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Unique Job Search Tactics That Work

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

In my June 24 Yahoo!Finance column, I look at some unique job-search tactics that helped unemployed folks find new jobs. A recent survey by CareerBuilder.com found nearly a quarter of hiring managers have seen attention-grabbing methods, which in some cases led to a new hire. A few examples:

Survey respondents said some job seekers used the “show-me-what-you-got” method: One candidate applying for a casino table game position came into the manager’s office and started dealing on the desk while pretending to talk to players, which demonstrated her guest-service skills. A prospective teacher brought in a box of props to demonstrate her teaching style. Another person came prepared with unique business cards featuring the company’s logo and a self-introduction brochure.

Other new hires demonstrated the value they could add to the company: One candidate sent in a letter that explained how to solve an issue the company was having with a certain type of technology. Another wrote a full business plan for one of the firm’s products with his resume submission. A third created a full graphics portfolio on the company’s brand. Here are a few other tips gleaned from the experts I interviewed for the story:

1. Leave a trail of “digital crumbs” so employers can find you.

“If you’re not on Linkedin or Facebook, or don’t have a Twitter account or a website, we can’t find you, and if we don’t find you, we can’t call you,” says Dave Perry, managing partner of Perry Martell, an executive search firm in Ontario, Canada. “Most people will get up in the morning and apply to jobs online for hours and get nothing but frustration. All it really takes is sitting down for a couple of hours to think about how you are going to leave a trail of digital bread crumbs so some recruiter somewhere who is looking for someone like you can find you easily.”

2. Get your resume hand-delivered to HR.

If you don’t know anyone at a specific firm you are targeting, find the name of anyone at the company, even if it’s the CEO, and snail-mail your cover letter and resume to that person, says Cynthia Shapiro, career strategist and author. (See below for a way to find names.) “They will open it up and hand it over to HR or the hiring manager, but it will look like a hand-delivered submission from that department – it’s a great way to get them to read it first,” she says. Make sure the resume is on 100 percent cotton paper, she says: “Psychologically, the thicker and nicer the paper, the more substantial the candidate appears.”

3. Get on ZoomInfo.

“Most large Fortune 500 companies have a subscription to Zoom Info, as do executive recruiter firms,” says Perry. “Recruiters have become very adept at micro-targeting candidates rather than running an ad and sifting through 10,000 responses for an ad on a job board. We’d rather talk to the six people we know who are qualified.” Zoom Info has created an application that job hunters can use for free. It also launched a program last year that gives new users eight weeks of free access to all 65 million people in its database, so you can find the right people to target in your search.  Click here for more info.

Let’s say you want a job in engineering. You can do a Zoom Info resume search for the vice president of engineering at the ten or 12 companies you are targeting – finding both current and past employees. Perry suggests calling former employees with this pitch: “This is unusual, but I know you used to work at XYZ Company, and I’m looking for a job there. Can I ask you a couple of questions about this department?”

Have your script worked out, Perry says, and nine in ten people will tell you want you need to know. That information can be used to create a targeted letter, focusing on the successes you have had in the past dealing with similar challenges or issues. (Obviously, don’t suggest the company has problems or mention your source. You might say, “Many firms in the industry have faced ____ issues, which I managed successfully at my last firm by doing x, y and z.”)

Have you used an unusual tactic to find and land a new job? Comment here or email me at laura at laurarowley dot com.

How to Overcome Financial Chaos

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Bernard Madoff’s attorney said today he will not appeal his 150-year prison sentence. The Wall Street Journal had a moving piece last week called “Downsized Lives and Shattered Dreams” that profiled some of Madoff’s victims.

I was inspired by the story of Jesse Cohen, who lives in Summit, NJ, a few miles from me. He’s a 50-year-old former bond trader who built a successful business, sold it and gave the money to Madoff to invest. He lost it all, and his parents lost their savings as well. Cohen, the story said, recently took a math exam to apply for a university program that turns former finance professionals into math teachers in three months. He past the test but is still looking for a position.

In other words, he has picked himself up, dusted himself off, found a new direction, and is pursuing it vigorously.  He’s focused on how he will overcome a horrific situation over which he had no control.

