Friday, February 27, 2009

Money Talk

I was looking for work a couple of years ago. I went to interview for a job that seemed to fit my skills very well. When I arrived, I was impressed by the offices of the small, young company. The company was founded by a man that had been successful at another well known company, the name of which I have forgotten.

The Human Resources lady and I got along very well. She knew the basics of the job I would be doing, but the manager to which I would be reporting was taking a couple of days off. Suddenly the demeanor of the HR lady changed. I could almost feel it. What the heck had happened? What had I said? She was still polite and said she would pass my résumé to the manager, but I could sense that something had gone very wrong.

I went home and immediately sent the HR lady an email. You know, the customary "thanks for talking with me" email. She replied that she, too, had enjoyed our talk and would let me know the outcome the following week. I knew she was just being polite, and that I would not hear anything more about that job.

What went wrong? I racked my brain for days trying to figure out what I had said, but I didn't figure it all out until some time later. A friend of mine had applied for the job and then suggested it to me. He mentioned in passing that the salary was around $25,000 a year. Bingo! In my interview, while talking about my previous job, I had mentioned what I had been making, which was much more than $25,000 a year. At that point, I indirectly told the HR lady that the job she had was not in my salary range.

Everyone is looking for something from a job, but the common denominator, the thing we are all looking for is M-O-N-E-Y. Money, money, money. Money is something we all have to have to get by no matter what we are looking for in our job. But following my law of opposites (everything usually works just the opposite of what you might think), you have to at least act like money is not the point. In other words, don't mention money until you have to. I think I heard someone say "don't mention money until they are pushing you out the door".

However, some interviewers, especially the HR people who are trying to filter you out, will ask you point blank what you were making in your last job or what you are expecting to make in your next job. The best answer is an honest answer, but no answer is even better. Remember, good employers like to top what you were making in your last job. They like to give you a raise -- a salary increase -- no matter why you left the last job. They know you feel rotten about losing your last job in spite of your totally positive attitude. So they want you to start your new job feeling just as positive because you got a salary increase.

As a contractor, it might help to state your previous salary in terms of dollars per hour. Figure that out before the interview. If you were making X dollars a year, that is roughly X/2000 per hour. Why 2000? There are 52 weeks in a year, but you probably took two weeks of vacation and holidays (yeah right). So let's say 50 weeks in a year multiplied by 40 hours per week equals 2000 hours. Therefore, your hourly rate was (yearly salary) divided by 2000 hours. For example, if you were making $50,000 a year, that would be approximately $25 an hour. If you were making $75,000 a year, that would be approximately $37.50 an hour. If you are like me, you had to get the calculator out for that second one. So do the math ahead of time. It gets easier if you just drop the thousands (000) and divide by 2.

You need to be familiar with that calculation when you look at the want ads, too. If a job is listed as $27 an hour, that is roughly $54,000 a year, unless it is a part-time job.

Remember also that benefits, like healthcare insurance, 401K, paid vacation and sick days, and so on, have to be considered in your salary negotiations. If you are a contractor and have to provide your own insurance, you may require more per hour than an employee with benefits.

If you are wondering what to say in a job interview and what not to say in a job interview, I would suggest that you do a Google search for "things to say in a job interview". You will get a ton of advice. However, I will tell you to stay away from the subject of salary (money) as long as possible. Besides, you want to make such a good impression in the job interview that money will be no object. The employer will have to have you at any cost. Money will be no object. OK, that is not likely to happen, but there is a possibility that they could meet your requirements even though the job was advertised at a lower rate than you were hoping for, especially if no rate was advertised (DOE).

The interview is a major part of the process of finding a job. The bottom line for finding a job is money, at least for most of us. You would think money and salary should be the main topic of the interview, but nothing could be farther from the truth (remember my law of opposites). Have a figure in mind before you go into the interview, but do whatever it takes not to mention it until you have to because you may have to revise it along the way. As you find out more about the job, your salary demands might increase just to work there. As the interviewer finds out more about you and all that you will bring to the job, they may be willing to pay you more than they had planned to pay someone less extraordinary.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Let A Better Job Find You

Have you ever noticed how things usually work just the opposite of how you have always heard they work? This seems to be more and more the case. I'm thinking that maybe everyone just gets tired of being predictable. So they do things just the opposite of the way everyone thinks they are supposed to do it. Whatever "it" is. Of course, here "it" is getting a job.

