Classroom to Career-Part 1

You’ve been at the new job for a couple of months—or you’re preparing to begin a new job. A perfect time for some tips about how to make that transition from the classroom to corporate!

 MONEY

 When you find that first job after graduation you will more than likely receive the largest income you’ve had up to this point. It might seem like a lot of money, but it’s important to make a budget. Think about the unexpected expenses that might crop up. Maybe your roommates are moving out and you’ll be paying the rent and bills on your own. That will include utilities—gas, electric, phone, cable and possibly water. Groceries cost more when they’re not split between a couple of people. By the time you add all that up you could eat into a big chunk of your take home pay. With taxes, 401(k) and insurance benefits coming out of your check you’re bringing home only about 60% – 70% of your salary. That’s where your budget starts. Not with the gross. It might seem obvious but often people forget to consider typical deductions.

As I mentioned in a previous post, make wise decisions. Do you really need to get the priciest apartment? Do you need a new car right now or can your old college beater last a little bit longer? When I started my career I thought about buying a brand new Saturn. Beside the fact that, at nearly six feet tall, I could barely fit in it, I didn’t have much extra money for a car payment. So I kept driving my ‘85 Chevy Cavalier for a few more years. Yes, the paint on the hood had faded from blue to a curious gray, and by the time I was finally able to give the car up it had no heat, no air conditioning and some decorative rust around the doors. But by then I had been promoted to upper management and I was allowed to drive a company car. Now, many years later, I still don’t own a car of my own, but I get a new one every year— and since my company pays for gas and maintenance and we’re self-insured I save a ton of money.

As Dave Ramsey says (www.financialpeace.com), live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else. Small sacrifices now allow you to have nicer things later on when you’re not indebted to everyone else. A good rule of thumb is to live on 80%, give away 10% and save 10%.

College Students

TIME MANAGEMENT & WORK/LIFE BALANCE

Yes, college is challenging. Juggling classes, study time, organizational involvement, work—and, let’s face it, if you’re dating someone that takes a huge chunk of your time too—can be difficult. But the bright spot is, if you’re lucky, your weekend starts on Thursday night. I was even fortunate enough a couple of times to have all Monday and Wednesday classes so my weekend started even earlier!

Not so in Corporate America. You might have friends who are still in school and they’re still hanging out until all hours during the week. This is your opportunity to make some good decisions. Sure, you can probably get away with that every once in a while, but don’t wait until you doze off in a team meeting before you learn to say no. Save the late nights for the weekend. Some of you might actually have to commit to going to bed as early as 10:00 pm.

I’ll admit I’m a night owl, but when the alarm goes off in the morning and all I can do is groan, I know I will be in bed early that night. I can’t sit through interviews, make good decisions or contribute to my team when I’m tired. Not to mention, my sunny disposition is a little more on the stormy side.  😉

Once you begin your career—unless you’re in education—Spring Break, Summer Break and, sometimes, holidays like President’s Day or even the major holidays you love could become a thing of the past. That’s not to say you won’t have vacation or other paid time off, but often new grads are surprised when Martin Luther King Day comes along and they’re expected to go into the office. If it’s a day that is important to you plan ahead and use one of your paid days.

 

Take Care of You

All work and no play…stinks! No it’s not the usual saying but it’s true. Even if you love your career, if that’s all you have in your life you will eventually wear yourself out. Take up some activities both with and away from your co-workers. It’s important to build camaraderie with your team; it can benefit you in the office. At the same time, many people need time to decompress which can be difficult to do in the company of your team members. So make sure you don’t inadvertently cast your friends aside just because you’ve landed a new job. I know someone who schedules quarterly outings or get-togethers with friends so they don’t lose touch in the busyness of everyday life. You’ll make new friends along the way, of course. Some of which will be your co-workers. In that case, you might need to make a pact to leave the office at the office. Otherwise it might feel like you never left work!

