10 Mistakes During The Interview That Can Cost You The Offer

Congratulations on your interview! Here’s your opportunity to show the company why you’d be the best person for the job, so take it seriously. Many of the mistakes from the phone interview still apply when interviewing in person, but here are a few more to keep in mind.

  1. Postponing The Interview—Of course things come up but I have found it’s very rare that someone Image by Stuart Milesgenuinely wants to reschedule after postponing. If you are interested, keep the appointment. If a true emergency arises state what it is. The term “family emergency”, while perhaps factual, sends the recruiter a red flag. People use this term when they leave messages on voice mails in the middle of the night because they don’t know how to admit they are no longer interested, something better came up or they never planned to come to the interview in the first place. Few emergencies are so private they can’t be mentioned, so be honest. Call during business hours, explain your situation and reschedule with the recruiter immediately.
  2. Three’s A Crowd—Or, in this case, two. There is no reason for anyone to attend your interview with you. If you have car trouble and need to be dropped off your ride should wait down the street, then give him a call after the interview for a pick up.
  3. Late Arrival—If possible do a practice run the day before the interview. It’s difficult to guess how long the drive might be in rush hour traffic if you’ve never timed the route. Who knows, you might have to park in the back of the lot, trek to the building or take an elevator to the 23rd floor, all of which add time to the total commute. If it is unavoidable call the recruiter to tell her you are on the way.
  4. Extremely Early Arrival— Many people live by the 15 minute rule–if you arrive 15 minutes early you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re already late. Great rule of thumb. On the flip side, there is such a thing as too early. The interviewer more than likely has his day mapped out and has other tasks planned right up until your scheduled time. If you arrive 30 or 45 minutes early you could be throwing a monkey wrench into his day. Instead of going inside, sit in your car and kill some time or go down the street to a coffee shop. Just don’t spill anything on your suit! Which brings me to my next point.
  5. Dress/Appearance — Of course most hiring managers will expect to see you in a suit unless you were told otherwise by the person who set up your appointment. Your shoes should be polished, your clothing should fit well – not too big or too small, too low-cut or too high—and you should select a color that is neutral. Think black or navy. Clothing is the first thing to come to mind, but this category includes cleanliness, hair, nails, piercings and visible tattoos as well. If you look as if you rolled out of bed and threw on the first thing your eyes landed on in your closet you are stating, ‘This is the best I am willing to do’. Definitely not a candidate recruiters want to vouch for. I’ve even had a few candidates refuse to take off their coat during the winter months. That is odd behavior that is sure to raise an eyebrow.
  6. Preparation – Come to the interview with a few copies of your resume in a portfolio in case you interview with a panel or team. Or if the company is having printer issues. This can go a long way when you’re up against candidates who arrive empty-handed.
  7. Condescending Attitude – Every company expects you to bring something to the table but you must also be a team player who is teachable. You might be chock full of information, but you don’t know everything, especially if you are entering a new industry. Be willing to add to your arsenal by listening to what others have to contribute. Also remember you should never discount anyone you meet. The receptionist could be the owner’s mother for all you know, or the owner herself. Respect everyone. No one is beneath you, and if you feel the job is, think twice before you apply.
  8. General Answers/Skipping A Question—Recruiters are seeking specific examples so we can determine how you actually handled a situation vs. how you would theoretically handle it. Anyone can claim the customer is always right, but back that claim up with an example. If you get stumped it is better to ask for a moment to think of an answer than to ask to come back to the question. Check out this post for some tips on how to prepare: No Job Offer-Part 2: http://wp.me/p2Yxve-q.
  9. Over The Top—There’s enthusiasm and then there’s inappropriate. Building rapport is a must, and I
    free clip art.net

    free clip art.net

    laugh frequently during interviews, but be careful not to come across as too familiar or unprofessional. Years ago a candidate made derogatory remarks about his ex-wife in a joking fashion and told an inappropriate story that he found funny. I doubted our customers would and had to move on to other applicants. You are not at the bar and you haven’t been hired as a comedian. Know how to read the interviewer. If they aren’t smiling or laughing with you you’re sinking fast.

  10. No Questions —No matter how much research you’ve done you don’t know everything about a company. Think about what is important to you: benefits, tuition reimbursement, advancement, relocation, responsibilities, etc. and ask. Even if you repeat yourself throughout the interview process, each person you encounter will answer you based on his experiences. Anticipate questions (see No Job Offer-Part 3: http://wp.me/p2Yxve-C) and write them down. If I had a dollar for every  interviewee who said, “I had a lot of questions at home. I just can’t remember them now,” I could take a pretty decent vacation.

There it is—mistakes to avoid at all levels of the application process. Hopefully these tips will help you sail through the interviews and land your dream job in no time.