I just read an article this morning that advised me not to look so hard for a job. For years, all I have heard is, when you are unemployed, your job is Finding a Job. That article said look for a couple of hours a day and then do something else, something positive, something you love to do, and to get with other people that like to do whatever it is you are doing. The idea is to stop trying so hard to find a job and let the job find you.

If you think about it, when you look at the job posting websites, it really only takes a couple of hours (if that long) to look at the new postings that are posted each day. How many times have you been looking at the postings and realized that you are looking at the same postings you have been looking at for the last week or two. I mainly look at They seem to eventually pull new ads that have been posted elsewhere. So I see some new ads, but they are already several days old. It seems like I am seeing new postings, but not really.

Most of us feel like we should be looking for a job constantly. Especially if we have other family members depending on us to find a job. It gets almost addictive, which seems to be true of almost anything we do repetitively day after day. I have heard people say they can't sleep for thinking about job hunting, or they wake up earlier than usual thinking about job hunting.

That article I read did not really surprise me. I have been telling just about everyone that you can look for a job until you're blue in the face, work on your resume and cover letter until it's immaculate, and do every other thing that the professionals suggest, and still not get a job. Or you get a job because the guy at the grocery store told you where his brother-in-law just went to work. "I think they're hiring!"

The new theory is that you can burn out, get depressed, and become irritatingly boring if you overdo the job hunt. However, don't fall prey to the other extreme. You know, doing everything you can think of except searching for a job, like cleaning the garage or painting the house. The things you should do instead of searching for a job should compliment your job search. They should put you in contact with others that like to do what you like to do. That sort of thing. I am using my not-searching-for-a-job time to try and figure out another way to make a living. You know: blogging, learning to buy and sell on ebay, learning to be a webmaster, and so on. You might want to take a class to learn a new computer skill or whatever. Who knows, you might meet your next office mate at that class.

Also, keep in mind that the reason you are not at your old job may be another one of those deals that do not work the way you think it should work. In days gone by, the best employees were kept and the lesser employees received the pink slip. These days, you may have been terminated because you were at the top of the heap. Your employer may have realized that you had gone as far a you could go in your job. There were no more raises they could give you. You had to go, for your own good, someplace where they could give you new duties and pay you more. Plus, your old employer saves on your high salary and new opportunities open up to the junior employees that do the same things you did.

The point here is, you might want to look for a job that pays more and that will cause you to have to stretch your abilities. In other words, you will become the junior employee in a job that eventually pays more than your old job. This has unintentionally happened to me several times thanks to people who think about things like that. While I was looking for another job just like the one I had, my future employers were smart enough to see my potential for doing a job that offered me new challenges and more money. I say gear up. You can always gear down.

Some think that we live in a new age. Others say we live in a time where right is wrong and wrong is right. I don't know about all that, but I do know things often work just the opposite of the way we think they will work. We think we were laid off because we were doing a bad job when, in fact, we were doing too good a job. We ask for less money and less responsibility when we should be asking for more, more, more.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Beware of Bounty Hunters

I saw a video on YouTube a while back. It was about making money by using Ebay and Craigslist. The video was simply a guy explaining how he checks out Ebay to see what is selling and the selling price. He then goes to Craigslist and tries to find that item for a little less than what comparable items are selling for on Ebay. He buys the item and immediately starts an auction on Ebay to sell it. He says he only makes a few bucks on each item, but repeating that process over and over can build into some serious money. That could work, but I have my doubts that it would work consistently, and I doubt that it will work much longer, especially because he is giving his "secret" away.

