Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Get Job Offers, Have Fun Doing It

I have many colleagues who find themselves preparing for a job search. As I speak with them about the process, I notice that the greatest anxiety they share is the job interview process. Some people dread job interviews. Smart, talented, accomplished people would rather fall down the stairs than jump through this hoop.  It is easy to understand why; it is an important meeting, yet most of us have not had many opportunities to practice for it. There is a lot at stake. Folks who have been at the same job for a while are out of practice and wonder if job interviewing has changed. More than a few people have mentioned to me that they are afraid the interviewer will be unpleasant, confrontational, and make them feel unworthy.

I don’t mind going on job interviews. Of course, being human, I still experience some anxious excitement as I prepare to walk in, but not fear. One reason for my general lack of anxiety is my careful preparation. The other reason is my mindset.

There are thousands of resources that help you prepare for the types of questions you should be ready to answer in an interview, so I won’t cover too much of that. My goal here is to help you get your head in the right zone for maximum success.

In my adult life, I have never gone on a job interview that did not result in at least a second interview. Many led to job offers, some of which I turned down because they weren't right for me. I hope some of what I have discovered about making job interviews more enjoyable and successful will be helpful to you.

Getting Ready

First, try to have fun with this. View it as an adventure. Everyone wants to work with happy people who are comfortable in their own skin. Presenting yourself this way is your challenge.

Be early. Make sure you know where you are going and how to get there. Nothing adds stress quite as well as running late. Sometimes I drive by the day before to be sure I know how to get there and to check the commute. I like to arrive 30 minutes early and just relax in the car for 15 minutes getting my thoughts together and then check in about 15 minutes early. Breathe deeply and slowly before you enter and after you arrive, because calm looks like confidence.

Bring a professional looking binder or journal and two pens. Take notes. This will be useful when composing your thank you letter and remembering your visit. It also gives you something to do with your hands. 

Leave your phone in the car, or turn it off. You need to be completely focused on what’s happening here and now. 

Remember that you are awesome. You have had jobs before, you will have jobs again. You are good, and smart, and they would be lucky to have you. Maybe you don’t completely feel this way, but you can pretend for an hour, right? You need to get a little psyched up about yourself as a candidate if you want someone else to do the same. Think about times in your life when you’ve been successful, when you’ve done well, and meditate on them. This exercise will be handy since you’ll likely be asked to describe such times in your interview.

Think about how much you have earned in your life so far. Actually sit down and calculate it. You might be amazed at the total. You could earn that amount several times over in the years to come. This job is just the next page in your book. Let these thoughts inspire confidence and calm.

Learn all you can about the company. Technology makes this easy. You don’t want to walk in spouting statistics, but be prepared to demonstrate that you took the time to investigate if it comes up.

As a person of faith, I pray. During my last job search, I went to a chapel before or after every interview, and asked for blessings and wise discernment. In that sacred space, the right decisions became clear and anxiety faded. If you are not a believer, meditation can also help you to access your own inner peace and wisdom.

Game Time

Be yourself, but be your best version of yourself. If you are feeling nervous, it’s OK to say so if you put it in context. Say something like, “Wow, I’m surprised to find myself feeling nervous. I guess I’m just excited about this opportunity.” It is OK to be human, it makes you relatable and the interviewer might make an effort to put you at ease. 

Understand that the job interview is a two-way street. They are interviewing you, you are interviewing them. Each of you gets to make a choice. An interview is like a first date, everyone is hoping for a love connection, but you can’t force it. You need to decide if you want to be there, just as they are deciding if they want to have you. If they see you as a professional who is doing your own decision making rather than as an “any port in a storm” candidate, it will reflect well on you. When they ask you if you have any questions, make sure that you do.

If the interviewer is a jerk, or inept, that is no reflection on you. An interviewer who is mean, unpleasant, unorganized or disengaged is doing you a huge favor. Assuming they are the hiring manager, do you really want to work for someone like that? No, you don’t. Better to find out now. I recently had a disastrous interview. I did well, but the interviewer was clearly in over her head, and it seemed to me she hadn’t interviewed anyone in years, if ever. She asked me only one question, and then talked about herself for 90 minutes. I went home and sent her a polite email letting her know I had decided to take my job search, “In another direction.”

