Rules for Commuting

I thought today, a day when I am free the long commute (thanks President’s Day), would be a great day to talk about commuting and its rules. Maybe this will seep into the internets and my fellow commuters will read it and pass it on in preparation for the rest of this week and the long months to come – no three day weekend until May 😦

Oh commuting – how I loathe you. I hate the way you take so long and the way you sap my bank account (one month of just the commuter train costs $175.00, this does not include the metro fare).

I dislike how tourists want to commute with me – even though they could wait until I’m at work. They are loud and they are NOT actually quiet in the quiet car.

Also they don’t follow your well-known rules:

  1.  Don’t talk on your cell phone the whole time. Or talk to other people at loud volumes. Most of us are sleeping, or reading, or trying not to cry because we hate our commutes so much.
  2. Don’t put your luggage on the seat next to you. I will ask you to move it and you will have to or the conductor will make you. Not cool.
  3. Walk on the left side of the escalator. This is well-known. It is international even and it is courteous!
  4. Don’t stop in the middle of the hallway in the train station to look at the train schedule – they are posted all over and you could stop in a less ‘in-the-way’ place.
  5. If you can avoid it, don’t bring children on the commute and don’t be offended when we scowl at you. Children tend not to be quiet – see rule number 1.
  6. If you are in DC (or probably anywhere) MOVE TO THE CENTER OF THE CAR. The metro-lady will say it multiple times but you can’t seem to hear it. Take out your ear buds if you have to, listen to her, and then follow her instruction.

I hate to sound bitter, even though I am, I am terribly bitter, but these are fundamental rules that would vastly improve my commute (that takes about 1.5 hours one way) and encourage me to write about WAY more interesting things than  commuting rules.


Why Bother With a Credit Card?

When I turned 18 my dad got a credit card in my name and kept it to make small purchases, pay them off immediately, and start building my credit history. I still have that credit card but hardly use it – there’s no point! I get nothing for it except the stress of having to pay off a credit card once a month.

My husband however has no credit card and an in-the-middle credit score because of it. Now that our finances are fully merged and we’re looking to plan some vacations we decided to explore some rewards cards. I’m not a big lover of credit cards because I don’t want to spend beyond my means and I think they absolutely encourage over spending! Even if you’re an avid bank account watcher you can still be fooled by high balances if you have credit card payments lurking out there.  BUT I’ve proven to myself that I don’t let this happen so rewards card it is!

So it’s fortunate timing that Chris Guillbeau at The Art of Non-Conformity just wrote a great Q&A piece about managing miles. Here’s a snippet of his advice:

Q. I can only get 1-2 cards. Which should I get?

A. Different cards work better for different people, but long story short, my new favorite is the Chase Sapphire card. It offers a mega-bonus of 50,000 points which can be transferred to a variety of airline and hotel partners (including United/Continental and Hyatt), no foreign transaction fees, and the annual fee is waived for year one.

I also like the AA Citi cards and have been getting them for years on a 90-day cycle, reapplying after I’ve fulfilled the requirements for one card, getting the bonus, and then moving on to another.

Q. Do you cancel the cards after a year, when the annual fee comes due?

A. I usually keep them for a year, then see what happens. Sometimes I call up and say I want to cancel and they waive the fee. Other times, they shift the card into a no-fee version (which doesn’t earn as many points, but I don’t care since I’m not actively using it then).

On a couple of occasions, I’ve kept the card and paid the fee if I’m still using it frequently.

Q. Can I get a business card without a business?

A. Yes. One of the easiest ways to double your points bonus is to get both a personal and business card from the same issuer. For example, you can get the Chase Sapphire card mentioned above and receive a 50,000 point bonus—and you can also get the Chase Ink Bold card and receive an additional 50,000 points. The same strategy holds with the Starwood Preferred Guest Business card.

Similarly, you can get an AA card from Citi for a 30,000 mile bonus, and also add the AA Hilton version for an additional 40,000 Hilton hotel points. If you have a willing spouse or partner, they can do their own applications—so as you can imagine, the bonuses add up very quickly.

Q: What about cards for outside the U.S.?

A. There are some, but not many. In Canada we recommend the AmEx Business Gold card, which includes a 25,000 point bonus after completing an initial spend of $3,000, and the AmEx Starwood cards (two versions) which each offer an immediate 15,000 point bonus. If we find more for Canada or other countries, we’ll add them to the list.