Come back soon for more interviewing and job advice!

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10 Phone Interview Mistakes That Can Cost You A Face-To-Face Interview

The recruiter called after reviewing your application, but don’t relax just yet. Whether she sets up a specific appointment or catches you on the fly, you still need to shine if you want to secure a face-to-face interview. To make it a reality, here are a few things to keep in mind.

 

  1. Language—This refers not only your word choices (profanity is never acceptable) but also how you speak. The recruiter is
    Image by Ambro

    Image by Ambro

    not your friend, so don’t speak to him like he’s your buddy at the bar. On the other hand, don’t be so uptight that you come across as someone who won’t fit in with the company culture. Use proper English and leave out slang and overused phrases (you know, this and that, like, etc.).

  2. Complaints—Yes, we have all had some unpleasant situations occur at work. We’ve all had to deal with customers or even co-workers who are impossible–uh, I mean challenging. Regardless, it is not a good idea to complain about them, and especially not during an interview. If discussing a difficult situation is unavoidable choose your words wisely as you explain—words like ‘challenging’.
  3. Excuses—Rather than blaming the fact that you didn’t meet a goal or complete a task on someone else, choose a situation that tripped you up in the past and share what steps you took to be successful later on. At the end of the day you are accountable for your performance.
  4. Deception, aka Lying — Once you are caught in a lie, whether it’s in regard to your education, experience or job history, there is not much you can do to convince a recruiter you can be truthful, and you effectively eliminate your chances to get into that organization. I have had candidates lie about their education on their application, confess when I explain we verify the information, then ask in the same breath if they can apply for other opportunities in the company. My answer is always polite, yet firm.
  5. Criminal History – While most companies don’t automatically reject individuals who might have an indiscretion in their past, you should be prepared to discuss it in a professional manner. The recruiter will ask for details about the incident, if it went to court, how you pled, did you serve time, what you did to rehabilitate yourself and if you are currently on probation. He might also ask how old you were when the incident occurred. We’ve all been young and dumb, and age really can affect the company’s decision to move forward.
  6. Distractions – You might be distracted or there could just be way too much background noise in your home. Find a quiet area where you can hear the recruiter and she can hear you. Do not do anything but answer questions and take notes. Once I had a scheduled phone interview with a candidate who felt it was perfectly appropriate to cook (I heard the microwave beep in the background), drink and eat a meal during the hour-long interview. When I asked her about it, after a startled pause, she told me she had to take medication at a specific time to which I suggested she might have chosen a different time for the interview. She became defensive and asked, rather unpleasantly, if I wanted to reschedule. “No,” I said, “why don’t we just finish now.” And finish we did.
  7. Lack of Preparation – Scheduled phone screens can be open-book tests. Take advantage of this and prepare the same way you would for an in-person interview. Use a cheat sheet. If the recruiter catches you off-guard ask if you can set a time—preferably later that day—and explain you’d like to give her your undivided attention. This is a reasonable request and it will allow you time to familiarize yourself with the company and prepare your answers. Know the dates of your employment and reasons for leaving past jobs because job history can be a hindrance to moving forward. Remember, what you say should match what you listed on the application (see #4).
  8. Babbling – You have to know when to rein it in. Answer the questions, be personable, but don’t continue to say the same thing over and over, and don’t get off on tangents. If the recruiter is frustrated she’s also imagining how frustrated customers and colleagues will be.
  9. Improper Questions — The phone interview is not the place to ask about pay. We understand you want to know the compensation is feasible, but most applications have a place for you to list your desired salary. If the recruiter contacts you, more than likely what he has to offer falls in the range you listed. Asking gives us the impression you aren’t truly seeking a career but just the highest bidder and, in spite of what we say, you won’t be a good match for the opportunity.
  10. Long Term Goals — No matter what experience you bring to the table recruiters want a win-win. You should too. That is,
    Free Clip-Art.Net

    Free Clip-Art.Net

    your goals are in line with the company’s and vice versa. If you would like to spend your days on archaeological digs, don’t apply for a Dental Hygienist opening. Even if you made it through the interview process, you will make your co-workers, customers and yourself miserable. If you need something “just for now” choose a job that will help you land a spot on the dig. Companies that hire for careers pour a lot of money into training and expect you to stick around.

 

Keep these tips in mind during your phone interviews this week and hopefully you will be invited for a face-to-face interview. Join me next time for the list of things during the interview that can cost you an offer.

Make it a great week!

 

 

QUICK TIPS: Interviewing

Image by Stuart Miles

With graduation just a few weeks behind us recruiters are often swamped with interviews this time of year. Let’s say you’re scheduled for one of these interviews but have decided the position is not the right one for you. What should you do?