I take my workout clothes with me to work so I can go straight to the gym. I’m involved in a writing group and my church’s worship team. I salsa, go to local festivals (who doesn’t love a funnel cake?) and plays. I recently even went to the symphony a couple times. Not my thing, but it was worth a try. And in the past I was on a few softball teams. The point is, though I love my career, I have interests outside of work that allow me to continue to love it.

Stuck in a rut? Here are some ideas: join a book club, the gym, coach a team, have card tournaments, invite friends over for a cook out, mentor someone or pick up a new hobby. Check out http://www.meetups.com to find groups of people with similar interests.

I’ll see you back here next time for some tips on professionalism in the workplace.

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New Grad & No Job Offer? Make Your Summer Count

So you haven’t landed your dream job yet. Last time we established that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But you can’t justify your break forever. What can you do to improve your chances of getting the one you have your eye on when you embark on that career search again?

First, let’s review the obstacles you encountered.challenges

You only applied for one job. But, hey, it was the one and the first two interviews went really well. How were you to know they’d offer the job to someone else? Bad move. Take advantage of all the money you invested in college and visit Career Services. They have relationships with tons of employers and can give you some referrals.

This time, make sure you cast a wide net. Where do your interests lie? Is it only nursing, or do you also enjoy physical fitness, social work or other fields where you’d be able to help people? Or you might be interested in some totally unrelated fields—aviation and IT and law. Personally, I am not only interested in recruiting, but finances, writing and philanthropy. Since few jobs would incorporate all of these areas, you will have to satisfy some of your interests outside of the workplace. Just make sure you tailor your resume accordingly when applying for jobs. Don’t send your aviation-related resume in for a programming career at Microsoft.

Do some research to find out if you’ll need more education or a certification for your desired career. If so, consider it—the cost, the time and what sacrifices you might have to make. Perhaps, with those qualifications under your belt, even more avenues will be open to you.

You bombed the interview. It happens. Use it as a learning experience. You will live to interview again—believe me. I walked into an interview for a sales position my senior year in college. Back then I was extremely shy. (Shocking, I know.) Much to my horror I found myself facing five—yes, five—interviewers.

It did not go well. I filed it under the category of Things I Don’t Speak Of. If interviews make you break out in hives, this is another area where Career Services, local organizations like the Urban League or other job centers can help. Take advantage of a mock interview (or two) or a resume critique and get some feedback on where you can improve. You’ll walk into your interviews much more polished than you were in March.

Lack of experience 

If this is the case, is there something you can do over the summer—volunteering, working part-time, taking a course—that can help you gain that experience? Let’s say you applied for an accounting position but you never had an internship. Why not try to obtain one over the summer if a company is open to hiring graduates as interns? If that doesn’t work read some entry-level accountant job descriptions. Will the company accept banking as related experience? If so, head over to US Bank or 5/3rd and fill out an application. You’ll not only gain cash handling experience, you’ll gain customer service and sales experience as well. You might even qualify for promotion into their accounting division after a few months of proving yourself.

This is the best way to gain experience—hands on, and it’s what I personally like to see on a resume. But there are also other ways which I’ll cover below by order of preference.

 

Honing Your Skills

Do not take a random summer job if you can avoid it. Choose one that will help you gain new skills. If you were turned down for a communications position and re-apply for the position in the fall with the same resume you’ll more than likely get a similar result. And I’m not sure you can sell your parents on taking another three months to find work.

Previous jobs

As I mentioned, I love to see real life experience on a resume. Because I hire for a sales & management trainee position I am even more drawn to candidates who held leadership roles or who met goals. So if you work in a department store and there are no sales goals established by the company, and you would like to get into sales, set some goals of your own and highlight the results on your resume.

Volunteer/Organizational

Rotary, relay for life, habitat for humanity, missions trips just to name a few. This is also solid experience because it involves real situations. Don’t settle for showing up at organizational meetings and filling in where needed. Is there an opportunity to take the helm for a project? Conceptualize and plan events? I am so impressed by candidates who can organize and motivate teams to accomplish tasks. Why? Because so few recent grads have that experience.

