Thursday, March 23, 2017

Looking for New Work? Five Key Things You Can Do Beyond Sending Out Resumes and Applications, thanks to the Simple Dollar!

Looking for New Work? Five Key Things You Can Do Beyond Sending Out Resumes and Applications

Posted: 22 Mar 2017 07:00 AM PDT

It's an almost automatic response. You need a job, or you're unhappy at your current job. What do you do? You start applying elsewhere. You look up online job listings. You fill out applications. You send out resumes and cover letters.

While that's definitely a key step in the process, you're often just tossing your resume or application into a pile with a lot of other resumes and applications. The question isn't whether you apply, but how exactly you're going to rise to the top of that pile.

The truth is that most of the time, it is the factors beyond the resume or application that causes yours to rise to the top of the stack. The factors that set people apart and line them up for interviews comes from the extra steps that people take.

If you want to get a new job beyond an entry-level position, you have to bring something more to the table. Here are five additional things you should be doing to bring that "something extra" into the mix.

Go to meetups and trade shows.

If there are any meetings or shows related to your career in your area, go to them. Go to all of them. If you don't even know where to start looking, a great place to start is to use Meetup and go to anything that is related to what you want to be doing next in your career.

The goal of these meetings is threefold. First, you can actually learn some things about your career path that can prove useful, both at your current job and where you might be going next. Second, regular participation in a group related to your career can make for a good entry on your resume.

The third reason is perhaps the most valuable one, though: it provides you with an opportunity to meet people in your area in your professional field. Meetups and trade shows are loaded with people in overlapping careers from a wide variety of employers. It's those people – and those potential relationships – that will help you find an open door to the next step in your career.

Join a trade association related to your career.

If your career path offers a trade association of any kind, become a member of that association. Usually, this will give you access to a publication, meetings for that association, and perhaps most useful, a job board.

Those benefits provide most of the advantages of going to meetups and trade shows in your area, as discussed above, and trade association membership is definitely worth a resume mention.

Trade association job boards might not directly lead you to a job, but they often provide a place to find jobs that aren't posted on all of the normal job outlets. Often, they're looking for people who have a trade association membership as a prerequisite, one that you meet, so the membership is directly giving you a path to additional job options.

Do volunteer work.

There are few better ways to meet a wide cross section of big-hearted people in your community than through volunteer work. You'll meet and get to know people from a wide variety of career paths and backgrounds and they're all predisposed to think positively of each other because you're all spending time doing charitable things.

Such civic-minded groups are often full of people who want to build a better community for everyone – and they're also full of people who do want to connect with each other as part of building that community. A community is made of people, after all, and those groups are often the backbone of it. You'll find yourself building great resume material, building connections with pillars of your community, learning new skills, and making a ton of good personal and professional connections, all while doing something great for your community. Civic groups and volunteer groups are wonderful tools for anyone wanting to build a lasting career or business in a local community.

You can get started by joining a volunteer or civic group in your area. Look at groups like Habitat for Humanity for starters, and also take a look at the civic groups mentioned on your community's website, such as the Lion's Club.

Get active in social media in a professional way.

Many career paths offer thriving online communities where people are constantly exchanging ideas and discussion topics in an effort to improve themselves, build strong professional relationships, and carve out a name for themselves. It's incredibly worthwhile for you to get involved in those groups.

On social media, your ideas rule. It's a fast-flowing exchange of information and ideas, and when you can contribute in a useful way by answering questions and contributing value to discussions, you tend to raise your profile and build followers and connections. Jump on there, look for professional conversations you can add to, and dive in. Take note of people you see frequently sharing good ideas and build up a connection with those people.

Twitter and LinkedIn are great places to start. Twitter is best for conversation and sharing ideas with a broader audience, while LinkedIn is useful for finding connecting with people you may somehow already be associated with.

Follow up with the people you meet.

The first four steps in this process are going to introduce you to a lot of people who are in your field or in related fields. Those people are often going to be the difference maker when it comes to getting a good job.

