Smart Tips for Finding a Job Fresh Out of College

As college graduates around the country conclude their summer breaks and begin their job hunts, they will be entering the most competitive job market in 70 years. Finding a job in this environment takes ingenuity and perseverance. Here are several effective techniques for securing a job as a recent college graduate.

Coach your references

Do you know what your references will say when they are called upon? Your job prospects may very well depend on the persuasiveness of their recommendations. Take a little time with each of your references to explain the types of jobs you are are trying to acquire, and the types of skills that will be important to highlight. And, make sure you keep your references in the loop as your job search evolves. For instance, if you know you are in the final running for a position, send an email to each of your references with a company profile and the job description. Pick up the phone Gen-Y graduates spend so much time texting, skyping, and tweeting, that they often have less experience on the phone than their Gen-X counterparts. As a result, most recent graduates don’t take the crucial step of picking up the phone. With most hiring managers, a phone call will make a much better impression than an email. Call to request an interview, call to confirm an interview, call afterwards to thank your interviewer for the interview, and follow up regularly to find out if you got the job. If you didn’t get the job, call to find out why. Keep calling until they beg you to stop. Sooner or later, most companies will find a place for the person who keeps calling.

Send thank you notes

It’s a basic step that nearly everyone misses; send a handwritten thank you note after each interview. Send it immediately after the interview, so it arrives on their desk before they make their hiring decision. It might be the thing that pushes you over the top.

Clean up your online identity

Before you are hired, your potential employer will conduct a Google search of your name. If they find pictures of you shotgunning beers or flashing your breasts, you can kiss that job goodbye. Set your Facebook profile to private and remove any incriminating evidence from the internet before you begin searching for a job.

Talk to your friends’ parents

Networking with your peers is important. Over time, some of them will ascend to positions of influence and will be able to help you find exciting jobs. However, in the short term, you are better off getting to know your peers’ parents. There is a good chance that many of them are already in positions of influence. Every time you meet one of your friends’ parents, consider the meeting an informal job interview. Ask them about their careers and search for connections to your career objectives.

Stay in touch with your professors

Your professors and department heads often stay in touch with alumni from years past. This means that they are constantly receiving updates on job opportunities from people within your exact field of study. Keep your favorite and most connected professors in your orbit. Friend them on Facebook and shoot them an email update a couple times a year.

Build a better resume

Your resume is your first impression with most employers. The vast majority of resumes include typos, grammatical mistakes, and unnecessary information, while omitting crucial details. To find out what’s wrong with your resume, show it to a handful of respected people within your industry and ask for honest feedback. You can also use the job interview itself to improve your resume. When you meet with an HR rep, ask if they have any recommendations for your resume. Most will be happy to offer some pointers.

Be realistic

Unless you have a top degree from a top university and/or lucrative connections, the chances of you securing a top job fresh out of college are very low. Nowadays, college grads are often competing against candidates with several years of experience even for entry-level jobs. Focus your search on entry-level jobs that afford you the opportunity to move up the ladder quickly.

Make a statement

Gen-Y graduates excel at many interpersonal skills. They tend to work well in groups and are great at avoiding conflict. However, this conflict aversion also makes them less likely to be bold during the interview process. Boldness is often required to standout in this competitive job market. Look for an opportunity to introduce one well-timed, bold statement into each interview. For instance, “Hire me and I will be a top-10 sales rep by the end of the year.”

Sell your inexperience

Don’t assume that you can’t compete with candidates who have 10+ years experience. Employers value experience, but they also value idealism, persistence, and a clean slate with no bad habits to unlearn. Make sure you remind the interviewer of your eagerness to learn and your professional agility.