A. Nothing. You’re not interested in the position and you won’t be applying for it in the future.

B. Send the recruiter a polite email explaining you have decided to pursue other opportunities.

C. Go anyway. It’s not professional to cancel after the fact.

B is the best way to go. An email is fine, but a phone call is more professional (and not a voicemail left in the middle of the night). This isn’t so much about the job as it is your character. You never know if the company might offer another position that is of interest to you. In fact, the recruiter might actually keep you in mind and reach out to you later on.

A might seem like a good idea, but I caution you to never burn bridges. Guess where recruiters go when they leave a company? often to other recruiting roles. If you canceled on the recruiter when she worked at Victory Logistics there’s no reason for her to believe you’ll be reliable at Procter & Gamble.

C could be a waste of your time and the hiring manager’s. Call the person who set up the interview to let him know you’d like to cancel and give an honest reason. You might have a misunderstanding about the opportunity that he can clear up—and, frankly, it’s less cowardly. This is called professional courtesy. After that, if he asks you to come in anyway, consider it. No one can have a thorough idea of a job even if they go through the entire interview process, but you will at least learn more. Hopefully an observation or shadow will be part of the process to provide you with even more insight. You might even change your mind.

For more interviewing tips check out the following posts:

Didn’t Get the Job? It’s Not You: http://wp.me/p2Yxve-9

Post Grad And No Job? Relax: http://wp.me/p2Yxve-25

 

 

December Career Search

I get it. It’s not that you don’t want to look for a new career mid-December, it’s just no one is hiring. Everyone knows that, right?

Wrong!

Photo by Stuart Miles

Photo by Stuart Miles

I had this very conversation with someone last week. Not only did I tell the person she was mistaken (As a recruiter I thought that would carry some weight. I was mistaken.), I asked, “Have you even looked?”.

Crickets.

Turns out she was basing this logic on her experience with employment agencies in the past.

Here’s the deal. Yes, some companies wait until the beginning of a new year when a new budget becomes available before they take on the expense of adding personnel. But not all companies. If that were true there wouldn’t have been any public career fairs in your city in the past couple of months. Or weeks. Plus, do you really think we recruiters get to put our feet up on the desk for the entire month of December? Come on. We want to be busy. Busy hiring people.

So, in an attempt to take the momentum out of the ‘nobody’s hiring’ rumor, here are a few really good reasons to look for a new career right now.

 

Make a statement

Looking now could tell recruiters something about you. You don’t follow the crowd. You’re ready to dive in—right now. You plan ahead—why put off until tomorrow what you can do today, and all that. These are great qualities to bring to the table at any company and gives an idea about your work ethic. Just make sure when you get in front of the interviewer you back those qualities up with good examples.

One in a million fifty

Because so many people believe the “no jobs ‘til January myth”, competition is usually very low. This means your application is automatically closer to the top of the pile. You still have to bring the goods of course, but at least the hiring manager won’t have to wade through hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of other folks’ information to get to yours.

Recruiters have more time on their hands

When sorting through tons of applications reviewing can become scanning for the sake of efficiency. But when your resume or application is one in a handful it will naturally receive more of a perusal.

After 14 years of recruiting and observing trends it seems as if everyone’s New Year’s resolution is to find a new job. The number of applications we receive increases dramatically come January 2nd. But you, oh wise one, are smarter than that. Your odds of getting the job are way higher when you’re only being compared to a fraction of those in the New Year frenzy. You just might catch the eye of the recruiter (who would have otherwise passed over your resume quickly in January) and land an interview.

It Could Be Good for Your Health

Health benefits, that is. In most companies, the date on which you are eligible for benefits or perks is tied to your hire date. That means if you can start before the end of the month your benefits could kick in up to a month early.

One Step Ahead

 Ahhh… That is the sound of relief. Relief because, not only did you get the job, you’re already well into your training. And your friends who made that, “First thing on Monday, I’m looking for a job” vow are sweating it out without you. When you hang out after work next month you can relax and offer them words of wisdom. Or comfort. You choose. But, for you, the pressure is off.

Some of you are still not convinced. I know what you’re thinking. You really don’t have the time to begin a career search now. You’re doing your holiday shopping and the holiday party circuit and making New Year’s plans… Recruiters might not be busy but you are.

Trust me. Start now and you’ll thank me next month. Cruise on over to those jobs sites and start putting in your applications. Today. Happy searching!

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.

Post Grad & No Job? Relax.

The ceremonies and graduation parties are behind you at long last, but you are in meltdown mode because you still haven’t found a job. What are you going to do? Student loans are looming just six months away. How will you ever repay them? And you’ve seen the news reports. Jobs can be hard to come by. (Insert panic here.)

