13 Jul

These are the kind of skills you should be demanding to learn.

Dr. Robert D. Atkinson, head of a D.C. think tank, has laid out his gripes with the current American educational system. And he’s not complaining that recent grads don’t type fast enough or are bad at answering the phone (the latter of which is one of my personal complaints). Dr. Atkinson likes to give applicants little tests before he’ll bother giving them an interview. Apparently the results have been dismal.

The questions are pretty simple: “Go to this person’s bio online and write a three or four -sentence version of their bio for us to include in a conference packet,” or, “Enter these eight items in a spreadsheet and tell us the average for the ones that end in an odd number.”

It blows my mind that only 1 of 20 people could do this. (That’s 5% if you’re keeping track!)

Now of course, if you’re still in college, you’re only there to have fun and earn a degree, who cares what you actually learn there, right? I know, I know, you’re incredulous, “Psh, no. I’m here to learn. Seriously.” But sometimes you just want to get the work over with and do the very minimum to pass the class. Guess what, this is America and while a degree from a hoity-toity school might connect you to a huge alumni network, you still have to back up that degree with actual skills. Since you’re probably paying a ridiculous amount of money to actually LEARN things, maybe you should take a minute and make sure that at that fancy school of yours you’re actually learning how to write coherently, communicate, and work in a group. Also, get an internship while you’re at it.

Now I don’t agree with Dr. A. that there should be a national test of graduate skills. 4-year colleges are not entirely about training you for the job market. It’s called higher education for a reason and should be expanding your mind on many levels–in and out of the classroom. I think his proposal for a national survey of employers, so that graduates know what certain job skills are valued and what companies are looking for, is a fantastic idea. And the radical reorganization of colleges sounds great too, but much harder to implement. Then again, he’s the man with the think tank, so if anyone could do it…

But until he gets those implemented, I do think, and this was my personal experience, that while you’re learning about American Culture in the 1960s or World Religions or whatever, you should also be learning–AND PRACTICING– how to write coherent prose. Almost everyone will have to do that in his or her professional life. Even sometimes engineers.



12 Jul

So it’s time to share one of my absolute favorite institutions with you: Upromise. Upromise is magical, especially if you have one of those ever-present Sallie Mae loans.

It is a service that helps you pay off your student loans (of if you’re thinking ahead, to set up a high-yield savings account or a tax-deferred 529 plan) or even request a check to pay for college expenses.

How it works:

We all shop online. We all (mostly) use credit cards. We all go out to eat. Upromise helps you take advantage of these things and gets you a percentage back to help you pay for college, even if you’re no longer in college.

Online: Most online retailers (including things you wouldn’t expect, like Rue La La, Netflix and 1-800-Flowers) now have it set up that if you go through Upromise, you will get a certain percentage from your purchase put into your Upromise account. It’s usually 1-2% for most retailers and travel websites and 10-12% for things like flowers. Some websites, like Netflix,  offer you a flat dollar amount ($12 for first-time Netflix customers, $1 for every Jet Blue purchase). Once your account accrues a certain amount, Upromise will automatically transfer your money to whatever account you have set up (Sallie Mae, 529, etc). To make it even easier, you can download a toolbar that will automatically offer to give you Upromise rewards when you visit participating websites. This one is great, because you can even put it on your work computer and earn points on business purchases.

In-store: You can link up many grocery and pharmacy shopper rewards cards (those annoying barcode things that go on your keychain) to your Upromise account. The website also offers coupons that will get money sent to your account. Additionally, you can set up most credit cards with Upromise, giving you rewards on things like gas and sometimes even your electric bill. You can even get a Upromise credit card, which will earn you a higher percentage cash back at participating retailers and Upromise money on almost every other purchase.

Restaurants: If you feel comfortable registering your credit and/or debit cards with Upromise and you sign up for their dining rewards program, you will automatically get money back when you pay with your debit card at participating restaurants. More restaurants are added every week. It’s great because you don’t have to remember to do anything. You’ll probably be surprised when the money shows up after dining at a restaurant you didn’t even know participated. You can search for restaurants in your area here.

e-rewards: Just like other online survey websites, e-rewards.com gives you points for completing surveys online. And while there are other options, you can use the points to buy Upromise money, which will then go towards your loans or into your savings plan.

Now I know all of this just sounds like one big Upromise ad, but I really am just so excited about Upromise. In under 3 years I have saved over $600 that has gone towards my student loans. All from things I was already spending money on! Just remember, when that money does go into your Sallie Mae loan, make sure you pay the regular amount as scheduled (since it was already in your budget). That way you’re taking full advantage of the money!