No too long ago I hired two candidates who had been on missions trips. They had to raise money (sales/persuasiveness/resilience), set appointments (communication/self-starter) and organize Bible studies and outreach (time management, leadership). All of this while in school (flexibility/adaptability).

Classroom — This is impressive when you have had the opportunity to present solutions to an actual company who decided to implement them. However, classroom experience is typically hypothetical or simulated. While it gives students an understanding of what happens in a company nothing beats that face-to-face customer encounter you had as a server where you were able to turn him into a repeat diner at your restaurant. No theoretical idea can take the place of the organizational process you implemented at your last job to help keep track of inventory that was later adopted by three other divisions.

Years ago I interviewed a solid guy for our internship program and asked him to tell me about a time when he had a leadership role. He was an Assistant Manager at a car wash but for some reason he started telling me about his classroom project. I interrupted him and said, “If you tell me about your capstone… You were an Assistant Manager! Tell me about that.” We both laughed, but he got it. He went on to describe some of his responsibilities, the number of people he managed and even how he was able to impact the bottom line. I brought him on board and after he graduated we hired him full-time.

Check out this link for even more ways to gain experience:

http://education-portal.com/articles/10_Ways_for_New_College_Graduates_to_Gain_Job_Experience.html

Transferable Skills

Let’s face it, there is only so much experience you can gain in three months’ time, so what’s an alternative? I guarantee many of you already have valuable skills you never even considered—transferable skills.

Some of the most beneficial skills include: leadership-ability to motivate a team, communication—written & verbal, flexibility/adaptability, teamwork, time management, self-starter, problem-solving, organization, creativity, resilience, results driven

Recent grads often discount their “college jobs”, but don’t sell yourself short. Server, Sales Associate, Laborer (warehouse, landscaping), construction and athlete are all job experiences that will add to your skill set. Think about the skills you’ve gained and ways you can highlight them on your resume and, once you land the interview, what specific examples you can share that prove you have that competency.

Job   Title Experience   &Transferable Skills
Server Multi-tasking/adaptability, customer service, sales,   leadership–ability to oversee a process
Athlete Leadership, work ethic, tenacity, resilience, teamwork,   dedication, goal-setting, problem resolution, results driven, time management   (school, practice, games/meets & sometimes a job)
Landscaping/Construction

(bonus points for crew leader)

Self-starter, ability to meet deadlines, teamwork;   entrepreneurship if you started your own mowing business, leadership
Tutor Planning, training, teaching, motivation (with proven   results), communication
Resident Assistant Leadership, customer service, planning, problem resolution,   organization, creativity, sales if you had to persuade other RA’s to accept   your ideas, budgeting
VP of fraternity Event planning, leadership, creativity, able to motivate a   team, sales—ideas or fund-raising activities, budgeting

Job Shadow

One final suggestion for your summer. You think you’d like to work in a non-profit, but you’re not entirely sure. Why not tap into your network this summer for a connection in that field? (Networking is a topic all its own that I will cover in a future post.) Perhaps you can shadow someone a few days a week or even volunteer. This will give you insight an interview might not offer and you could discover you’re not as interested as you thought or it’s the perfect fit for you.

Remember, just because you haven’t landed your first job is not a license to take it easy this summer. Take advantage of some of these tips and, after you get a few months’ experience under your belt, get back out there! Everyone had to start somewhere. Make that first step pay off in the long run.

New Grads: Making Good Financial Choices

Hopefully you took some time to track your spending over the past week or two. Any surprises about where all your money went? Did anyone get angry enough to do something about that albatross around your neck? I hope so.

I get it. You just graduated college. How were you supposed to do that without racking up some bills? Well, it is possible but what’s done is done. Don’t despair, though, you can make some better choices from now on.