Panic

Image from Photobucket

You might feel like it’s your fault. You put all your eggs in one basket or submitted too few applications. You were so sure you’d get an offer you didn’t even bother putting in applications at other companies and now it’s too late. You learned a valuable lesson. Now take some time to regroup.

On the flip side, maybe you were the one who did everything right. You’ve been going to the college fairs since freshman year. You had your first interview in October and accepted the job in December. And then…the offer was rescinded. Can they do that? It wasn’t even your fault! What is up with this company? While it’s rare, an offer might be rescinded for a number of reasons. Budget cuts. Hiring freezes. You took too long to decide and another candidate accepted. The recruiter detected your uncertainty about the position. No one wants to get this news, but if you did, it’s not the end of the world.

Relax. That’s right. I said it.

I realize mom and dad probably won’t agree—especially if you’re camping out in their house with your feet up on the coffee table. If that’s the case they absolutely should give you the kick in the pants you need to get in gear. Give me a minute to make my case.

‘Relax’ does not translate into ‘do nothing’. It just means not having that career locked in this summer might be a blessing in disguise. You have your whole life ahead of you and you will be working for the next forty plus years. (!) Why not make this summer work for you?

Relax2

 

Why it Might be Okay to Find Your Career in the Fall

The competition was fierce. Sadly, another candidate swooped in and took your perfect job right from under your nose. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Apparently, it wasn’t the perfect job for you. At least not right now. Maybe you didn’t get the job because you weren’t quite there. It’s very difficult due to the volume of applications and interviews for recruiters to give you specific feedback regarding your interview. Or any feedback at all. Go back and read the job description and be honest with yourself. If the position required six months of customer service and you only have three, summer is the perfect time to remedy that. Choose your summer job wisely. Make sure it will add to the skills you can offer an employer.

You didn’t feel good about the offer(s) you received. You’re sure a better fit is out there. You took a risk and declined an offer or two, and that’s okay. It wouldn’t look good on your resume to quit a job just three months in. I see short stints like this frequently on resumes, but despite the message sent by many professors, new grads can and do enter companies and build very successful careers without job-hopping. I interviewed for several opportunities the summer after graduation and weighed my options before making a decision. I’ve been with my company for several years, as have many of my co-workers, and have received many promotions.

But on the other hand…some of your classmates might have accepted the first job offer that came their way thinking they wouldn’t receive another one. Or they really thought it was the right job. In a few months reality could set in. It becomes obvious their skill set or interest(s) don’t line up with the company goals or job duties. Perhaps the career path isn’t going to take them where they want to go. (They want to be an event planner, but there are no opportunities like that in the organization.) If by that time you’ve spent the summer discovering and honing your skills you might find that same job would be great for you!

You were barking up the wrong tree. Admit it. During your final semester you applied for anything and everything. Big mistake. You’re a sales person. You knew it in high school, the day you talked your dad into buying you a $6000 car for you instead of the $2000 beater he had his eye on. So why did you apply for Administrative Assistant? Well, you reasoned, it’s a foot in the door. But maybe not the best way in. Wouldn’t the company be most likely to promote someone in their training program who they are specifically grooming for sales management over someone in an unrelated role? Plus, the recruiter could tell when she read your objective: To contribute to an organization by increasing revenue utilizing exceptional sales techniques and negotiation skills. So, you avoided six months of misery typing documents when you don’t even like typing!

Enjoy one final summer before you begin your ‘real job’. Everyone earns vacation time, but unless you become a teacher the chances of having three full months off work again are slim. But I caution you, don’t do this without planning ahead. You should have attended career fairs, collected information, and shook a few hands to lay the groundwork for your career search. Use this time to do something meaningful—volunteer, travel abroad or reflect on your long-term goals.

Three months to network and find the right job. Networking happens every day, not just at networking events—and it’s not all job-related. I meet aspiring writers all the time and invite them to the writing group I attend. I invited a girl in the cafe at my gym to church. (Yes, l make conversation with random people. I consider it a gift.) I put an acquaintance seeking work in touch with someone who works in her field. You can connect with others at your summer job (and you should all have one), parties, wedding receptions, sports leagues and anywhere else you find people. Luckily, due to social media you don’t have to limit your networking to your own city. But remember, it’s not just about you. Consider what you can offer to those you meet.

Get to know your likes & dislikes through your summer job. Shadow, volunteer or intern in your field of interest. You might find it’s right up your alley. Or it’s not what you’d hoped for— and you’ll have time to make adjustments to your plan.

Now that I’ve talked you down off the ceiling, realize you’re not the only recent grad still waiting to begin your career. Your free time can actually work for you. Be sure to check out my next entry for tips to make your summer count.

 

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.