California Real Estate Market Snapshot – August 2011

Existing home sales in California are down 3.6% from one year ago. Although this is somewhat discouraging news, current pending home sales are up 4.4% from one year ago. While existing home sales are a look back at what has happened, pending home sales are a good indicator of what is to come. The pending sales increase supports the earlier forecasts made by many economists–that the first half of 2011 would experience sluggish home sales, and that we would see a modest increases in the second half. The impact of Congress’ approval of an increase in the debt limit and the President signing it into bill will become clearer in the next couple of months. It is hard for the average American to understand exactly what was approved. American financial author, radio host, and television personality Dave Ramsey uses the following scenario to attempt to bring clarity to the issue. He states: “If the US Government was a family, they would be making $58,000 a year, they spend $75,000 per year, and are $327,000 in credit card debt. They are currently proposing BIG spending cuts to reduce their spending to $72,000 per year. These are actual proportions of the federal budget and debt, reduced to a level that we can understand.” This example was meant to be illustrative and not political. We’ll end with a political statement– we are still the greatest country in the world!

Market Report

July, 2011 Current
Existing Home Sales 477,710 471,840 495,780 1.2% -3.6%
Median Home Price $295,300 $292,420 $313,890 1.0% -5.9%
Unsold Inventory Index 5.0 months 5.5 months 4.6 months -9.1% 8.7%
Median Days On Market 50.3 51.9 41.5 -3.1% 21.2%
30-Year Fixed Mortgage 4.51% 4.64% 4.74% -0.13% -0.23%

Source: California Association of REALTORS®

2011 NFL Preview

Real Estate Reader

Most Common Home Decor Mistakes

When you look at homes all day, you notice a few decorating mistakes that seem to pop up in just about every home.
Here are the three most common decorating mistakes (and tips for avoiding them).

As decorative painting grows in popularity, many homeowners are overdoing it. Bold and unique colors should be used sparingly–an accent wall here, a custom trim there. Do not blanket your whole home in a deep maroon or a bright mustard.

Lighting imbalances
When lighting is done correctly, it creates a warm, balanced ambiance throughout the room. Most homeowners make one of two mistakes–either plastering their ceilings with too many overhead lights, robbing the room of its softness and intimacy. Or, they use lamps of disparate strength and styling in the same room, making the room look disjointed. Whenever installing overhead lights, add a dimmer switch. And, to avoid a disjointed lighting array, purchase all of the lamps for your room at the same time, preferably from the same collection.

Illogical furniture layouts
Many homeowners make poor decisions about furniture layout–pushing all furniture against the walls and never at an angle. If you look through home decor magazines, you will notice almost the exact opposite. Furniture is positioned away from the wall and often at an angle to create a greater sense of intimacy and a more livable layout.

Sneaky Ways to Save Money

Saving money is hard work. Despite the best intentions, millions of Americans struggle to build up their savings, living paycheck to paycheck, consumed by the fear that the next unplanned medical expense, car breakdown, or home repair could send them over the edge, into the abyss of financial uncertainty.

But, it’s not all bad news. Millions of Americans have built up their savings over the last few years. The average household savings has risen considerably since the financial collapse of 2008. As these super savers have learned, saving money requires strategy more than self control. The best savers find clever ways to outsmart their impulses. Here are a few sneaky ways to save money without feeling deprived.

Send Yourself a Bill

Many people who are very disciplined and responsible about paying down bills and managing their financial lives find it difficult to save. If you find yourself in this category, redefine savings as a mandatory expense instead of an optional investment. Send yourself a monthly invoice for the exact amount you wish to save.

To make it more meaningful, set a symbolic number for your regular savings invoices. For instance, if you want to retire at 65, send yourself a weekly invoice for $65. Or, if you are saving for your 11-year-old son’s college account, save $11 a day. This will help you remember why you are paying down these bills and what you have to look forward to.

Better yet, take yourself out of the equation entirely and set up direct deposit into a savings account for the exact amount you wish to save. Your bank can automatically transfer money from your paycheck or checking
account into your savings account on regular intervals at specified amounts. For instance, you can automatically transfer $200 from each paycheck into your savings account. Direct deposit works a little differently at each bank, but it is usually free and can often be set up online without even visiting your bank. Find out more by visiting your bank’s website.

Save Your Savings

A clever and relatively painless way to build up a savings account is to reduce expenses and transfer the difference between what you now pay and what you use to pay into a savings account. For instance, let’s say you currently pay $90 a month on cable and internet. Tomorrow, you see an advertisement for a special rate that would reduce your service by $10 a month. Call up your cable providers and sign up for the reduced rate. Now, transfer $10 a month into your savings account.