Budget

First things first.  Again, employers might run credit checks to see how you take care of your own finances and for an indication of how you’ll take care of theirs. If you’re a manager of a store for instance, like I was, you are more than likely in charge of a million dollars or more in inventory. A company doesn’t want to take a risk on a manager who doesn’t keep track of costs and spending and doesn’t make wise financial decisions.

If you find yourself in an interview where the hiring manager tells you they’ll be running a credit check and you know your report will be less than stellar don’t just cross your fingers and hope for the best, be up front about it. Companies will take good explanations into consideration.

For instance: “I was out of work for several months and got behind. You’ll see that my mortgage/rent was paid but my credit cards fell behind. I felt it was more important to keep a roof over our heads than pay my credit cards.”  If this is true your credit should reflect that. There shouldn’t be any frivolous bills (recent collections from NetFlix or the cable company for instance) or companies listed who have run checks so you can get more credit cards or you’ll lose credibility. Instantly.

Divorce can affect your finances. So can unexpected things like lawsuits or medical bills that might be in dispute by your insurance company. By sharing this information, even though it might be uncomfortable, your honesty and integrity will give the recruiter a chance to fight for you and perhaps justify making you an offer.

Making Better Choices

Here are some ways to keep your credit sound, or, if you’ve already fallen behind, help it improve over time.

budget2

Make a budget. (Check out www.mint.com to help you with this.) And keep in mind you aren’t going to sit down and whip it out one time. It will take a few months before you get it down pat and you still might find yourself making occasional adjustments. This is a challenging process, so build a little bit of fun money into it. If you’re serious about kicking those bills to the curb that will mean going out 1-2 days a week—maybe even every other week (gasp!)—instead of 5.

Set aside an emergency fund. Start with $500, just $50 a paycheck if possible. When you reach that goal go for $1000. That way when life happens—a flat tire, a hike in rent, a new transmission—you won’t go into a tailspin.

Move if you have to (& keep driving the ugly car). Or get a roommate to spread the cost. Your rent shouldn’t eat up the majority of your take home pay. If I hadn’t made the choice to move out of my fancy apartment to free up $150 each month and to keep driving my, shall we say vintage, automobile longer than I would have liked to in order to forgo a car payment it would have taken me much longer to climb out of debt.

A professional look doesn’t have to be expensive. Your new job has a professional or business casual dress code, but all you have are jeans. If you’re graduating this month and someone asks what you want for graduation, by all means ask for a suit! Beyond that, be creative to extend your wardrobe. Ladies, instead of buying a ridiculous amount of new clothing when you’re just starting out, select a couple pairs of slacks and a couple skirts, 5 blouses in different colors, maybe a print one to wear every 3 weeks or so, some inexpensive jewelry and mix and match like a bandit. Guys, get a couple pairs of pants, and a few inexpensive shirts and ties. Don’t rule out consignment shops. You might find brand new clothing with the original tags still attached or some things that have barely been worn.

Don’t skip bill payments. You might even consider calling your credit card companies to work out a payment plan. Do not give them access to your checking account. Get the agreement in writing and make the scheduled payments on your own.

Use your debit card instead of a credit card. Real time spending will keep you from getting a shock at the end of the month when the credit card bill shows up. And you’ll think twice about making that purchase. Do you really want to buy the pizza from Pizza Hut or can you buy the frozen one from the grocery store and save $8? Just remember to subtract what you spend on your checkbook register, excel spreadsheet or whatever method you choose.

Don’t put off thinking about retirement. If your benefits at your new job include a retirement plan-401k, 403b, profit sharing, stock options—take advantage of the opportunity to save early. The sooner you begin to put money away the better. Waiting even as little as 5 years to start investing can make a difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, by the time you retire. At the very least put enough in your 401k to take advantage of any company match that is offered.