We chose to go with Capital One Venture card because 1) no annual fee 2) decent APR (in case something happens and we can’t pay back immediately) 3) good rewards in our opinion. I’m not a fan of annual fees; in fact I booked it out of BoA when they started charging fees for using their debit cards. Blech! But I didn’t know you could get a business card without a business – did you??

Chris answers a question about managing multiple cards and I have to admit, I wouldn’t want to do that and I don’t see the benefit. As it is we all juggle our finances – remembering to pay bills on time, move money around to various accounts, track spending – so it seems like too big of a hassle to manage multiple credit cards especially when mismanagement can hurt you. However, if you’re up for the challenge, you can also reap some great rewards (especially if you’re a world traveler like Chris or aspiring to be one like me)


How Marketing Yourself May Not Translate Across Generations

In late December, Simply Hired had a good piece about marketing yourself to find a job or get ahead in your career. I appreciate their tips (shown below) and I think most of them should be readily implemented into anybody’s job search.

  • Develop a Unique Value Proposition – A unique value proposition (UVP) is a clear picture of what you deliver to those around you and how it helps them. Be specific about your talents throughout your resume and online profiles if you want to stand out to those looking for your passion and strengths.
  • Have a Strong Brand Promise – A brand promise is an expression of how a brand is different within a market. For example, FedEx’s brand promise is reliable shipping. Avis’s brand promise is that they try harder than their competitors. Make sure the aspects of your personality that set you a part are layered throughout your online presence.
  • Know the Persona – When preparing for interviews or performance reviews, get to know the culture of organizations by what they say about themselves on social media and their website. Align your UVP with the interests of a company to demonstrate how well you fit with the culture.
  • Perform Competitive Research – Research LinkedIn to find others in your area with similar interests and skills. Doing this helps you stand out even further because you’ll know what unique blend of skills and experience you bring to the table. Tip: work the name of the job title you want into your LinkedIn profile to appear above your industry colleagues in the search results of HR recruiters and industry head hunters.
  • Demonstrate Social Proof – Social proof is demonstrating the value of your product or service by letting others do the talking for you. Recommendations on LinkedIn, the number of friends and followers you have on social networks, and how often they engage with or share your content are all ways to let the words of others speak more about you than you could ever do for yourself. Tip: The best way to get a recommendation is to recommend someone else. Leave sincere and genuine recommendations and your colleagues will be sure to reciprocate.
  • Personalize to Build Relationships – Use social media to get to know your boss or your potential employer. Spend some time on their profiles to get a feel for their experience, their former employers and sometimes even their favorite books. Bringing these things up in an interview setting show that you’re interested in not only getting a job, but in the person you’re talking to as well.

I don’t have much commentary on the tips themselves – I love them and I know that I used many of them in my job search. I think that branding, relationship building, and social proof are things that us millenials grasp pretty readily but is perhaps more difficult or out of the norm for baby boomers and gen x-ers. I’ve been intrigued lately by how generational gaps affect the job search, work culture, and getting ahead and I could see these tips being lost on someone who doesn’t function daily in the social media frame of youth culture.

For example, I have a family member right now who is of the baby boomer generation and looking for work. A full 9-5 job is less appealing to this person right now because they are a bit older and have worked in that model for a long time. But the thought of building a personal brand, using networks, and consulting while absolutely appealing, is also really scary – it’s something that the young folks do. My goal with this family member has been to stress the positive of this alternative work scenario 1) working from home 2) setting a schedule 3) setting fees 4) picking and choosing the work you want to do! It sounds like a dream to me but I can see the hurdles here too for someone who may not have thought of branding themselves in these ways.

All of the aforementioned tips are age-old with a contemporary twist. Using your networks and branding yourself isn’t a reinvention of the wheel. But the pathways and the technology have changed. So in keeping with my generational gaps questions, how do we help baby boomers search for work with modern eyes and get over the fear that comes with work freedom.



