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Three Steps to Prevent Identity Theft

April 4, 2009

You may be smart enough not to completely ruin your financial future while you’re still in your 20’s, but that doesn’t mean someone else can’t beat you to it.  Identity theft occurs about once every three minutes and it can take years and lots of hard-earned dollars to resolve.

Maybe you’ve seen those commercials for LifeLock, with the guy posting his Social Security Number on a mobile billboard.  What you may not know is that douchebag had his identity stolen after those commercials began airing, but more importantly,  the primary services LifeLock provides for a monthly fee are actually free if you have about five minutes every three months.

Here are three steps to protect yourself against identity theft without paying someone to constantly monitor your movements:

1.  Get copies of your free credit reports.
There are three credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax).  You’ll want to go to www.annualcreditreport.com, which is the free site to get your reports from all three credit bureaus.  Federal law requires bureaus to give you a free copy of your report once every twelve months, so if you haven’t already seen this past year’s reports, get them now.  Then survey them closely for any suspicious or unauthorized accounts.

2.  Place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit reports.
This is a pre-emptive measure which requires a quick phone call to just one of the bureaus.  What you’re doing is requiring any credit-granting body (i.e. department stores, mortgage lenders, etc.) to contact you in writing in order to establish a line of credit.

Placing the fraud alert on your credit report will also reduce and probably eliminate the number of credit card and insurance offers you receive in your postal mail, which is often the easiest and most widely used way for identity thieves to steal your information.

While you may not be automatically be approved for an in-store credit card once you’ve placed the alert on your reports, most stores will still give you the additional discounts that come with such offers.  And if they don’t, talk to a store manager and describe your situation until you do receive the discount.

3.  Stop the junk mail by registering at http://www.donotmail.org.
Junk mail is a useless pain-in-the-ass that is also a waste of resources.  Register at DoNotMail and your junk mail should be significantly reduced in just a few weeks.

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Turn Paper into Money

March 27, 2009

Making use of coupons no longer require a pair of scissors and a Sunday paper.  If you’re not using coupon sites and search engines to cut costs, you’re a sucker… a sucker paying too much for just about everything.

Type in what you’re looking to purchase into these or any other coupon search engines and watch the money pile up.

Think clipping coupons is beneath you?  Watch how CouponMom saved 71% (~$88) on her weekly grocery bill.  That’s over $350 a month – enough to pay my iPhone bill and the equivalent of receiving about a $5,000 raise.   Day-um!

Gratitude

March 25, 2009

It’s not often that you can maintain a true perspective of your current situation.  Between balancing a budding career, an active social calendar and trying to figure out what the hell you want to do with your life, it’s easier to focus on what you feel is lacking instead of realizing what you truly have.

But if there’s one thing everybody hates, it’s a complainer.

So whenever you’re feeling a little sorry for yourself or want a complainer to shut up, pull from a perspective-giving song, story or statistic to lighten the situation.  The excerpt below is from a talk which best-selling author and spiritual advisor Dr. Wayne Dyer gave at the famed Miraval resort in Arizona.  It’s a great reminder to be thankful for what you have.  So stop complaining and start saying thanks, you ingrate!

(Boldface indicates the verbal emphasis given by Dr. Dyer.)

“If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead, and a place to sleep, you’re richer than 75% of the world. Just that. Doesn’t that call for some gratitude?

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week because of illness.

If you have money in your bank – any money in the bank or even in your wallet – and spare change in a dish someplace in your life, you are among the top eight percent of the world’s wealthy. Ninety-two percent of the people don’t have that.

If you can attend a church meeting without fear – that is fear of arrest of arrest, of torture or death – you are more blessed than 3 billion people in the world. And if you’ve never experienced the danger of battle or the loneliness of imprisonment, or the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation, you’re ahead of 500 million people in the world today.

If your parents are still alive or still married, you are very rare, even in the United States.

So if you have the opportunity to think as you choose to think, to worship as you choose to worship, and you have a little bit of change in your pocket, and you’ve got your health, and you’ve got someone who cares about you, then you have an awful lot to be grateful for.”

Dr. Wayne Dyer
It’s Never Crowded Along the Extra Mile

Job Interview Questions

March 21, 2009

The Recession/Depression/Economic Shitshow has left none untouched. You or one of your friends was likely laid off, and while some of them promptly took the first of several vacations as the unemployment money just poured in, the smart people were also planning their next moves on their first days without pay.