When you meet someone who seems interesting at a meetup or a trade show or a volunteer activity or on social media, follow up with that person. Exchange contact information with them, then jot down a reminder of why you should follow up with that person.

Then follow up. Send that person a message related to the reason you intended to follow up with, then keep that exchange going. Don't be afraid to ask this person, after a few exchanges, whether or not they know of any job openings that you might fit well.

Final Thoughts

You can have all of the skills in the world, but in the end it's relationships that often make the difference in terms of getting your resume noticed. The key to getting a great job, then, isn't just sending out your resume (though that's important) and it isn't just having a great resume (though that's vital, too), but it's having lots of relationships that can help you get your foot in the door.

Every career step I've taken has been aided by a professional relationship of some kind. My academic advisor in college got me my first job that had anything to do with my career path. My supervisor at that job essentially took me with him when he switched jobs. My mentor at that job ended up hiring me himself, and then when that contract was about to run out, I was hired by another group that I had built a relationship with while working for my earlier mentor.

Yes, at each step, I had the skills I needed for the next step in my journey, but without strong professional relationships, I would have never been able to progress in my career path. It is those relationships that make all the difference when you're taking a step forward in your career. Those relationships will push your resume to the top of the stack. Those relationships will open doors for you.

It's up to you to step through it.

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The post Looking for New Work? Five Key Things You Can Do Beyond Sending Out Resumes and Applications appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

Three Big Mistakes Students Make When Accepting Financial Aid

Posted: 22 Mar 2017 03:00 AM PDT

I graduated college with $145,000 in student loans. The worst part about it? I was willfully ignorant about the amount I borrowed. It would all be paid off by Future Me, right? Besides, not once during my economics courses was there a discussion about the adverse effects of high student debt. How bad could it be?

In a word: devastating.

A recent study from the nonprofit group American Student Assistance recently took a look at the effects of student loan debt on young adults. The results are troubling. Among those with student loan debt:

  • 56% worry about repaying their loan either all the time (26%) or often (30%);
  • 40% report that worrying about their student loans has impacted their health;
  • 61% have considered getting a second job to help pay off their student loans; and
  • 54% of young workers report that right now, paying off student loans comes first, and they will put off saving for retirement until later.

So, how do high school students make smart choices about college that won't leave them struggling under a large debt burden? Maybe a better way to think about it is in terms of what not to do. I spoke with Kevin Fudge, director of consumer advocacy and ombudsman at ASA's Center for Consumer Advocacy, about three big mistakes that college-bound students make when it comes to accepting financial aid.

Mistake #1: Accepting Too Much Financial Aid

Accepting too much help might seem like an oxymoron at first. Why wouldn't you accept every penny of aid that a school offers?

Because, Fudge says, "Even with a so called 'full ride' scholarship, you can still be eligible for up to $5,700 in aid per year. If you take the max every year, you're going to end up almost $23,000 in debt," despite going to school for free.

It comes down to the huge difference between scholarships and loans. Colleges can be somewhat cagey with this concept, because all the money they offer is lumped under the generic catch-all category of "aid."

As Fudge bluntly puts it, "Aid is a bit of a misnomer. Keep in mind that you're on the hook for every single penny you take out that is not a scholarship or grant."

This may be a new concept for some college hopefuls; I know I had never considered it. I thought if you got a full ride, you were guaranteed to graduate debt-free. It's critical for students to understand the nuances of their aid packages.

Imagine this scenario: You're considering two comparable schools that cost $30,000 per year.

  • School A offers you a yearly aid package of $25,000.
  • School B offers you a yearly aid package of $15,000.

At first glance, School A seems like the better choice. But, you might dig deeper and discover that School A offers only $5,000 in scholarships and grants, while $20,000 of the aid package is comprised of loans. School B, on the other hand, is offering $12,000 in scholarships and grants, plus $3,000 in loans.

So, while you're not receiving as much "aid" from School B, you are actually being offered substantially more in total scholarship money, which don't have to be paid back. Assuming the schools offer a comparable education, it would make more sense to select the smaller aid package.

These sorts of distinctions are why it's so critical to understand the nuances of your financial aid package.