Advocating at Work

What would you change at work and how would you do it? As young professionals in a very hostile job market it can be difficult to face work environments that don’t give us everything our generation expects. We’ve got a laundry list of things we want and probably should have:

  • Good benefits
  • Decent salary that keeps up with cost of living 
  • Flexible work hours 
  • Telecommuting opportunities 
  • Lots more! 
But we’re like houses in the current housing market – there are lots of us, meaning oodles of choices and good deals for the buyers (or employers in this case). 
But once you have a job and you’re settled into work you have a new opportunity to advocate for the things you want. Only, the gutsyness we were raised with seems to be steadily fading away. If you take an issue or suggestion to your employer and their response is ‘you’re lucky to be employed’, this isn’t very encouraging, and you might be unlikely to try again in the near future. 
Junior staff at an organization one of my peers works for gathered a list of issues, suggestions, and questions for HR and the higher-ups to address. I think coming together as a collective is a great way to approach this, especially for less experienced workers. But the staff didn’t want to turn in this document before reviews because they were afraid it would affect any potential raises. So when is a good time to advocate for yourself and your benefits? It seems like the logical time would be around reviews but young workers seem to be scared that speaking up will end up hurting rather than helping in the long run. And maybe it will be more harmful – There seem to be organizations that are mistrusting of young staff – higher-ups see them as flighty, uncommitted, and too expensive as it is. But the truth is, young professionals might stick around longer if they were better taken care of. Unfortunately, the current model in many non-profits seems to be: get out to move up. So how can we become loyal employees who are taken seriously when we’re not likely to get ahead in our organization? It’s a bad cycle. 
I think that there are office cultures out there that embrace the better model: If you take care of your employees, they will take care of you. But I really want to know the best way to advocate for yourself in an organization that doesn’t function this way. 

Then Gift Wrap Them!

Everyone feels differently about the holiday custom of gift giving. My husband and I choose not to exchange gifts because we feel too pressured to find that one perfect thing in a very specific time frame. We like to give gifts throughout the year so there’s less pressure and more, year-round fun. The rest of my immediate family does not subscribe to this idea and that’s okay – it means I still get presents (rarely a bad thing).

I’m torn on gift wrapping though. I love presents (just ask my husband, sister, um…anyone in my family) and I love ripping into some glittery holiday paper but did you know:

  • If every U.S. family wrapped three gifts in repurposed materials, the gift wrap saved would cover 45,000 football fields.
  • If every family reused two feet of holiday ribbon per year, the ribbon saved could tie a bow around Earth. Source: Stanford University
Last year my sister bought reusable bags from a local Italian market and put everyone’s gifts in the bags; so it was really like a present INSIDE of a present. Perfect. GetRichSlowly posted some other ideas recently to help make your gift giving greener: 
  • Go paperless
  • Use Bags
  • Recycle materials you have handy (suggestions from GetRichSlowly)
    • Newspaper end rolls. If there’s a newspaper or printing company in your area, ask if you can buy an almost-finished roll. These still contain a ton of paper that can be used as-is or customized any way you want. Rubber-stamp it. Flick a loaded paintbrush at it. Let your kids draw holiday pictures on it. Or do the messy-but-fun activity of dipping their li’l hands into water-based acrylic paint and making hand prints on the paper. (And if your recipient is a “CSI” fan? Have them leave only their fingerprints.)
    • Secondhand finds. Sometimes I find gift wrap at thrift stores or yard sales. But I’ve also seen rolls of butcher paper or brown at thrift shops; these can be decorated as noted above.
    • Grocery bags. Cut open paper ones and use the non-logo sides for wrapping. Let your kids decorate them with bright paint.
    • The Sunday funnies. These make great gift wrap year-round. Don’t subscribe? Harvest them at coffeehouses on Mondays. Tip: Discarded wrapping paper of any type can be crumpled up for use as packing material.
    • Old maps. Doctors Without Borders sends me several huge maps of the world every year. Maps also end up in the free box at yard sales, and may be given free of charge at visitors’ centers.
    • Periodicals. Small gifts can be wrapped in pages from magazines, calendars, catalogs or even comic books. You may luck into these in the “free” bin at yard sales.
    • Foreign-language newspapers. Weeklies written in Chinese, Korean and Spanish can be found in my neighborhood. The interesting typefaces could be a hit with someone who knows or is trying to learn those languages.
    • Dumpster paper. A whole lot of gift-wrap items will be tossed after Dec. 25. I’ve pulled gift bags, colorful tissue, ribbons, and large pieces of wrapping paper out of the recycle bin. Note: You don’t necessarily have to get down and dirty. I’m more of a dumpster wader than a dumpster diver, myself. A few years ago I found a large, still-shrink-wrapped roll of Christmas paper outside the dumpster. Still slowly making my way through it because of its design — not everyone appreciates the delicacy of Batman holiday wrap.
If you want to read more about gift-wrapping alternatives go here. For some people the paper is a non-negotiable but I’m partial to thinking outside the box when it comes to keeping the holidays green. 

