest to what they do. Remember, the organization is NOT thinking about you. They are only interested if they can be thinking about HOW you can help them. Your letter needs to sell them on that fact!

4. For grads, be sure to visit your college’s career services office and/or seek professional assistance.

Utilize these resources for career counseling, job and internship listings, access to recruiting programs, and career networking. The staff is typically seasoned in helping you get your materials in order and preparing you for your search. Remember, the ‘job’ of the career office is to help PREPARE you for your job search, not to conduct it for you so you need to be proactive and willing to do the leg-work.  If already out of school and graduated, hiring on a career services professional can be a great way to get objective, resourceful guidance and assistance that can be a huge investment.

5. Being connected and online is your friend.

Allows for real-time information and connection. Obviously, there are a number of online job boards for job seekers, and using your time to keep abreast of these; job listings, postings, job search tips and career advice, is important as a puzzle piece to your job search. As a side benefit, but just as important, keeping your social networks active and in the loop at the same time.

6. Promote and clean-up your on-line presence and profiles.

Use sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to your advantage in self-branding. Many companies now use these social networks to advertise, meet and recruit.  Connecting with prospective employers via social networks could be a way to get in the door. Many organizations now gauge the aptitude of a prospective employee not only by their professional and educational experience, but their online biographical presence. What you say and how you present yourself online can, and will, translate into real-world perception. Whether positive or negative is up to you!

7. Take advantage of recruiting and career fairs.

These are a great way to strike up mini informational interviews with organizational representatives that are trying to sell you their organization. These are great venues to ask questions, pick up valuable advice and then use that in your marketing of self! Bring copies of your resume to distribute as this is a terrific way to connect and position yourself with potential hiring managers, not to mention any information gleaned can then be used in a follow-up cover letter and interview.

8. Package yourself to promote!

Learn the basic etiquette of job-hunting which includes dressing appropriately, learning the importance of a good handshake, eye contact and thank you notes and emails. Take advantage of the plethora of career articles online which outline all the basic requirements of the job search process.

9. Network extensively and politely, professionally, but shamelessly, USE them!

You cannot have too many people in your corner when you are looking to secure a job, and networking plays a critical role in the process. Networking can be both formal and informal. Friends, family, neighbors, alumni, even people you meet on the bus or at a store are potential conduits in generating job openings.

10. Volunteering or taking an internship is good and good for you.

A great way to ‘test’ an area of interest and bolster your skills. These programs, some of which can be paid, are a valuable way to gather on-the-job training which can work to make your resume stronger and give you tangible experience. In some cases, if all goes well, many organizations will consider offering you a position on a permanent basis based on what they’ve seen. As a volunteer or intern, it can help put your finger on the pulse of an organization and you can position (see research above!) yourself immediately for interviews should job openings occur.

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The Flaws of the Interviewing Process

Interviewing is more 'art than science'

Effective interviewing is more ‘art’ than ‘science’

I think it’s not of great secret that the hiring process is a flawed system in general. When I say ‘flawed,’ it is mainly to the interview process that I refer. Many times, interviews are conducted by individuals or people that are in a position of needing to fill a gap for their organization. Often, that means people are looking to expedite the hire and get that cog in the machine as soon as possible. At the same time, it also can be exacerbated by the fact that the person/people doing the hiring really don’t know what best to look for or what the needs really are to be; they have a gap to fill.

Contributing to this break-down in the machine is, historically, if you look at colleges and universities (and businesses themselves), there has been an incredible emphasis on training people to be ready for the interview, but the other side of the fence, training effective interviewers, is sorely lacking! Even at some of the nation’s best business schools and programs, preparing FOR the interview is of paramount importance, but preparing and training people to CONDUCT interviews is almost absent from the equation. What this has contributed to is a system that perpetuates and repeats inherent flaws in the way it is designed to be vetting potential candidates for hire.

Think of it this way – an organization posts a position. People react by constructing their resumes, highlighting their history, skills and fill it with what they hope will be key words and buzz topics to get noticed. It gets read (if one is lucky) and selected as a ‘call-back!’ You’re in! Well, now begins the flaw, or series of flaws I am referring to.

Flaw #1 – The resume ends up becoming the interview guide

Let’s begin with the call-back as a start. They’ve invited you in because of your resume and because of this, once the interview begins the resume can end up as a template for the interview. What this does is put the emphasis on what candidates have done or are able to check-off in terms of the list of requirements in meeting the role’s requirements. This looking back has a tendency to focus on job experience instead of potential, and many times this allows the interviewer, in search for all the right check-boxes, to get away from finding out about who the candididate really is instead of do they have the ‘right’ requirements. Sadly, furthering down the wrong road, many interviewers are either not that inventive in extracting ‘who the candidate is,’ or in an attempt to keep a level-playing field (which it isn’t), they will have scripted interviews where each candidate answers the same set of questions. This mutes any real conversation or the ability for personality and fit to shine through.