Give complete answers, but don’t over-talk. This is a listening time, too. If you need a minute to think after a question is asked, take it. To buy time for your mind to find the answer, say something like, “Ooh, that’s a good question, let me take a minute to match it with a good answer.” I find that interviewers love when you occasionally tell them that they have asked an interesting or provocative question. 

Be prepared to answer these questions:

  • “Why should I hire you?”
  • “What do you have to offer that the others don’t?” 
These are slightly ridiculous questions, but some version of them might be asked. Answering them confidently proves you are prepared and can think on your feet. Have a pithy answer ready.

To the first question, you could reply, “I have the skills you need. My years of relevant experience will allow me to make an immediate impact. You will never regret hiring me.” If you are a less seasoned candidate, you can say something such as, “I’d really love to work here, and after learning more about the position, I know I can do a great job for you.” 

To the second question, you need to choose one of your personal traits that define you that would also be of interest to the employer. I usually talk about my “commitment to personal integrity.” If you have a personal motto or creed, this is the place to share it. If you don’t have a motto, creed, or professional mission statement, get one. It shows that you have a sense of who you are and helps to convey your personal brand. Examine your personality for traits an employer can appreciate; examples include attention to detail, enthusiasm, loyalty, energy, tenacity, insight, commitment, drive, flexibility. Choose one, and find some strong examples in preparation for this type of question.

Keep It Positive

Never talk badly about previous employers, managers or coworkers. If forced to by the questions you are asked, keep it positive and turn it into a story about how you learned to work well with a difficult coworker or how you stayed professional and effective in a less than ideal environment. Perhaps you've had bad jobs and bosses straight out of Dilbert, but this is not a time to vent.

For those without a college degree, technical school certificate, or other formal training: Do not worry about your credentials once you have been invited to an interview. If they cared that you don’t have a degree, they would not have asked you to come in. Don’t bring it up if they don’t. If they do mention it, you could say, “Since you brought it up, do you offer tuition reimbursement?” That changes the conversation a bit by implying that you value education, but just haven’t got around to it yet.

Show Me the Money! 

Unless you are independently wealthy or a missionary, working is all about earning money. During the interview process you sometimes have to pretend it isn’t. It’s just part of the game. For that reason, never ask about money at the first meeting. 

While I believe it is poor etiquette for a potential employer to ask you what you are currently earning or wishing to earn at the first interview, these days many hiring managers will do just that. They don’t want to invest their limited time and energy into someone unlikely to take the offer. If this happens, stay cool. Try not to let them use your salary expectations to disqualify you. Try to answer in generalities and ranges. If they press for details, always be honest, because if you lie it could disqualify you when they find out.

Remember, what you earn now is not necessarily connected to what they will have to pay to get you. Perhaps you are underpaid because you failed to negotiate in the past? Don’t make that mistake again.  If pressed in this way, I respond, “Right now I am earning ‘X’ however with my skills and experience I know I am prepared to move to the next level in my career. I’d be pleased to negotiate a salary once I have learned more about the position, the expectations and responsibilities, and how I can add value in this role.”

Write down what you think would be a fair salary for the job based on reality, research, and the value you can bring. When I am looking for a job or anticipating an offer, I write the minimum amount of salary that I'll accept on a card and put it in my wallet. This helps to insure that I don't sell myself short under pressure by accepting less than I am worth. Also, it could be useful in negotiations; if you bothered to write the magic number down before you arrived, they'll know you are serious. If an employer is unwilling to meet my magic number, then I walk. Declining offers that don’t measure up is a firm commitment I’ve made to myself. It can be terrifying to turn your back on a real job offer, especially if you are unemployed, but I’ve never done it without soon after receiving a magic-number-beating offer someplace else.

Stick the Landing

At the end of the interview, ask some version of this question: “Have I said anything today that would disqualify me from remaining a viable candidate for this position?” Why ask that?

 1) It is a gutsy question! It shows confidence and insight. You don’t even work there yet and you are already trying to learn from the experience. It shows that you have courage and you are not afraid of the truth.
2) If they answer, “Yes” you will know where you stand and you can take one last stab at addressing their disqualifying concern. You can also be sure to address the perceived weaknesses again in your thank you letter.
 3) If they say, “No” then you have forced them to recognize, admit (and state out loud) that you remain a contender for the job. I asked this question at the interview for my current job, and the interviewer was visibly impressed. Their, “No” let me know I was still in the running. 

Survived the interview?
Good! You rock!