In today’s Yahoo!Finance column, I interviewed Daryl Conner, an organizational development consultant who has been studying change for 35 years. He finds that people who successfully overcome negative situations and move gracefully through transitions have a number of character traits and behaviors in common.

As he writes in his book Managing at the Speed of Change:
“Assimilation is the process we use to adjust to the positive or negative implications of a major shift in our expectations. Assimilating is costly – reduced intellectual energy, increased psychological stress, and diminished physical health and stamina. Resilient people have learned how to increase the number of their assimilation points and how to stay within their personal assimilation budget.” Click here to read my interview with Conner find out more about the strategies of resilient people.

Meanwhile, if you needed yet another good reason to pay off your credit cards in full, see today’s Wall Street Journal (sub. may be required.) Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase have notified a number of its customers that it will now tie their credit card interest rates are no longer fixed and will be a variable rate tied to the prime rate. Read the story here. Personally, I’m still get 0% rate offers in my mailbox. Has your credit card company changed the terms of your agreement? Comment here or email me at laura at laurarowley.com.

And We Could All Use a Little Change…

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

…to borrow a line from “All Star” by Smashmouth. It seems appropo given the magnitude of change the economy is demanding of people. Just this morning I did an interview on the Today Show about the growth of stay-at-home dads, and how couples can cope with the transition from a financial perspective.

One of the dads in the story talked about the loss of identity, which is a huge part of change (happened to me when I was laid off with 500 other people at my job back in 2001). There’s this weird black void you step into when you leave the old thing but don’t know what’s next.

My advice for these dads? Embrace the void, take time to hang with your kids, wallow in the mess, the frenzy, the tedium, the delight. You will look back on that downtime with a pleasure that most dads don’t get the opportunity to experience. At least that’s what my husband says, who stayed home for a bit with the kids while I worked full-time.

And though it sounds like a cliche, getting laid off really was the best thing that ever happened to my career.  Here’s the Today Show clip.

The Happiness Project

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

I had coffee recently with Gretchen Rubin, author of the blog “The Happiness Project”. If you’re interested in happiness and haven’t heard of her work, you’re in for a treat. The Yale Law grad and author of four books spent a year “test-driving every principle, tip, and scientific study” she could find on well-being, and reports on what works and what doesn’t in a new book to be published by Harper Collins later this year. I’ve followed Gretchen’s blog for some time — it’s literally a treasure trove of thoughtful ideas on happiness. (A note of caution for novices: You could spend days or weeks combing through her compelling posts.)

Gretchen interviewed me for her Slate blog.  Take a look at the questions she asks, and pose them to yourself — hopefully you’ll have as much fun as I did in this interview.

Speaking of posing questions, I recently did an interview on Meredith’s Better TV, asking host Audra Lowe a series of multiple-choice questions about finances, with tips to make savvier choices. We filmed in Central Park’s Boathouse Cafe on a gorgeous day in the Big Apple. How savvy are you? Follow this link to the video and find out.

Finally, I spoke with Wayne Cabot, the anchor with WCBS 880 radio in New York (wow, what a voice!) about why frugal is sexy. Check it out here.

Do you think frugality is here to stay? You can comment here or email me at laura at laurarowley.com.

Today Show Segment on Gender Roles

Monday, April 20th, 2009

This morning I appeared on the Today Show to discuss how the recession is changing household dynamics and responsibilities for breadwinning, child care and chores (video below). I was joined by DeAnna Starn and Seth Grossi, a married couple from Ohio who have a one-year-old son Nicolas. Since his layoff last fall, Seth has been taking care of the baby during the day and building a freelance business at night after DeAnna comes home from work.

Men have been stepping up to the plate in the last three decades as women have entered the workforce in greater numbers. During that time period, men doubled the amount of time spent on chores and tripled the time spent on childcare (although women still do more of both). Research has shown that the men who do the most are married to women who have more education, work more hours and earn more money.

But the trend has accelerated during in this recession, because 80 percent of the jobs lost since December 2007 have been lost by men – in industries like construction, finance and manufacturing. There’s also more income volatility in household incomes than three decades ago, so you see more couples trading off breadwinning. And technology plays an important role because it’s enabled both men and women to work from home more often.