There is a similar routine being used by recruiters, if you ask me. I am pretty sure that recruiters are out surfing the job posting websites just like we do. These recruiters can be located anywhere in the world, even in India. After all, it is the world wide web.

The recruiters find a posting and then go to the posted résumés on,, etc., and look for résumés that sound like a good match for the job posting they have found. They then contact the person that posted the résumé and, for all that person knows, that recruiter was given the job by the company posting the ad. If the person seems interested, the recruiter contacts the company that posted the ad and probably says something like "have I got a candidate for you". The reason they do this is to get a finder's fee, a bounty of sorts. I don't think that is illegal, but I would think it subtracts from what the company might be willing to pay you if you had answered that ad directly. And it could have a long term impact if you end up actually working for the agency that told you about the job, if they become your agent. They will end up taking a cut of every paycheck you get.

Have you ever noticed that you tend to see the same job listed several different ways, by several different recruiting agencies? I think they must grab the original ad and run it as their own. I don't know if that is legal to do without the original job poster's permission. I am sure some companies turn their recruiting over to agencies once they have given it a try and not had any luck.

I suppose the point is: know what you are getting into when you accept an offer from someone other than the actual company offering the job. I think it is fairly common for recruiting agencies, especially if they are located in India, New York, or California, to just get a finder's fee and you become a contractor for the company offering the job.

If it is truly a contract job that is not going to lead to a permanent position, the company may not want to deal with contractors directly. They may have a policy of only using contractors that come to them through a company that supplies contractors. That was how my last contract worked. I was actually employed by an outsourcing company that, for the most part, exists to supply contractors to the company at which I actually worked. I was an employee of the outsourcing company with subsidized health insurance coverage, paid days off, and paid holidays. However, I was expected to work 40 hours a week.

When I see ads that look like they have been taken from some other original ad, I do a little research to see if I can find the original ad. The original ad may have been taken off the job posting website long ago, but the recruiter may still be running it for bait. After all, it was once a real job, and probably sounds pretty authentic. If you apply for the job, they get a copy of your résumé, which they can file away, even if it is not posted somewhere. Of course, that is not all bad. They could offer you the next job they see, which you may not see.

If I find the original ad, I can apply directly to the company that has the job opening, unless they do not want to deal with contractors directly. I think I have a better shot at getting a job if a recruiter is not in the middle of the transaction trying to get a fee for offering me a job that was already directly available. You might check the company's website Career area and find out the job is no longer available. Or the company offering the job may not trust the agency that contacts them with your résumé, which would put you out of the running altogether.

As I said, working through a reputable agency has its advantages. I would just suggest checking any agency that offers you a job. Do a little research on them. Check their website. Scan for their name and the word SCAM. You will most likely get a sense of whether they are legitimate without much effort.

Unemployment Benefits

I would assume most every state has some kind of unemployment benefits. My state and the federal government collect taxes from employers in order to pay unemployment benefits to unemployed workers.

A few years ago, when I was unemployed, I had to travel to the unemployment office to sign up for the benefits. Now, all that can be done online by way of the internet.

To collect unemployment benefits, you have to set up a profile that includes your name, mailing address, social security number, and the name and address of the last company for which you worked. All this information is used to verify that you did work at that company. The unemployment office checks with the company to make sure you qualify for unemployment benefits.

In my state, there are three main requirements for receiving unemployment benefits: past wages, job separation, and ongoing availability and work search. You must meet all of the requirements to receive benefits.

Past wages are used to determine if you are even eligible and to figure out how much you will receive. In this state, the weekly benefit amount is between $58 and $392 depending upon the wages you have been earning the last year or so. There is also a maximum amount that you can receive, which amounts to about six months of pay in my state. However, I think some states are extending benefits due to our current economic situation and the job market.

You must have a valid reason for leaving your last job such as being laid off due to a general lay off or the company closed. If you just quit for no good reason or were fired for a valid reason, you are not likely to be able to collect unemployment benefits. In other words, you must be unemployed or partially unemployed through no fault of your own to receive benefits. You may have to prove that, but usually the benefits people can just check with your last employer to get the facts.