Say Thanks

Always send a thank you note, even if it was a terrible interview and you have no intention of pursuing the opportunity (see above). If you write it by hand, mail it on the ride home so they get it the next day. If you send an email, do it within one business day of your meeting. If there are two candidates of equal qualifications, the one who sends the best letter will win.

In the letter, be sure you summarize the meeting, what you learned, and how you are equipped to address the needs of the organization. Confirm that you remain interested in the role, if that is the case. If you are not interested, politely say so. That will allow the hiring manager to move on to other candidates. Don’t forget to check spelling and grammar; this is not a good time for sloppy mistakes.

Take a Deep Breath

Once you've sent your follow up letters, take a deep breath. You've done your very best, and that's all you can do. If things don’t work out, don’t despair. It is not necessarily a reflection on you if an offer is not made. Business has many moving parts; maybe the funding for the position was revoked. Maybe the timing is wrong. Maybe the CEO’s nephew needs a job. Maybe it is the wrong job for you. Maybe God has other plans for you. Maybe something better is right around the corner. Try to learn from the experience, and move on with the confidence of knowing you survived! Worst case scenario, you’ve had an opportunity to practice, and you’ll do better next time.

Good Luck! If you are facing job interviews soon, I hope that these tips will help you to overcome anxiety, relax, enjoy the process, and reach a better outcome. 

If you have any interviewing questions I have not covered, I'm happy to answer them. I invite your comments below, or email me privately at my-moneytrip@cox.net

Monday, November 17, 2014

Why raising the Minimum Wage could hurt the working poor

There’s been much talk lately around raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. It seems to me there is a very simple, fairly obvious reason why raising the minimum wage to $15 will absolutely not help the working poor as it is designed to do. That reason is competition.  

There are plenty of people who would not get off the couch for $7.25 an hour, but jobs that pay $15 an hour will grab their attention. Along with the low-skilled workers who usually apply for jobs pouring coffee, mopping floors and bagging groceries, we would also see far greater numbers of educated and professional people applying for those same jobs. The high school dropout could find themselves competing directly against the recent college graduate for that customer service job at the local supermarket.

Well-meaning folks who advocate for the $15 minimum wage imagine a transfer of wealth from the greedy corporations to the working poor, but what will actually happen is a transfer of wealth to the middle class. Many of the working poor will become the unemployed poor as higher caliber candidates grow ever more willing to take over their current jobs.

Compound this by the fact that many employers will predictably respond to a significant minimum wage increase by cutting workforce. Also a factor, low-income workers will lose supplemental means-tested federal benefits if their income increases, leading to a net gain of zero.

It is right and just that we should all wish for the working poor to live with dignity.  Nevertheless, exponentially increasing the willing talent pool for the jobs they currently hold by doubling the rate of pay can’t possibly be the best solution. The last thing those at the lowest rung of the economic ladder need is increased competition, but that's what they'll get. We simply cannot mandate that every job pay a family-supporting wage and not expect economic and sociological forces to promptly correct for it. 

So, what is the solution? Acquiring job skills that command more rewards in the marketplace is the only reliable way to put distance between yourself and poverty. Any solution to lift workers out of poverty that does not include an education component cannot succeed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Teach Your Children

Start ‘Em Young

There are really only three things that can be done with money, and all three are important. If you teach your children nothing else about money, teach them this:

Money is to spend, save, and give away.

My daughter Noelle is four years old. She understands that money can be exchanged for goods and services that she likes, such as carousel rides and popcorn. Demonstrating her basic understanding, she sometimes calls money “carousel cash.” She has a piggy bank, and she likes to dump out the money and play with it. We discuss what it is worth, stack it up, and put it back when we are done. She knows that we save some of it to spend “later.” She knows that we give some away. At Sunday service, we always let her put the envelope in the basket, and explain that we are giving the church some money so they can take care of the building and help people. She looks forward to this ritual. In these simple ways, she is learning to spend, save, and give away.

Money Found!