Beyond the statistics, there’s the reality of making it work. Couples often have to confront the ideas they held about gender roles. One key to making it work is for women to avoid what sociologists call “gate-keeping.”

“We say we want them to be partners but we really want them to be unskilled assistants and we tell them how to do it,” says Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families and author of Marriage: A History. “We do it in lots of little ways where we are undercutting their authority and expertise. If they turn a few pieces of underwear red or don’t dress the baby as neatly as we think she should be dressed that’s a small price to pay to let them develop their own expertise — and not think they are doing a job for a boss the boss being the woman.” (Coontz is a reformed gate-keeper – she no longer reloads the dishwasher after her husband had done the job.)

Coontz adds that there are lots of examples of true co-parenting across the income spectrum. She has studied blue-collar couples such as airline baggage handlers and factory workers, who alternate shifts so they can provide child care coverage around the clock.

Financially, one key to Seth and DeAnna’s success is that they track every penny of their spending. (They use an Excel spreadsheet that DeAnna built.) When you know exactly what’s coming in and where it’s going, it can help guide your decision making – you’ll know if one partner can afford to go back to school full-time, or if they should look for a job where their employer will reimburse part of their school tuition and they can attend part-time. You’ll know if you have a cushion for a few months to help one partner try to start a business. If you don’t know your inflow and outgo in detail it’s nearly impossible to make educated decisions – and that can mean digging yourself deeper in the hole, creating stress on the relationship.

Has the recession affected the roles in your household? How are you managing? You can comment here or email me at laura at laurarowley.com.

Midwesterners Happiest, Survey Finds

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

A new survey by Mainstreet.com names three Midwestern states tops in terms of financial happiness — Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas. Mainstreet’s “Happiness Index” ranked states according to household income, non-mortgage debt as a percentage of household income, employment and foreclosures. (It’s a new take on the old Misery Index, launched in the 1970s.)

My home state, New Jersey, ranked 29th; New York, where I spend a lot of time, ranked 14th. At the bottom: Oregon, troubled by high unemployment and foreclosures; read this recent Yahoo!Finance column for some background on the state, and one bank’s attempt to deal with the deflated housing market.

MainStreet.com general manager Harleen Kahlon told Good Morning America: “I think that on the coasts — in New York and California — we have a lot of people living beyond their means. But in the Midwest that’s often not the case. Maybe the takeaway is that living large is not the answer.” So maybe my Midwest roots (Illinois) inspired my live-within-your-means mantra. Actually, it was mostly my mom and my dad, who would have been 80 years old on April 6. Miss you Dad!

The authors of the recent book Spent ‘Til the End recommend Cedar Rapids (next door to Iowa City, where my sister lives — happily I might add) for people looking for the best living standard. Co-author Lawrence Kotlikoff, a Boston University economist, says Cedar Rapids’ low-cost environment provides a 78 percent higher standard of living than Seattle, and 34 percent higher than Tampa.

 Spend ’til the End advises consumers to “price their passions” — that is, calculate the living-standard effect before they get married, have many children, divorce, or move to a big city. “It’s important to make these choices ahead of time, to think about what really makes sense in terms of everything you want,” Kotlikoff told me, “because people do make critical, life-altering geographic decisions.”

Have you ever made a decision based on a passion and lived to regret it financially? Have you ever based a choice on a passion and had it turn out to be the best thing you ever did financially? You can comment here or email me at laura at laurarowley.com.

Regulators Cracking Down…Too Little Too Late

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Three federal agencies and state Attorneys General are cracking down on foreclosure fraud. There’s plenty of it following the announcement of President Obama’s $75 billion plan to help homeowners. If only we had had this level of attention during the sub-prime mortgage debacle. In an interview on Bill Moyers Journal this weekend, University of Missouri professor and author William Black noted that in 2004 the Federal Bureau of Investigation publicly warned about “an epidemic of mortgage fraud, and if it was allowed to continue, it would produce a crisis at least as large as the Savings and Loan debacle.”