Furthermore, when extra aid is offered to low-income families, it creates a particularly tricky conundrum. On the one hand, a college degree can open up a lifetime of higher pay. At the same time, low-income students may feel like they need to stretch themselves even further to earn one, and risk ending up deep in debt with no degree to show for it. "The student has zero ability to pay, but has the option of taking out $20,000-plus in loans," Fudge says. "It's a flaw in the system."

So, how do you mitigate the risks of taking out too many loans? It comes down to treating your college choice the same way you would any other large purchase: You have to try to take the emotion out of it.

"Have a budget in mind, the same way you would if you were shopping for a house," Fudge says. "You don't want to get emotionally attached to marble countertops and overpay for them when house shopping. Similarly, you don't want to overpay for a school because it has pretty brick buildings. Stay true to your principles and don't get swayed."

The psychological hurdles are huge, but not insurmountable. As with budgeting for anything else, it's important to set realistic goals and stick to them.

Mistake #2: Underestimating the Total Cost of Your Loans

"Students always need to consider the overall investment in their higher education, not just the first-year costs," says Fudge.

A common mistake is to calculate what sort of financial aid package you'll be receiving your freshman year, and then to extrapolate those numbers going forward. This can lead to misunderstandings in figuring out what your payments will be on a yearly basis.

For one thing, prices can go up while you're in school. Let's say you plan on paying for $10,000 a year yourself, and taking out loans to cover the rest. If first-year tuition is $20,000, and you take out $10,000 in loans, don't assume you'll be taking out a total of $40,000 in loans over four years. By your third or fourth year, tuition could be up to $25,000 a year or more, leaving you on the hook for thousands more dollars a year.

What's more, it's important to consider the cost of interest on your student loans. As expensive as the sticker price of college already is, you'll be paying even more than that if you end up taking years or decades to pay it all off.

Finally, remember that scholarships will often list their total award amount, rather than their yearly amount. That means a $10,000 scholarship might not pay you $10,000 per year, but actually $2,500 per year spread out over four years. "Unless you thoroughly understand your financial aid offering, yearly costs can be easy to miscalculate. Also, remember that scholarships can be both one-time and renewable," Fudge says.

Calculating total costs is made more difficult by the fact that there is no uniformity when it comes to college aid letters. Often a "President's Scholarship" will mean different things from different schools, for example, and carry a different award amount.

It can't be stated too many times: Read and digest the entire student aid package from each and every school you are considering.

Mistake #3: Putting Too Much Faith in a School's Financial Aid Office

The people working in a university financial aid office are supposed to be your go-to resource for figuring out how to pay for college – and often, they can be helpful to that end. Unfortunately, their advice can sometimes be influenced by their more primary goal: increasing enrollment, even if it means saddling students with a lot of debt.

Rather than blindly take the financial aid office at its word, Fudge advises a more holistic approach to figuring out how much aid you can take on.

"The most important part is having a budget and sticking with it," he says. "Beyond that, talk to current college students and recent graduates about their experience. Parents who talk to other parents, or students who talk to recent alumni, are the best equipped to make these tough decisions."

Furthermore, there are tons of free resources available to help students make student loan decisions; a good first step is to start with your state board of higher education. Regardless, Fudge recommends seeking help from a neutral third party. "Sometimes, both your high school and your prospective college won't be working with your best interests in mind," Fudge says.

As with any other financial decision, the only person who will always have your best interests in mind is you.

Summing Up

Thoroughly read your financial aid documents, consult with independent experts, and talk to people who have been down the same road. If you take the time to do those three things, you'll be well prepared to avoid financial aid pitfalls.

Remember: Once you get into debt, it's ugly. Student loan debt is a giant gorilla that jumps on your back the moment you graduate. It can weigh you down, demand constant attention, and grow bigger the more you ignore it.

Once you know what's coming, you can fortify yourself by becoming strong enough to bear the burden while simultaneously ensuring you have less weight to carry. You want your hard earned money going toward your retirement, not toward feeding a hungry, angry ape.

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The post Three Big Mistakes Students Make When Accepting Financial Aid appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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