You will also be expected to be available to work and to look for work while you are collecting unemployment benefits. I currently have to make five contacts each week to receive benefits. That means searching online sites for suitable jobs, networking with recruiters and friends, applying for jobs, going on interviews, and so on. In other words, they are paying you to find a job. Your job is finding a job.

There are some additional terms like reducing the amount you are willing to work for as time goes on. After looking for work, and collecting benefits for a certain length of time, you may be asked to reduce your salary demands by a given percentage. If you were asking for $20 an hour, you might have to start looking for and be willing to accept jobs that only pay $18 an hour.

This all may sound a bit complicated, and I really have not even gone into that much detail, but you will probably receive a booklet explaining it all. If you worked at your last job for long enough and left it for a valid reason, you probably have nothing to worry about. You may only receive a fraction of what you were making, but it can help tide you over until you find that next job.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Ups and Downs of Finding a Job

From the moment you find out you no longer have a job, being unemployed feels like being on an emotional roller coaster. Even if you can understand why you were terminated, you still feel like you did something wrong. That is probably because you have been around after other lay offs and heard what people said about the people that were no longer there.

People are sad for those leaving, at first, but, as time goes on, they start trying to justify why they were let go. Housecleaning, cutting the deadwood, he/she was in over his/her head. You could probably add to the things people say about their co-workers, trying to explain why they are still employed and their co-workers are gone. It is an understandable reaction. None of us want to think that we could just walk into work one day, be terminated, and have to walk out with that box of belongings as everyone watches.

Each of us reacts differently to being terminated or fired. Some of us think it is kind of funny. After all, how can they live without us? The company will surely go under now that we are no longer there, and that will serve them right. Others cry, some yell, and people like me just move on. My philosophy is that once they start laying off people like me, I don't want to work there anymore anyway.

The first time I was terminated in a general lay off, I was not at all surprised. I had been with that company more than 13 years. I was a nomad technical writer, moving from group-to-group, and I was between projects when the company was bought out by another company. I was told that 10 percent of the employees had to be let go as a condition of the buy out. Of course, getting a severance package that included six months of pay (two weeks of pay for every year I had been there) kept a smile on my face as I made that long trip to my car.

I was lucky that time. Another lady who left the company when I did mentioned my name to a guy who had worked with me a while back. I was hired by his boss as a contractor. That job came to me and it lasted almost three years. The Y2K panic was a disaster for the small contract company and I was unemployed on and off the last six months I worked there. Fortunately, a couple of friends got me back in at the company that bought the company that bought company I had worked for three years earlier with them. As I understand it, I missed some really rocky times while I was gone. The second buy-out had happened about a month after the first buy-out that left me unemployed. That job lasted almost seven years, and through many lay offs, before it was my turn again. Seven years meant more severance pay, which ran out just about the time I found my next job.

My wife has never liked the insecurity of my being a contractor. I have not really had much of a choice as I get older. I have had several jobs as a contractor where the manager offered me a permanent job within the first week. Sometimes I have accepted and sometimes I have not. The point being, contracting can get you in the door, so people can see what you can do and what you are like, and then they might offer you a permanent job.

What I have not mentioned is all the ups and downs I went through when I was between jobs. A couple of summers ago, when I was laid off again, I got a severance pay amount equivalent to about 11 weeks of pay (for that seven years of employment). I could have gone a little longer because of unemployment benefits. I was getting the maximum amount, I think, which is close to $400 a week. I was at about week 12 when I was offered the job that I have had the last couple of years. During that 12 weeks, I went through just about every emotion you can think of.

As far at the lay off, I did not blame myself. I know that it was not due to my abilities. The first time I was laid off, I had met with my new manager earlier that morning, got a rave review, and received a raise, which was used to compute my severance pay amount. Most of the lay offs I have gone through are truly just an exercise in downsizing. I don't think I have ever seen any housecleaning lay offs or getting rid of the deadwood lay offs. However, I sometimes think the best and highest paid employees are picked to be laid off in order to open up new opportunities for the employees that remain, and those leaving can find better opportunities. That has happened to me. My job losses have actually resulted in better jobs at the next company. If the past is any indication, my next job should be a dream.