So why wasn’t anything done? After the 9/11 attacks, Black says, 500 white-collar crime specialists in the FBI (the folks who went after bad S&Ls in the early 90s) were moved to national terrorism duties. That’s understandable — except the Bush Administration refused to replace them. Virtually no one was watching the store as the mortgage industry — brokers, lenders, securitizers, investment bankers, ratings agencies — committed widespread fraud. You’ll also want to hear what Black has to say about Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers and Phil Gramm aligning to block Brooksley Born, chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, from regulating derivatives. (Other news reports say Alan Greenspan and Arthur Levitt also opposed Born.) Why are Rubin and Summers still advising President Obama? Can we sweep the rascals out already? How about having Born replace Summers? Click here to watch the interview.

While you’re at it, listen to this interview on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air, with Frank Partnoy, former derivatives trader at Morgan Stanley and author of Fiasco: Blood in the Water on Wall Street. The book was just reissued in paperback (and out of stock on Amazon). It’s a clear-eyed examination of what de-regulation run amok looks like.

I recently interviewed Robert Manning, professor at Rochester Institute of Technology and author of Credit Card Nation, about a wide range of scams. (I followed up on my March 19 post about the “Card Services” fraudsters in this Yahoo!Finance column, exposing how the scam works.)

Manning told me he’s seeing a couple different version of the foreclosure rescue scams. Watch out for services that demand an upfront fee to process your application for foreclosure relief. “Some companies are charging $300 a pop just to talk to someone over the phone,” he says. “The consumer really needs to be engaged with the service that’s being offered so they understand what it is the firm can do and what they can’t do. Are they simply collecting information and passing it on to someone else, who passes it on to someone else?” Someone seeking foreclosure relief should be engaged with the decision-maker he says. See this information from the Center for Responsible Lending to avoid scams and click here to find a certified housing counselor in your area.

If you’ve been scammed, tell your story and help warn others. You can comment here or email me at laura at laurarowley.com.

Phone Phishing Scam?

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Update: I tracked down the scam artists that I wrote about below and reported on their activities in this Yahoo!Finance column.

Twice in the last month or so I’ve received a call from a recorded voice that says, “This is your last chance to lower your credit card interest rates! Press one to lower your rate now.” Since I always pay off my cards in full, and the caller doesn’t identify the financial services company, I sensed a scam. Twice I have pressed “1″ on the phone and gotten a live voice; when I said, “Can you identify the company you are from and give me your phone number?” I was immediately disconnected on both occasions. When I called back the number on the caller ID, a recording said the number was unassigned.

Next time I’ll try a little subtlety to keep them talking, and report them to the Federal Trade Commission. I didn’t find this particular scam under the FTC‘s list of “credit and loan phone scams,” but it could have been any number of things, such as identity theft or a credit consolidation scam, in which the firm offers to negotiate with your creditors. You pay the consolidation company, which never pays your creditors and disappears with your check. 

Amid the recession, scams are multiplying. The FTC received 1.2 million consumer complaints in 2008. Identity theft accounted for one in four of those complaints. Watch out for work-at-home scams and foreclosure rescue scams, among others. For a primer on recognizing and reporting phone fraud, click here. 

In the meantime, here’s that segment I did on the Weekend Today Show about some legitimate websites that can help you learn about and better manage your finances.

Best Online Bets for Your Financials

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

I did a segment on the Weekend Today Show this morning looking at best bets for your finances online. Americans conducted 13.5 billion online searches in January – many of them looking for financial info. The web offers online courses, financial calculators to help you plan, shopping comparison sites and  social networking sites where you can connect with other people about money.

Then I went running with my friend Pam, who said I talk too much with my hands on T.V. (true) and she couldn’t keep up with all the websites I mentioned. So this post is for you, Pam!

Here are the details on the education sites for beginners: First check out the Cooperative Extension System. It brings together the teaching and research of more than 100 universities, and has more than 3,000 county offices. It offers online courses, you can click on your state to get information about classes in your area, and you have the ability to submit financial questions and get an expert response by email. A site with similar features is called Wi$eup from the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau – aimed at Gen X and Gen Y Women.

And finally there’s the OpenCourseWare Consortium — a group of 250 universities around the world that offer dozens of online courses for free, 17 in the U.S., including heavy hitters like Columbia University and MIT. They have advanced courses in economics; I found two basic personal finance courses at the University of California – Riverside and Utah State University.