If you’re still employed, consider yourself lucky. But if you’ve been laid off, fired, or are just sick of your current job, read on to find 30 most-asked interview questions and the answers which will help get you rehired at some other place. Some other place more deserving of you anyway.

1. Tell me about yourself.
If you don’t have a canned answer for this, you should consider selling newspapers at traffic lights. This is the most often asked question in interviews and you’re expected to have a canned answer; it just better be good one. Limit your response to work-related experiences as much as possible and always try to relate what you’re sharing to the position for which you’re applying. The interviewer doesn’t care what you do on the weekends… he/she cares that time is not being wasted by meeting with you. Set the tone here, SMILE when it’s appropriate, and always have an upbeat demeanor.

2. Why did you leave your last job?
Stay positive! Even if you worked under Hitler, you could say, “He certainly had a vision.”  You should never, ever badmouth a boss or former supervisor.  Good, safe answers to this question include looking for more responsibility, shifting from the corporate to the not-for-profit sector (if appropriate), and your eagerness to have a position where you feel more fulfilled in your work (again, if appropriate).

3. Why do you want to work for this organization? What attracted you to this position/company?
Talk sincerely about your interest in the position, your knowledge of the company (i.e. name recognition or reputation), and what you think you’ll contribute to the success of the company should you be hired for the position. This is also the time to drop names of people you know in the company without sounding like you were waiting for the opportunit to do so. For instance, “I’ve admired what _______ company has done in the past few quarters with the positioning of the brand, and I’ve also heard great things about the work environment from Plain Jane in Accounting. She and I went to college together and she’s always been excited about her workplace.”

4. What experience do you have in this industry?
Speak about specifics that relate to the position. If you do not have specific experience in that particular industry, don’t try to fake your way through it. An interviewer likely knows the industry better than the dreamscape you can concoct, so if that’s the case, answer this question with something like, “Well, I honestly don’t have much experience in this industry to speak of, but I’ve done x, y and z in ________ industry which would make me an ideal, if not slightly unconventional, fit for this position.”

5. What would your former bosses/co-workers say about you?
Point to a specific source if you can (i.e. a recommendation on your LinkedIn profile). If you can’t quote someone verbatim, focus on the positive aspects and accomplishments of your past. This is also your chance to be the slightest bit self-effacing in a humorous way without isolating the interviewer. For instance, “My coworkers burst into tears when I was laid off (laughter), which was oddly flattering in a way, but I think their reactions speak to my ability to be a team player and my desire to contribute meaningfully to the shared goals of an organization.”

6. What do you know about this organization?
Do your research! What do they do, who do they serve, and who are their competitors? Has their been industry news in the past three months that you can reference? At the very least, click through the company’s website and get a feel for the brand, corporate culture and mission.

7. What are you salary expectations?
If the interviewer asks you what you made at your last job, answer honestly because he/she can and will verify with a call to your previous employer.  However, if the interviewer is asking about the position for which you’ve applied, remember that you’re interviewing the company to determine if you want to work there. Say something like, “Well, I’d expect to be paid competitively and commensurate with the knowledge, skills and background required to be successful in this position.” Let them counter with a response, which is usually, “Can you give me a range?” And you can politely say, “If you have a range in mind, I can certainly tell you if it matches my range, but I will say that I’m not interested in making a lateral move in my career. I was making $XX at my last position and I’m certainly looking to move up in terms of responsibility as well as salary.” At this point, the interviewer will usually divulge the range, which you should honestly consider accepting or rejecting. There is always room for negotiation (even if you’re told it’s non-negotiable).

8. Are you a team player?
Of course you are! Just have workplace examples ready to prove it. When did you sacrifice some personal comfort to finish a project? When did you take on extra responsibility? Even if you’re applying to be a tollbooth operator, you have to be a team player, so be ready for this one.

9. How long would you expect to work for us if hired?
“I’m really looking for a company with which I can grow, so I suppose as long as we both feel I’m doing a good job.” End of answer. And don’t be afraid of silence. That’s an interviewers tactic to try to force you into revealing things you may not wish to reveal. Dance the dance.

10. How would you be an asset to this organization?
Be ready for this one because it or a question like it has come up in every interview ever given. Highlight your best points as they relate to the position. Cite your experience doing many of the tasks listed in the job description. If there’s a particular software suite you must know front to back for the job, drop that name here. Say anything that’s going to set you apart from other candidates without mentioning that there are other candidates. This is also your chance to throw in an intangible characteristic that isn’t on your resume (i.e. your ability to form strong personal bonds with coworkers which humanizes them and helps create a harmonious and more productive work environment).