A few months ago, the family went out to eat at a local restaurant. While we were there, Noelle looked out the window and down at the ground and spotted a twenty dollar bill. “Daddy - twenty!” she said. Daddy knew it was a windy day, so he ran outside as fast as he could to try to grab that twenty. In spite of the windy day, the money did not blow away, and I was able to retrieve it. I took it back inside and handed it to Noelle. She spotted it, so it was hers. In that moment, she effectively doubled her piggy bank’s net worth.
Noelle at age 2,  spending some Carousel Cash
A few days later I asked Noelle what she would like to do with her found money. She replied that she wanted to, “Put it in the basket” at church. I thought to myself, “My kid is a better person than I am.” I wanted her to keep it. I wouldn’t give away 50% of my net worth. However, I did not try to discourage her. She had made her choice.
Being only four years old, she might not have fully understood all the implications of her decision. Still, it was heartwarming to see her choose to give the money away when she fully understood that she could just as easily have kept it or used it to buy a new toy.
The story of Noelle’s largesse spread through the family, and her generosity was rewarded. Her proud Grandpa Dave sent her a crisp new twenty dollar bill to replace the one she had given away.  That money is safely in the piggy bank.
The problem is that Noelle now thinks that if she spends all of her money, she can find some more on the ground. I explained to her that finding money on the ground is unusual, but she insists that she will look “very closely” using a “loupe.” (A loupe is a kind of magnifying glass used by jewelers, printers, dentists and collectors, among others, in case you didn’t know.) 

As Time Goes On

As time goes on, these basic lessons will lead to larger lessons. By the time Noelle is high school age, I hope I have imparted all the essentials: Work hard. Avoid debt. Save up for a car. Save for college, and then attend one that you can afford without going deeply into debt. Be suspicious of borrowing, and be aware of how much more you will have to work to pay the interest. Give generously – not only to help others, but as a sign that you trust in both God and your own ability to provide for your needs and wants. Finally, always set aside some money just for fun. 

Even Little Kids Should Have Their Own Money

A few weeks ago the family was shopping at Target. As is our habit, we let Noelle choose a toy to ride around in the cart with her while we shop. Usually, at the end of the trip we put the toy back on the shelf and say goodbye. This ritual has been working well for years. Not this time.
Noelle was holding a toy she wanted to keep, a plush, pink dinosaur. Noelle asked for the toy. We said, “No.” She did not handle this disappointment gracefully.  She had a full blown, kicking, screaming, carry-me-out-of-the-store-over-the-shoulder-while-horrified-strangers-look-on tantrum. Noelle is typically very well behaved, and this behavior is not something her mother and I have had to handle very often, and never in public. 
In our family, there is a zero-tolerance policy for tantrums. We do not reward tantrums – never. Ever. Period. Kids learn fast, and rewarding just one tantrum invites years of the same. Often, when Noelle begins to throw a tantrum we say to her, “Has this ever worked before?” This is usually enough to short-circuit the impending drama. But this time, for the first time, we wanted to give in. It is hard to explain, but this time something was different. Noelle’s cry was not a whiny, spoiled, bratty kid cry, it was a kind of mourning. She was truly sad, heart aching. Somehow, she had bonded with this toy. Lest you think I am exaggerating, she had already named it “Comfort.” She was afraid that if she put it back on the shelf, someone else would “steal it.” In her heart, it was fate, hers, meant to be. To her, someone else buying it was unthinkable.
* Sigh * 

What’s a parent to do? Our zero-tolerance policy would not allow us to buy this toy. But leaving the store without it seemed, under the circumstances, needlessly harsh. Then we remembered; she has her own money.
I said, “Noelle, Mommy and Daddy can’t buy this toy for you because of the scene you made in the store. We just can’t – but you can buy it. Would you like to use some of your own money to buy it?” 

“Yes,” sniffled Noelle. 

I continued, “If you spend your money now, you will have less for other things later. Is that OK with you?” 

“Yes,” answered Noelle. “Let’s go home and get my piggy bank.”
* Phew *
To be clear, I am not above buying a toy or treat for my children when we go to the store. I do this quite often. That said, I don’t want to set an expectation that every time we go anywhere a new toy will come home with us. So from now on, if Noelle truly wants something that I don't want to buy, she can buy it herself. This will provide teachable moments. If she can’t afford something, she will have to save up for it. When that happens, we will talk about ways that she can earn some money by helping at home. Rather than calling it an allowance, we will call it her salary. As she gets older, we will introduce a bonus and commission plan to incentivize her. Hey - just like real life! 
Teach your kids how to handle money, and start them young. Teach them the relationship between working and earning. Teach them to spend, save, and give away. Good money habits are one of the best gifts we can give our children. If they learn well, they will reap the rewards all the days of their lives. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Secret Knowledge That Will Change Your Life Forever