Then there’s an ocean of financial information sites, if you know how to surf them. Look to the non-profit, ad-free education sites so you can be sure there’s not a bias toward a particular financial product or service. Before using a site, look at the “About” section and check the background and credentials of the people running the site. For instance, the Federal Trade Commission offers good educational resources on its “Consumer Information” tab. The site 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy is sponsored by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants so you know it’s been vetted by professionals.

Yahoo!Finance has calculators and how-to guides, Microsoft Office has free Excel budgeting templates, you can find the best interest rates on savings accounts at www.bankrate.com or www.moneyaisle.com, and then there’s the whole world of coupons.

In January, Yahoo searches for the “Free printable online coupons” rose 3800 percent from the year-ago period. You can go to a more generic site like www.smartsource.com or go right to the manufacturer. For instance, Proctor and Gamble lets you register to have coupons emailed directly to you, and, depending on your grocery store, can even be downloaded electronically right onto your store’s loyalty card. You can also register at major brand like General Mills and get access to coupons that are only available online. So it’s worthwhile to check the sites of the brands you buy most. And if you do buy one and get one free, consider donating the second item to your local food pantry. The need is huge right now.

Finally,  I mentioned two budgeting and social networking sites, www.wesabe.com and www.geezeo.com  – that have social networking spaces where people share ideas about saving, paying down debt and other topics. Since money can be tough to talk about with friends, it’s nice to find a community where you can commiserate — and celebrate when you reach your goal.

What’s your favorite online tool? You can comment here or email me at laura at laurarowley.com.

What To Do First If You Get Laid Off

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

What should you do if you are laid off? The top seven steps are: exit gracefully; secure whatever additional pay and benefits you can; apply for unemployment; get health coverage if possible; get real about your expenses; roll over your 401(k); and start your search. A few details

1) Exit gracefully — no drama. Your old boss might become the link to a new job.

2) Secure whatever you can. It depends on your level in the company, but try for an extension of your salary, health benefits or life insurance benefits; a positive letter of recommendation from your supervisor, use of your office for a a period to search for another position or use of an outplacement firm; even your laptop or other equipment that will help you get a new job. (If you get severance, take advantage of the health benefits – get physicals, dental checkups, fill prescriptions.)

3) Apply for unemployment immediately: Typically, you can still collect unemployment even if you receive a severance, and if you take a part-time job while you are looking for a new position, you may be eligible for partial benefits. Regular benefits are paid for 26 weeks in most states and some will extend that under certain circumstances.

4) Protect your health benefits: Enroll in Cobra if your employer is required to have it. (Companies with 18 or fewer employees are not.) Complete the forms to continue your health insurance; you’ll have to pay a monthly fee, but it’s worth it — don’t leave a gap in your coverage. If you can’t get insurance through your company, call a health insurance broker and see what plans you can qualify for.

5) Get real about your expenses immediately. You have to know what you are spending monthly so you know where you can cut costs to avoid getting into debt while you’re laid off. Search “track your spending” on this site to get tips on how to control your costs

6) Roll over your 401(k) plan directly to an individual retirement account. Do not cash it out, or take a check from the company with the intention of opening an IRA. You have a limited time to get it into that new account or the government will consider it a withdrawal and if you’re under 59-1/2 you’ll pay a 10 percent penalty, and no matter what your age you’ll pay income tax. Sadly, 80 percent of people with $10,000 or less in a 401(k) cash it out when they leave the job – but in reality, after taxes and penalties, that $10,000 is closer to $6,000 if you’re in the 28 percent tax bracket. Go to the websites of Fidelity, Vanguard, Schwab or T. Rowe Price, where you can find the forms that allow you to roll the money over directly.

7) Start your search. Take one or two days to regroup, and then schedule at least 3 to 6 hours a day to work on your job search. Refresh your resume and join an online social network if you don’t belong to one. Linked In is a great network for professionals – you basically fill out a form that lists the schools you attended and the companies where you previously worked and the network shows you everyone from those affiliations so you can start networking. Network through whatever other affiliations you have – religious and volunteer organizations, sports clubs, alumni groups, etc. Call headhunters in your industry – don’t assume that they are overwhelmed with people contacting them.

Last Saturday on the Today Show, I provided a few more tips on finding a new job. Here’s the video:

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