There all sorts of fun ways to do this. When you decide to eat at home instead of eating out, send the saved money to your savings account. Bought a new laundry machine? Set up a coin jar and drop a quarter in anytime you use it–just like a laundromat. Paid off a credit card? Keep making payments to your savings account. This technique is effective because it is easier to set the money aside when you are not conditioned to spending it in the first place.

If you think you are out of ways to cut down on expenses, request an energy audit from your local energy provider. The energy company will send a representative to your home to examine your property and make suggestions for decreasing your energy bill.

Keep the Change

The key to consistent saving is setting up systems and routines that make saving automatic. Many savings experts swear by loose change savings accounts; each time you empty your pockets at the end of the day, place your loose change into a jar, which is deposited into a savings account at regular intervals. If nickels and quarters aren’t enough to get you to your savings goals, consider emptying your wallet of any single dollar bills, or anything lower than a $20, at the end of the day.

Setting aside loose change works great if you use cash, but if you use credit cards and ATM cards for most of your purchases, you won’t be able to use this system. Bank of America has a Keep the Change savings program, wherein each purchase made on your Bank of America ATM card is rounded up, with the extra amount being deposited into your savings account. For instance, if you make a purchase of $18.43, $19.00 is deducted from your checking account and $0.57 is deposited into your savings account. Bank of America will even match deposits for the first three months. In this scenario, an $18.43 purchase would cost you $19.00, and deposit $1.14 into your savings account—an immediate net gain of $0.57 (3% of the purchase price).

California Real Estate Market Snapshot – July 2011

The real estate market in California was very hot from 1998 through 2005. What is different about today’s market and when will we see another hot real estate market? Three main factors contributed to the hot real estate market from 1998 through 2005. First of all, and most important, was buyer confidence. The feeling was “the train is leaving and you better get on it.” Prices were rising at 1% per month, so if you purchased a home at $400,000, it was appreciating $4,000 per month. This instilled confidence in buyers and created an urgency to buy. The second factor was the strength of the economy. A strong economy and low unemployment are necessary ingredients for a strong real estate market. The final element that contributed to the last hot market was the availability of funds and easy qualifying for financing. This factor was a major contributor to the strength of that market, but it was also a major contributor to the economic problems of today. Lenders allowed borrowers to purchase homes with little or no down payment, with below average credit scores, often without even conducting an on-site appraisal. Today, buyer confidence is showing some improvement. In regards to financing, although qualifying is much more difficult, rates are even lower than they were in 1998 through 2005. The main factor needed for this market to warm up is the economy. The bottom line – the real estate market has improved some, but it will take a stronger economy for the real estate market to get hot again. Now is the time to buy while rates and prices are low.

Market Report

July, 2011 Current
Existing Home Sales 471,840 500,950 551,440 -5.8% -14.4%
Median Home Price $291,760 $293,800 $327,460 -0.7% -10.9%
Unsold Inventory Index 5.4 months 5.4 months 4.5 months 0.0% 20.0%
Median Days On Market 51.8 53.0 37.8 -2.3% 37.0%
30-Year Fixed Mortgage 4.64% 4.84% 4.89% -0.20% -0.25%

Source: California Association of REALTORS®

Mobile Manners

Cell phones are still a very new technology, and we don’t have decades of experience to draw upon when considering how to be courteous mobile phone users. As a result, many of the most persistent annoyances in our modern world are related to inappropriate mobile phone usage. Here are several common sense etiquette tips to make you a more conscientious and considerate mobile phone user.

Lower your voice
Loud talkers are without a doubt the most frequently criticized cell phone users. There is nothing more annoying than hearing a stranger yell about his or her personal life four feet away from you. Fortunately, the microphone technology on modern cell phones is advanced enough to pick up normal speaking voices unless there is a considerable amount of background noise, so yelling isn’t necessary. Speak at the same volume that you use when speaking to someone who is right next to you.

Seek separation
Overhearing someone else’s conversation on a cell phone is distracting. In fact, a recent Cornell University study found that hearing half a conversation on a cell phone is more distracting than hearing two people carrying on a normal conversation. A good rule of thumb is to walk at least 10 feet away from other people, if you must take a call in public.