Set down the coffee cup – Phone Interviews

I have mixed feelings about phone interviews. Different organizations treat them differently – some just want to talk to you more about the position, some want to make sure you’re not crazy, and some are actually hardcore interviewing you. It’s hard to know what you’re going to get so it’s best to be prepared.

Last month I had a surprise interview which I now really wish I had asked to reschedule. Before they called, again, unexpectedly, I had a big ol’ cup of coffee. I was so excited and hyped up on caffeine when they called that I chose to continue and gabgabgabgabgab a mile a minute. Bah!! Awful. Here’s my tip: don’t do that. 

Penelope Trunk offers some other, more general tips:

1. Attend to your surroundings. 
Don’t just mute the TV, turn it off. Stay in a quiet place where you know you won’t be bothered or distracted by noise. If you’re doing a video interview, make sure your background isn’t cluttered, busy, or distracting for the interviewer. Also, don’t drink too much coffee.

2. Dress the part. 
You may feel silly walking around in your apartment in a suit just for a phone call but I swear it helps. You’ll feel more professional and sound that way too. Especially do this if you’re having a skype/video interview!  Let your interviewer turn on their video first so you can best gauge whether or not to throw that jacket off.

3. Stand up. 
I often pace when I’m on the phone but that’s not what Penelope is suggesting. In fact, don’t pace too much because you could sound winded. Penelope says, Walking around a bit, but not too much, also keeps the call going smoothly. If your body is confined, your speech sounds different than if you have run of the room. It’s one reason that the best speakers walk around instead of standing in one place at the podium.”

4. Prepare for obvious questions. 
I think this is pretty standard – be prepared and be able to be concise.

5. Don’t forget to close
 Make sure you get a clear idea of what the next steps are. When are they going to start in-person interviews? Will there be another round of telephone interviews? By when will you have an answer? Who will be conducting the in-person interview? This helps with your sanity and shows that you’re seriously invested.

Also, don’t be afraid to reschedule a surprise phone interview! You want to be prepared and have your space ready.

Improving Your Resume

Taking advice on your resume, once you have one made and “perfected”, is difficult. I’ve invested a lot of time in putting my experiences down on paper and making it look pretty so when people tell me to change it up, I may be likely to shut down. Resume format is pretty subjective and obviously I think my way is the best way.

But here are some tips that make me willing to rethink how I’ve done my resume thanks to Penelope Trunk.

Focus on achievements v. responsibilities. 
A resume is not your life story. No one cares. If your life story were so interesting, you’d have a book deal. The only things that should be on your resume are achievements. 
I think this is true for cover letters too; you want to focus on achievements and try to give corresponding numbers. Everything else is space filler. This one is hard for me to buy into because quantifying achievements is so hard…but possible.

Your resume is a marketing document not a moral statement
The best marketing documents show the product in the very best light, which means using whatever most outrageous tactics possible to make you look good. As long as you are not lying, you will be fine.

Don’t give everything away

The idea of a resume is to get someone to call you. Talk with you on the phone. Offer you an interview. So a resume is like a first date. You only show your best stuff and you don’t show it all.Some people dump everything they can think of onto their resume, but a resume is not the only chance you’ll have to sell yourself. In fact the interview is where the hard-core selling takes place. So you only put your very best achievements on the resume. Sure, there will be other questions people will want answers to, but that will make them call you. And that’s good, right?

I like these tips because they aren’t completely obvious to me. The usual, make it look nice, don’t have spelling mistakes, be relevant, tips are SO OLD! But I think job seekers, new and experienced, could use these to rethink how they are selling themselves. I think selling results versus tasks is very appealing.

How willing are you to change up your resume format? If you actually make your resume results-oriented only, by how much do you shorten it?