In a perfect world both need to be assessed; experience and potential, but without potential, what value does experience really have? For example, suppose a candidate with a ‘great history’ is applying and it turns out they’re doing so just to go through the motions, needing a job and the fact is that they hated everything they did to get that experience that is now shining on the resume? They’re not the best in terms of potential to fill that gap for the employer. Experience and skill-set may indicate if a candidate can do a job, but it’s not necessarily a correlation of do they WANT to do the job?

Flaw #2 – Basic human nature

It’s a fact that people tend to gravitate towards others of common interest and/or history. No secret there but it does set up the potential that a mutual interest or association listed on a resume may make a candidate seem more desirable, even if it doesn’t hold much weight when it comes to the job itself. While one certainly cares in terms of what a candidate’s resume has on it, the ‘right boxes ticked/words used,’ you’ve already been called in for the interview, so now’s the time to find about the candidate as a person, a part of the mission, not as a list of credentials, facts & figures. Years past, I used to have a corporate recruiter that came to campus annually. In his resume reviews, anyone that had either, or both, military history & acapella were almost a shoe-in for an interview. Why? Because he liked them. Simple as that! Interviewers need to remain objective and have a good understanding of both the position to be filled but also the bigger picture, the health of the organizational culture.

Flaw #3 – It’s a popularity contest

Many times a candidate’s likability is a leading measure of employment. While one’s likability is certainly important, getting on with the interviewer is not always reflective of your potential interaction with the team or culture of the organization. The interview process really needs to examine how one’s fit into the whole will ultimately be measured. Unless you’re the only other employee, or will be working with this person exclusively, it’s about more than an individual connection. It’s about how the candidate fits within the culture of the entire company. Sadly, sometimes the desire to get an employee that’s got all the right things said, or the experience that’s needed, can over-ride a potential new hire’s ability to navigate the new employer culture, and if so, all that experience and skill set can go to waste.

Flaw #4 – No checks and balances

An interviewer can often have the first and final say in whether or not a candidate is best ‘qualified’ for a position. With that, a lack of objectivity can cloud the lens on the hiring process and bring in people that might be bad for the organization and, at the same time, send good talent walking for the door. What’s missing is an efficient check and balance measurement to ensure an objective decision is made. A smart hiring process will look beyond facts & figures and get an intuitive sense of a candidate’s offering. Soft-skills need to be measured and may include having the candidate meet with multiple people, either as separate interviews or in a group interview format, to counteract the bias of any one person.

Some people are great in interviews, but bad on the job. Interviews are often skewed by the impression that people make, which isn’t always reflective of their ability to do the job. I’ve seen good candidates be shown the door ’cause their interviewing skills were not up to snuff, and horrible candidates that are hired, but becuase they were so good at the ‘selling of themselves’ in the interview, people were fooled and by then it’s too late – damage done.

Flaw #5 – No inventiveness or creativity

HR in general will never be referred to as the ‘creative’ group in an organization. Some of this perception is fair and some is not. The fact remains that they are in place to take care of, as the title says, human resources, and some are just better at this than others. Many times, in the process of getting new hires, as alluded to above, the interviewing that takes place can be a bit dry, scripted and/or mechanized. As an interviewee, what you’re looking for is an organization that prides itself on getting to know the real you, see if you’re the best fit, and if so, get you on board. One thing that comes to mind is the S.T.A.R. (Situation, Task, Action, Result) technique. If you see or hear of this process being in place to vet you as a candidate, run! While it may make sense to actually be prepared for such, it reeks of assembly-line processing of staffing and means you’ll end up dissecting your resume with the interviewer and they will really not know the first thing about who you are as a candidate. It does, however, tell you MUCH about them and what it might be like to be part of that organization!

To summarize, the flawed interview/vetting process has the potential to drain a company’s pool of talent and greatly hinder its bottom line with the high cost of turnover and poor hiring decisions. If we don’t start taking a more critical look at the way we evaluate talent, we’re sure to weaken this most valuable resource — and any respective organization — as a result. While experience and education might indicate to you whether people have the capability to do a job, but with exploratory interviewing, questions in the context of the moment and candidate, trying to see the personality and soft-skills, will provide a better indication of how well they will do it!

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