11. Why should we hire you?
See the previous response.

12. What is your greatest strength?
The hands-down best answer is “my resourcefulness.” Budgets are tight everywhere, and people love when you know how to do a lot with a little. Give a specific example of your capacity to understand a goal, know your resources and work independently and with a team to achieve that goal in the most efficient manner possible. You can also cite an attribute that would be echoed by one of your references, and anchor that sentence with a “and if you call ______, my former _____ at _____ company, I believe he/she would attest to this.” Other good examples include your ability to prioritize and your problem-solving skills.

13. What is your greatest weakness?
This is more of a “Are you a liar?” question than a fact-finding mission. Be completely honest but in a positive manner. Leave out that cutesy answers like, “Chocolate!” or “I really don’t see myself in terms of weaknesses but rather, opportunities to grow.” Canned sounding like canned. The trick is to be canned without sounding so.

You should state something that you can easily turn into a learning experience or even an unconventional strength, such as “I tend to be an innovator when it comes to technology in my personal life. I have to have the latest gadgets and that has carried over into my professional life when I’ve gotten overly excited about new technologies or even new techniques that people are using in business, such as (at the time this post was written) businesses clevely using Twitter for brand building. I’ve gotten worked up and wanted to change course to include these new ideas in business activities, but luckily, I’ve always been reigned in by my superiors.” You’re saying in an unspoken manner, “I suppose I get really excited about trying new approaches and am not afraid to do so.”

14. What’s your dream job?
Smartasses say, “Um, this one?” then giggle like geishas and are quickly shown the door. If you happen to be interviewing for your dream job, you should still qualify that first before saying so. Start with something like, “A career where I feel engaged and truly love the work… in a workplace where I enjoy those around me, and, not only do I not dread Monday mornings, but I actually would look forward to seeing what the work week held for me.” Then, if you’re positive that this is that job, say something like, “I feel like I could truly get that sense of engagement in this position, so I would be interested to learn more about the corporate culture and work environment.”

15. What is more important to you – the money or the work?
If you’re a salesperson, you should get this question every time. If you don’t, you should hint at it without talking about salary/commission/draw/bonus specifics. But regardless of the position for which you’ve applied, you must make sure that your priorities match your compensation plan or neither you nor the potential employer will be happy if you’re hired. That said, you should respond with, “Money is definitely important, but ultimately, the satisfaction and fulfillment I get from the work is most important. Otherwise, I’d probably feel as if I’d just be going through the motions.”

16. Tell me about a problem you had with a supervisor/subordinate/project.
This is an easy formula: State the problem, how you solved it and what that solution meant to all involved. Always frame it in the positive and NEVER claim that you can’t remember such a problem. That says that you’re a worthless know-nothing who has never challenged him/herself enough in a career to run into a problem – one who should move into your parents’ basement to save us all the misery of working with such a person.

You should take you a few seconds to come up with an answer, even if it’s canned (and it should be canned because you better be preparing for these interviews). Restate the question as you’re thinking of an answer. “A problem with a supervisor……….. well, in my position at _______,” then state the problem in a diplomatic manner. For instance, if you disagreed on a decision, say, “We disagreed on the best way to approach _____. I respectfully told him/her that, while I understood that viewpoint, I also thought we should consider ______. We compared notes, and while my suggestions weren’t turned into actions, it still let both me and my supervisor know that we could honestly speak about issues and still have a good working relationship even if we didn’t agree on a course of action.”

17. Do your skills match this job?
This is a throw-away question, but it or an iteration of it is usually asked to see if you’ll say something smartassed or canned. A good answer would be, “Yes, my skills and experience would serve me well, as would my attitude and ability to team spirit, go team go, etc.” Just don’t read off your resume! Interviewers are not children, and if someone has put them in charge of finding new people for a business, they can likely read so take this opportunity to also highlight your attributes that didn’t make it into your resume, such as your attitude.

18. What motivates you to do your best on the job?
DON’T say money. You’re not there yet. Intrinsic examples are best, such as challenge, achieving goals, and recognition. The only people who are allowed to mention money here are hunter salespeople.

19. Are you willing to work overtime/nights/weekends?
Be honest here. You should already know if the job requires this because a good employer will put it in the job description. If you feel that this has been sprung on you, don’t say, “Is that in the job description?” because it may be in there and you overlooked it.