I have unbelievable news! What if I told you that I know a proven way to build wealth, a way to get out of debt and stay out of debt forever?  Many people have paid fortunes to learn about this amazing plan. Like a magician who divulges his methods, I‘ll probably get in trouble with all the financial gurus out there if I share this incredible secret with you. But just for today, and only for the faithful readers of the moneytrip blog, I will share this fantastic secret of wealth and prosperity!
Are you ready for the secret knowledge that will change your life forever? Are you ready to set sail on a course for the debt-free life of wealth-building that you have always dreamed of? Okay, get ready and grab a pen because here it is –
Stop Borrowing Money
Yup. That’s it. 
See, this stuff is easier than it looks. 
There is no “forever” mortgage. There are no 100 year car payment options. The furniture store will not give you 3 generations to pay for that dresser, even if it is heirloom quality. All consumer debts have a finite period of repayment time built into their formula. If you stop borrowing money, you will eventually become debt free. How quickly depends on many factors, but you will get there. 
When my wife and I decided to become debt free, we were highly motivated. To me, slow progress can be painful progress. However, even slow progress is progress, and slow progress is better than no progress. If you just stop borrowing, stop swiping the Visa, stop “signing and driving” at the auto dealer, you will eventually owe no one. Imagine no payments. Imagine keeping what you earn. Wouldn’t that be something?
There is some debate about the best way to pay off debts. Some financial gurus advocate for a debt snowball approach, where you pay debts from largest to smallest. Some recommend instead paying debts from smallest to largest.  Some advise attacking debts by first going after the balances with the highest interest rates. Whatever. Just do it! My wife and I demolished our debts from smallest to largest, because this method allowed us to get some quick wins. It doesn’t really matter. All methods work – if you first stop borrowing. 
Once your debts are paid you will stop paying interest. This will save you money. Once you start saving and investing the money you were paying in payments and interest, that money will start growing. Rather than working for money, your money will be working for you. How cool would that be? 
Well, now you know the amazing secret, the proven path to a fabulous debt free life! 
(You’re welcome!) 

The reduction of debt correlates strongly with the creation of wealth, and it all begins when you stop borrowing. What you do with this powerful knowledge is up to you.

Friday, April 27, 2012


It is important to celebrate your financial milestones. Keeping to a budget is hard work. Reaching savings and investing goals is a big deal. Paying off debt is exciting. Go ahead, plan a party!
Celebrating can take many forms. Anything from a shout of “Yes!” and a “fist pump” in the air, to a dinner out on the town, to a full blown luxury cruise! It depends on what you have achieved. The larger the goal, the larger the celebration. Just be sure that you don’t go into debt in order to celebrate, and be sure you don’t celebrate achieving your savings goals by spending half of what you’ve saved!

Here are some money events that I believe are worthy of celebration:

When you make and keep a successful budget for the first time – Celebrate!
When you analyze and reduce your recurring expenses – Celebrate!
When you pay off a credit card debt (and then shred the card) – Celebrate!
When you pay off a car, boat or RV – Celebrate!
When you reach a major savings milestone, whether you have saved your first $100, $10,000 or $100,000 – Celebrate!
When you get a raise, promotion or new job – Celebrate!
When you complete your education; whether college, technical training, MBA, or a certification program – Celebrate!
When you pay off your mortgage – Celebrate!
Why celebrate? Because you’ve earned it! Through work, planning and sacrifice you are closer to your goals. Just as each win brings a team one step closer to the playoffs, each time you win you are one step closer to financial independence.
I fondly remember the day when I checked my 401k balance and discovered that the value had risen to the 6-digit range. The first thing I did was tell my wife. The next thing I did was drive to the store to buy a really good bottle of wine to go with dinner. Celebrate!
I was just offered a new job. Hurray for me! After I complete my first week, my wife and I will go out to dinner to celebrate. I will order whatever I want. 
Someday, I will finish paying off my house. On that day, we will have a mortgage burning party in the backyard. The first thing we will BBQ is that old mortgage. Goodbye debt! Then, I’ll throw on the steaks and burgers. You are all invited to celebrate with me!
I’d love to hear about your money goals and how you will celebrate once you meet them. Please leave a comment below or email me at my-moneytrip@cox.net