So I have never had any emotional problems about the jobs I have left, but that does not mean I have not fretted over finding a job. Am I too old to find as good a job as I have had? Are there any good jobs out there? Are my cars and my house going to be repossessed? Is my family going to starve? I wonder if I am really as talented as I think I am. You name it. Every negative thought that you can imagine will fill your mind at one time or another when you are unemployed.

Being unemployed and trying to find a job is about as emotionally distressing a thing as you will ever live through. My dad and grandfather were both self-employed house painters. When they were unemployed at times, they probably just felt that they were between projects. I have tried to develop that mental attitude: I am just between projects. As I carry my box of personal items out of the building where I have just been laid off, I am already wondering where my next project will be, what the people will be like there, and what that future company does or makes.

Don't get me wrong, I still have those depressing days that I think I have worked for the last time, on my last project, but I get over it. I have to. I have a family, a large dog, and a parrot to support.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Online Job Posting Websites

I think I can safely say that one hundred years ago most everyone worked on a farm, ran a small business, or worked in the local factory. Everyone was busy making or growing something or selling something tangible. There were also people in service jobs (waitresses and waiters, travel agents, butlers, and maids). In those days, people expected to work at the same job for years and then retire, hopefully with a pension. If someone did lose their job, they would turn to the want ads in the local newspaper or look for jobs posted on a corkboard outside the gates of a factory. Just like today, they might be told about a job opening by a friend, even before it becomes public knowledge. Even though there are still want ads in newspapers and friends still help friends find a job, there is a new way to find a job thanks to the internet.

We now live in an age of information instead of tangible goods. The internet plays a big part in this information age. It only makes sense that companies can advertise and we can find jobs on the internet. This may be news to you if you have not tried to find a new job lately. You can now browse dozens of job posting websites from your home computer or at your local library, if you don't have a home computer. There is a partial list of job posting websites in the left column of this page.

Most of these job posting websites can be browsed by location (city and state or zip code), by distance from that location (within x number of miles), by keywords (writer, plumber, taxi driver), and by category (accounting, information technology, truck driving). All these filters make it possible to filter or focus a job search such that only viable possibilities are displayed. After all, if the job seeker lives in Idaho he or she does not want to consider jobs in California or Argentina. However, all possibilities can be easily displayed if the search is set up correctly.

While job posting websites make it possible for job seekers to find job postings, many of them make it possible for employers to find potential job candidates. Any job posting website worth its salt allows job seekers to set up a profile that is saved on the website's database. These profiles usually contain name, address, city, state, zip code, telephone number, email address, area of expertise, and a copy of the job seeker's résumé. Of course, some of this information, like telephone number, can be hidden from public view. Some job posting websites, such as, will even send periodic lists of job possibilities (based on your profile settings) in an email.

Online job posting websites make it possible to broadcast a job seeker's qualifications and résumé to hundreds of potential employers. On the other hand, employers now get hundreds of responses for each job posting. Therefore, employers no doubt have their own filtering process to reduce the number of possibilities they have to consider. Just as Human Resources people once scanned a pile of paper résumés for key words or phrases, they can now scan digital résumés and profiles for keywords or phrases.

I have seen reports that show increases and decreases in job and résumé postings online, but I am not sure it is possible to say what percentage of jobs are found by using online job posting websites. As a contractor, I have worked at many companies in the last decade or so, but I have only had three employers. Of those three employers, I connected with one through a job posting website. That means I have found one-third of my jobs online.

Finding a job online is only possible because we now have the world wide web, the internet. It is just an additional tool that job seeker's should use in their quest to find their next job. Job seekers should use online job posting websites, newspaper ads, job postings at clubs or places of worship, and, my favorite, their social network.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Do Your Home Work

There is an old saying: if it looks (or sounds) too good to be true, it probably is. This could not be more true when it comes to the internet. There are no real rules about posting things on the internet. The more you browse job posting sites and click on ads for jobs, the more you will realize that there may be some promises being made that just cannot be kept.