Monday money-saver: Holiday weekend edition

6 Jul

I know it’s Tuesday, but for most of us lucky people it’s the first day of the work week, so we’re going to pretend it’s Monday. This one isn’t so much a money-saver as a money-maker.

You, my friend, are a consumer. There are lots of companies out there who are trying to sell you things, and they want your help figuring out how best to go about that. Market research companies are constantly looking for people to participate in focus groups or surveys that will help them learn consumer attitudes and opinions on everything from new cell phones to birth control to breakfast cereal.

If you live in a big city, you should sign up with a company like Probe Market Research. That will put you on an email list and whenever there is a focus group in your area, they will email you a preliminary survey to see if you are appropriate for that group. If you are, a person from the company will follow up with a more in-depth interview. Respond to these quickly, as spaces usually fill up fast! Most focus groups are a couple of hours and pay in cash anywhere from $25 to $250. Sometimes they require multiple visits and homework. Sometimes they pay in things like Amazon.com gift cards instead of cash.

Another way get companies to pay you just for being a consumer is to sign up with websites that do online surveys. Sites like You Talk Back have a system set up where you answer surveys on things like your TV watching habits, magazine ads that you’ve seen, and your opinions on various brands of iced tea. The process is similar. You get an email inviting you to an online survey, there are a few questions to check your eligibility, and then you are asked to complete the survey, which can last anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes. The way that You Talk Back rewards you for your time is by giving you points. You can then trade the points in for gift cards to places like Starbucks, American Eagle Outfitters, even TicketMaster, or magazine subscriptions. You’re not getting a survey every day, but it’s a quick and easy way to get something for almost nothing.

More networking tips

6 Jul

This article on Cube Rules by Scott Herrick outlines the ways that social media (which you thought was just for stalking your 8th grade boyfriend) can also be a very useful tool for networking. I say social media is a great way to turn acquaintances into friends, to build upon and solidify relationships with people who are just as busy as you are, and to stay in touch with friends and associates in other parts of the country and world.

How has social media helped you network?

The secrets of networking…revealed!

2 Jul

So when I first learned that networking is basically the ONLY way anyone gets jobs anymore, I was kind of freaked out. “How am I ever going to meet these people I need to network with?! Won’t they get annoyed that I’m asking for help? What if they feel like I’m USING them?”

Now that I’ve been out in the world for a little while, I’m realizing one very important thing: Your network is made up mostly of your friends. Not random acquaintances you constantly have to butter up and take out for drinks, but the people you are already drinking with. Including, but not limited to, friends you have made at various jobs, people you went to college with (even if you didn’t study the same thing), and your parent’s friends.

These are the people who want to see you succeed. These are the people who have your back. Make sure these people know what kind of job you’re looking for. Because even if they don’t work in a field that you’re interested in, guess what, they have other friends who you don’t even know yet! Also, you don’t know everything their company does, and they might have a place there for you. The more people know about what you’re looking for, the more likely they are to think of you when they hear of a job opening in their company or get an email from a friend who is looking to hire.

Now this doesn’t mean that you need to talk all about your life goals every time you’re in a social setting, but make sure you have an answer if someone asks what kind of work you’re looking for. You should also feel free to email specific friends your resume and let them know that you’re looking, because they want to help you.

The thing is, people want to do a good job when they hire (and recommend!) someone. They want to hire someone who is trustworthy and will work hard. They would much rather hire someone who was referred to them than some schmoe off the street. To this end, when you are employed you should always be doing your best work. Because every industry is a small community, and chances are the person interviewing you knows your old boss or someone who worked on that project with you, and they’re going to call that person to ask about you.

This also means that you need to be friendlier. Yes, even you. Even if you’re still in college. The world (even before you graduate) is a highly competitive place, but that doesn’t mean that you need to compete with every person who wants to work in the same field as you! College (and early in your career) is the time to be building good working relationships with as many people as possible. No one gets to the top by herself, and wouldn’t you rather be with friends once you get there?

How is your budget going?

1 Jul

Hey everyone, have you made yourself a budget yet? Maybe you were saying, “I’ll do it at the end of the month.” Guess what? It’s July 1st!

How about this, let’s start with just doing the MATH. Figure out what your daily budget is, and then go about your business and have an awesome holiday weekend. Then you can be mentally prepared to start living by that budget come Tuesday.

Doing this will help you avoid what Lindsay was talking about–if you make too many transfers from your savings to your checking account in a month, your bank will turn your savings account into another checking account! If you have a budget and a set amount you’re putting into savings, you won’t just guess at a random amount to put away and have to dig back into it at the end of the month. That way, if you do need to get at the money (for a plane ticket or a doctor bill), it will be a much less frequent (and more bank friendly) happening.