Be present
If you want to make someone feel unimportant and unappreciated, just answer text messages and emails while he or she is talking to you. Nothing is more insulting that being subtly told, “I’d rather respond to an email than listen to you.” Most people who engage in this practice contend that they are multitasking—listening intently to one friend while texting another. However, no matter how good you are at multitasking, you cannot simultaneously be fully invested in two conversations.

Don’t hold up the line
If you are waiting in line at the coffee shop or any retail environment, stay off your phone. The cashier may need to ask you questions about your order, and if you are on the phone, everything will move more slowly, inconveniencing the cashier and everyone behind you in line.

Understand Latency
You may have noticed how often you are interrupted while talking on a cell phone. It’s not because all of your friends are rude. Cell phones have a slight delay in the signal transfer, and this delay has been getting worse over the last few years. As more calls are taking place between two cell phones (instead of at least one landline), the latency increases. Also, third-party services like Google Voice add another layer of latency, causing even longer delays. As a result, many phone calls today have a noticeable latency period that can make conversations difficult. When you notice this occurring, explain the issue to the other caller, and use clear cues to indicate when each person has finished speaking.

Avoid the dropped call blame game
When you drop a call while having a full signal, you may be tempted to specify that your phone was not the culprit. Resist the urge. It’s impolite to imply that someone else’s phone or network is of inferior quality to yours. Instead, defuse the blame game by making a quick joke about modern technology and moving on.

Screaming child rule
In some locations, the mere act of having your cell phone ring is rude. As a general rule of thumb, your phone should be switched to silent mode whenever you enter a location where it would not be appropriate to bring a screaming child (e.g., movie theaters, churches, and business meetings).

Avoid annoying ringtones
Avoid ringtones that may irritate other people. Unfortunately, just about every ringtone can be annoying, if it’s not your ringtone. Loud ringing noises and pop songs are among the most annoying. Chimes and simple musical melodies (like a Mozart tune) are the least annoying. Your safest bet is the default ringtone that comes with the phone—or, better yet, turn your phone to silent mode.

Ask for permission to answer your phone
No matter how polite you are, there will be times when you need to take a phone call in public. There are two ways you can make this interruption less rude. First, prepare people for the interruption. For instance, “I have an important client scheduled to call within the next hour. I may need to excuse myself abruptly to answer that call.” Second, when the call arises, ask for permission to accept it. For instance, “My client is calling now. Do you mind if I step into the other room to answer the call?”

Don’t interrupt the movie
If you are at a theater (or anywhere else where there is low light), the simple act of turning on your cell phone could be very distracting to the people around you. It’s hard to concentrate on a movie when the person next to you is radiating light from his or her lap. If you need to access your phone for any reason during a movie or play, excuse yourself and step outside before turning your phone on.

Don’t text and drive
Cell phone-related car accidents are on the rise. And, with all the stuff you can do on your phones these days, it’s not just texting and talking taking eyes off the road. More and more drivers are checking webpages, apps, and emails while driving. This doesn’t just endanger your life; it endangers the lives of everyone on the road. Buy a hands-free kit for in-phone calls and pull over if you need to read text messages, send emails, or access a website from your phone.

Real Estate Reader

Avoid These Home Staging Mistakes

Home staging is an easy way to increase the perceived value of your home, as well as the eventual sales price. But many amateur stagers do more harm than good when they make these common mistakes:

Blocking views
No matter how beautifully your furniture is arranged, if it’s blocking your view, it is a mistake. Make sure you also trim back any landscaping that is infringing on your view.

Using intense paint colors
Intense paint colors can alienate traditional buyers. Even buyers in search of a more fashion-forward aesthetic may not be fond of the particular color you selected. Neutrals are the way to go when staging a home.

Over accessorizing
It is possible to “overstage” a home. If there are decorative knick knacks on every surface, the home will feel more like an Ikea display than a home. When it comes to staging, less is more.

Neglecting storage and appliances
Any savvy buyer will look inside storage cabinets and appliances to make sure there is enough space for the buyer’s lifestyle. If your cabinets are jammed full of junk and your closets are bursting with storage items, buyers will leave with the impression that space is scarce.