There is much more to learn about finances, but these basic tips can help get you started. Fifteen years ago I had no idea how to climb out of debt. I only knew I did not want to spend the rest of my life owing money! If you have the same desire and determination I had learn as much as you can. Search the internet. Read books like The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey or David Chilton’s The Wealthy Barber. Financial freedom doesn’t have to be an impossible dream. Implement these tips today and you’ll get there much sooner than you’d imagine.

Credit & Your Job: Why Money Matters

“You’re always going to have bills.”

This was the statement a friend made to me in college. With $12,000 in credit card debt, a student loan (I was fortunate enough to have received athletic and academic scholarships so, after 6 years, I only had $6500 in loans) it seemed reasonable. But even then something in me gave a little twitch of rebellion. A future full of debt? That sounded horrible.

Frankly, I knew squat about finances in college. My mom told me once upon a time to keep good credit because it says something about you. Problem was, I didn’t know enough to stay out of debt in the first place.

So after college I got the apartment I wanted, rather than what I’d had before—the one I could afford. Hey, I was going to have a steady paycheck. If I could live on minimum wage in college surely I could make rent now. Besides, I wasn’t going to make any other drastic changes in my lifestyle, right?

Not on purpose. But it happened. You know, vacations, eating out at pricey restaurants, movies every weekend instead of just on occasion, and anything else I chose to do on a whim. All on credit.

Credit cards

The rationale goes a little something like this: “Sure there’s only $40 in my bank account, but I get paid on Friday.” Yes, idiot, but you owe 4 (yes, four!) different major credit card companies $12,000!

The money in that paycheck didn’t belong to me, it belonged to the Big Bad Credit Card people who trespassed on campus and made me sign up for their evil plastic. And all for a free T-shirt or some other $2.00 giveaway that would compel me to in turn spend thousands. Marketing at its best.

It sounds stupid because it is. Yet unsuspecting students fall for the free whatever every day! And guess what? The bad habits that I’d developed in college didn’t go away just because I’d gotten my degree. I originally got my first credit card for emergencies. Things like Red Lobster and that cute sweater—that was on sale, thank you! I was saving money.

Right. By the time the thing was paid off—behind the other $13980 bucks—that $20 sweater at 14% interest over 1 million years is… You see where I’m headed with this.

One year I finally took a good look at how much I’d spent in finance charges—while my balance owed practically stood still as I continued to make the minimum payment due. And I got mad! $500, $600, $700 in finance charges??? I wanted to hit something. Someone. I wanted to hit…myself! How could I have been so stupid?

I needed a plan. And I made one. I wanted to be out of debt within a year. So I took every balance on my major credit cards and divided each one by 12. I added the current finance charge, even though it would get smaller each month, just to assess the damage. I was not hopeful, but I’d been promoted a few times by the time I got the revelation and, thanks to my salary as a manager, the payments were doable. I could be debt free in a year!

Well, it actually took 1 year and 9 months (there were a couple of things I didn’t say no to at the time) but I was still ecstatic! And I know without a written plan it wouldn’t have happened at all.

Why is a recruiter rambling on about finances? Because your money management matters. And not just because you don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night in a panic wondering how you’re going to make it two more weeks before your next paycheck.

It’s because many employers run credit checks.

Why? Because how you handle your own finances (which should be of great importance to you) says something about your level of responsibility. Especially if you’ll be in charge of major assets. If you can take care of your own finances chances are you’ll be just as diligent with the company’s. And, in some cases, poor credit will keep you from getting the job.

So here’s some homework for you. Keep track of your spending over the next week just to find out where your money is really going. Check out financial expert Dave Ramsey’s website: www.financialpeace.com and consider going through his course in your city.

Today I am debt free and have been for many years. I am blessed to have a husband who has the same opinion about debt so we continued to work together to make good financial decisions—including paying off our home in record time.

Trust me, when you owe no one there is a peace that surpasses all understanding. A spring in your step. You even do your job better because you’re stress free.

Oh, and in response to my friend’s brilliant statement? The only people who are always going to have bills are those who believe it.

Check out the next blog for some tips on how to make better financial decisions.