If you have spent any time looking for a job, you have probably already realized that there is a lot of weird stuff going on. In the old days, when job seekers bought a newspaper and read the help wanted ads, they could be pretty sure that what they read was what they were going to get. At least that was true in my experience.

These days, navigating the internet job postings is like wandering through the jungle, trying to avoid the quicksand pits. One big area of deception is the work-at-home job. Anyone who has ever commuted more than a few miles to work only to spend eight hours in an office filled with noisy, dramatic people, has most likely thought about working at home, especially if they have a good home computer and a high-speed internet connection.

As a contract technical writer, I have worked at home and I loved it. First of all, there is no commute, which can save 30 minutes or an hour of your day in drive time. You also save the gasoline it would take to drive to and from work. So the fuel and wear on your automobile can be considered when you think about salary. There is also the occasional traffic ticket or accident that can cost you some money for the fine or the insurance deductible. Your wardrobe allowance should be reduced. You can work in your bathrobe if you'd like, but I prefer a t-shirt, blue jean shorts, and maybe flip flop shoes in case someone comes over to fix something (no more missing work to meet the plumber). If you have children that would otherwise be in day care, there is more money you can add to the equation. Plus, you have the extra commute time to deal with them.

Yes, there are lots of advantages to working at home. You might even want to mention that when you interview: "can I work at home one or more days a week?" Even working a couple of days a week from home can save you some time and money. It will save your employer some money, too. You will not be using company electricity, parking, etc., a couple of days a week. You might even get away with coming in once a week. I worked at a company once and I thought they only had a dozen or so employees. The first Friday after I started work there, I found out that just about everyone worked from home (help desk type jobs) and only showed up at the office on Fridays. For many jobs, if you have a phone and a computer, you can work from just about anywhere.

There is no doubt that working from home has its advantages, if you can stand it. I just read a post by someone and they mentioned that introverts, as opposed to extroverts, are more suited to working at home. I suppose that is true considering all those noisy, dramatic people at the office. If you do not do well all by yourself, or you have trouble staying on task, you might want to avoid working from home.

When I worked from home, I woke up early, showered, and dressed (in my t-shirt and shorts) as if I was going to work. I had a work area set up in a guest bedroom, which was a card table and a laptop computer that belonged to my boss. I took a lunch hour and then got back to work. In those days, everyone got home from school late in the afternoon, and understood that I was "at work" for another hour or so. The point being, you need to structure your day just as you would at an office. But that is just me. You might do your best work at midnight, which is no problem as long as no one else depends on your availability.

This is all well and good if legitimate work-at-home jobs grew on trees, but they don't. At least, that is what I have heard. I think I have seen statements being made that about 98 percent of the jobs and opportunities posted on the internet are scams. I may be mixing apples and oranges here because I think that includes the "get rich quick" schemes you see on the internet. You know, those ads you see that tell you they will share their secrets of success and here's where you send some cash. I suspect that is how they got rich ... by getting people to send them cash. That is another subject, I suppose.

I am leery of all the work-at-home ads. This is probably obvious, but, when I see an ad for a work-at-home job, I jump over to Google or Yahoo and scan for information about the ad and the person(s) who posted it. Their website will usually come up and I can read the poster's story. It seems like all too often the search list will contain postings with the word SCAM in the titles. I read a few of these, which are usually reviews or an account of someone's experience with the given job (or get-rich-quick scheme). The internet can be used to promote scams and bogus job opportunities, and it can also be used to uncover information about those so-called opportunities.

I can only hope there are legitimate jobs that can be done from home. I know that some companies allow their employees to work from home, so I guess that is really a hybrid of work at an office and work at home. Your best bet for finding a good work-at-home job (or any job) might be a referral by someone you know. Let your job search network know that you are looking for a work-at-home opportunity. One of them might be able to recommend something. Of course, one of them might also try to sell you on Amway. Not that there is anything wrong with that.