Say, “Well, I wasn’t clear as to what those requirements would be for this position.” Some jobs do require people to stay late and to do so often, so you should find out now if this is one of those jobs. If it sounds like you’ll be sleeping under your desk at least once a week and you’re not okay with that, say something like, “I certainly don’t mind staying late here and there to finish a project, but I’m ultimately seeking a work-life balance that wouldn’t normally end in those circumstances.” If this is one of those jobs and you are okay with staying late and working weekends, say, “Yes, and I will say that it has been my experience that if this happens on a regular basis, it is an indicator of an inefficiency somewhere and I’ve sooner sought out and remedied that problem than treat the symptom.”

20. Would you be willing to relocate if required?
This answer requires no preparation because a) it should be in the job description, and b) you should just be completely honest. The reason it made this list if because it is an example of a sneaky way for the interviewer to find out more about your private life without breaking employment laws. Laws designed to protect you. If a company is putting that type of sneakiness into their first interaction with you, expect sneakiness in every subsequent interaction.

21. Are you willing to put the organization ahead of your personal interests?
This isn’t a loyalty question; it’s a trick question to find out if you’re being truthful with the interviewer. Only a liar or someone with no personal life would say yes, and would you really want someone like that working at your company? The only good answer here is, “Yes and no. I mean, I understand sacrificing part of my personal schedule now and again if something suddenly needs doing, but a good work-life balance is best for both the organization and for me. In any other circumstance, an employee will likely burn out, and I’m interested in striking that balance instead.” Still positive, but standing your ground and proving you’re not a sociopath.

22. Describe your management style.
Don’t pigeonhole yourself by labeling it with jargon (at least not right off the bat). The best answer is “Situational. I don’t believe people fit into boxes and different skill sets and styles work with different personalities and scenarios. I have a range that is…” and then you can use jargon or a few labels.

23. What have you learned from mistakes on the job?
Come up with something or you lack credibility. Cite a time when you had good intentions backed by sound knowledge/experience and talk candidly (but positively) about how it didn’t work out as expected. Then say something about the lesson(s) that stuck with you from that experience.

24. What qualities do you look for in a work environment?
Be honest, generic and positive. This is your chance for the interviewer to find out if you’d be a happy match for the workplace or if you’d rock the boat of the people who are already happily working there.

25. What’s your preferred work style?
Be honest. The best answers focus on both team settings as well as your ability to be given a task or goal and accomplish it independently.

26. Describe your work ethic.
Say something about finding purpose in work. If you’ve ever been laid off for lack of work, cite the lack of purpose you felt (even if you didn’t feel it).

27. What has been your biggest professional disappointment?
Refer to something that could not have been forecasted. Something out of your control, like your best client claiming bankruptcy and thus forcing you to layoff a good deal of staff. Don’t mention anything that you may have screwed up and could’ve avoided.

28. Tell me about the most fun you have had on the job.
Talk about accomplishing a project as a team and the rewards (intrinsic, monetary, etc.) you received for a job well done. Leave out the time you did tequila shots with the boss. This is still a professional interaction even though the interviewer said “fun.”

29. Do you have any questions for me?
Never say no! You can ace the entire interview and if you say no here, you’ve shut the door and potentially show lack of interest in the interviewer, position and company. Besides, there is no way that all of your questions should be answered after a short conversation with a prospective employer.

Here again, ask your specific questions, but the absolute best question to ask is, “What keeps you here? What motivates you to stay when you could work for a competitor?” This allows the interviewer to open up to you and also gives you insight into what it’s really like to work for that company. Another best practice is to ask if they have any questions or reservations that would prevent them from putting you through to the next round. You’re opening yourself up to a more unscripted part of the interview, but you’re giving yourself a second chance so be prepared to answer the interviewer’s questions.

30. This isn’t a question, but…
Remember that the interviewer is human, that you are just as much interviewing the company as you are being interviewed, and that life will not end if you do not get this job. Those thoughts should alleviate most of your nervousness without giving you a false sense of entitlement.

Hope those are helpful. Comments and suggestions for better answers are welcome, although will always be moderated and will not necessarily be honored with a rewrite.

Now get off your ass and get a job you like! You may not know it yet because you’ve only been around for twenty-some years, but life is too short to waste time on anything that doesn’t add to your happiness.

As always, email your topic suggestions or questions you’d like to see addressed here to amithirtyyet at gmail dot com.