Archive for February 2011

Connie’s Corner – “Do not get caught in Junior High Drama”

February 25, 2011

Tip for the day: Guard your reputation.  It is the best asset you have.

Q: Dear Connie: I have a co-worker who is constantly trying to make an issue out of whatever is happening.  She spends more time talking about things that do not apply to the workplace than working.  Can you give me some tips to avoid this drama?

A: Dear Wanting to Avoid the Drama Queen: One thing that can derail a career faster than anything else is to be a part of “junior high drama” in the workplace.  Supervisors will not deem a person an asset if that person is always spreading gossip.  I am glad you see the situation for what it is and are seeking ways to avoid being involved with this type of behavior.

Some people thrive on the excitement that they can generate by making personal issues a workplace problem.  Often trying to cause problems between co-workers is a result of needing attention or a low self-esteem.

The question is, “What is your responsibility in this situation?”  You will want to always approach workplace problems with professionalism.  When you bring personal problems into the office, it opens up the opportunity for other to share their opinions and even gossip about your personal life.  Share the positive things in your life, but consider keeping conflicts at home out of the workplace.

Ask yourself, “Is this situation a part of my job?”  If it is work related, address the challenge.  While at work concentrate on your business life; not your personal life.  If you share your personal life with this person, you are opening the door for their involvement.

Do not get caught up in “he said, she said.”  Remove yourself from interoffice drama by keeping your opinions of others to yourself.  This will avoid comments you make from being repeated and maybe misrepresented.  Sometimes it is best to just walk away from a conversation.

When this person learns that you will not engage in talking about co-workers or be a part of spreading gossip, she will probably leave you alone and move on to talking to someone else.  Professionalism is they key.

Connie’s Career Corner is your source for career information.  E-mail questions for future columns to ConniesCorner@Nashville.gov .

 

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20 Tips for Mastering an Internship Interview

February 24, 2011

The rush for coveted summer internships is on. I’ve been sensing some interview angst on Twitter lately, so I thought I’d try to give you a sense of what to expect and how you can best prepare for your internship interview. 

I’ve interviewed dozens of interns and taught college students competing for internships, so this advice represents the cumulative knowledge I’ve gained on the subject by being an active participant in the process. 

Here’s my best advice for interns: 

1. Customize your résumé for each interview: Change your résumé’s objective and wording to conform with the job description. Don’t make up stuff or lie, just tailor your words accordingly.

2. Save your résumé with your full name in the title before sending it to the company. Don’t send a document that says, “Résumé.” That’s only helpful for finding it on your computer, not to the person who’s receiving 10 résumés per week. 

3. In addition to e-mailing your résumé to the appropriate person, mail your résumé with a cover letter to the hiring manager. An e-mailed résumé is easy to ignore. A beautifully written letter with a real signature on nice paper is hard to throw away. It’s important that you send the letter and résumé to the person who’s involved in the hiring process. 

4. Always mail your cover letter and résumé to the HR department of the company as well. Be sure to have someone you trust proofread both the résumé and cover letter. 

5. After you’ve sent your résumé, wait at least a week before calling or e-mailing the company. Don’t ask whether they’ve received it; do ask about the timeframe for potential interviews. Be ready with your elevator speech (see below). 

6. Prepare an elevator speech. An elevator speech is a short statement that encompasses who you are and what your goals are for this internship. Be ready to give this little speech on a moment’s notice. 

7. For goodness sake, do not drink the night before, or pull an all-nighter, or smoke on your way to the interview. This is essential. You don’t want to smell like booze or smoke in the interview. You also want to be on your game. 

8. Arrive 15 minutes early for the interview and make sure you know the names of the people you’re meeting with. Basically, leave early and do some research in advance. 

9. Dress up. This is non-negotiable. Even if you are the only one wearing a suit, that’s OK. Polished nails and shoes are a must. Spend money on a go-to classy interview suit. 

10. Grooming goes a long way. Guys, you should file and de-funk your fingernails. Ladies, a coat of clear polish is best. Style your hair. Guys, a fresh haircut and shave are in order. Hold the cologne and perfume. 

11. Carry a simple portfolio with pen, paper, extra résumés, simple business cards, and a sample of your portfolio. Gals, leave your handbag in the car. 

12. Smile, act confident, and be sure to ask questions. Come prepared with a notebook to take notes, and have a few questions pre-written in case you forget to write anything down. 

13. Try to balance talking about yourself, while taking great care not to brag. It’s funny how a group of people will perceive the candidate after the interview. Some will love the confidence, some will be slightly turned off by slight arrogance. 

14. Focus on your accomplishments. Do not just read your résumé to your interviewer. 

15. Share what you learned from past internships or jobs. Focus on how you overcame challenges and never, ever, say bad things about your former employer. It makes you look bad. 

16. One question to be sure to ask: How is the internship supervised? Will you have one boss or many? The answer to this question may help you prioritize internships. Having this information may be crucial to knowing how much guidance you’ll get and, consequently, how much you’ll learn. 

17. Write down the names of your interviewers and send them each a handwritten thank-you note. I suggest dropping the notes in the mail the same day as the interview; that way they arrive shortly after your interview. Sometimes decisions are made very quickly, so don’t skip this one. 

18. Only call to follow up after a week has passed. If they love you, they’ll call you back, but sometimes people have to talk to a number of other managers or HR folks before making the call. 

19. Send a courtesy e-mail to the hiring manager to let them know if you’ve accepted another internship. Do this regardless of the timeline. 

20. When you receive an offer, feel free to ask questions about the pay level or other benefits. Asking too soon in the process might make you appear as though your priorities are misplaced. Internships are about learning and gaining experience, not earning a ton of money, per se. It’s nice to be paid, but the internship should be about furthering your career goals and filling gaps in your résumé.

Here are some finishing touches that leave a great impression and show your commitment to being hired by a reputable company: 

• Friend the company on Facebook, and follow it on Twitter. Find the company’s page on LinkedIn, and follow it, too. 
• Forward a link to your online portfolio, a website you’ve created, or your LinkedIn page with a short note thanking the interviewer for their time. 
• Clean up your online profiles. No pictures of yourself in a hoochy-mama skin-tight dress, no drinking photos, no photos sitting on someone’s lap. Be sure to make your profile as private as possible. 

I’m a firm believer that internships are the reason people get offered full-time jobs after college. Do you have any burning questions that you need to ask? 

This post originally appeared on the blog, Public Relations Princess.

Suggestion Box

February 23, 2011

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16 Don’t-Miss Tax Deductions

February 22, 2011

By Jill Schlesinger  – Yahoo! Finance – February 22, 2011

First of all, the IRS has a gift for you: an extra three days to file your returns! Individual taxpayers will have until Monday, April 18, to file their returns. The reason: Friday, April 15, is a legal holiday in the District of Columbia, and because D.C. holidays affect tax deadlines in the same way federal holidays do, all taxpayers are being given an extra three days to file their returns.

Now, on to your tax return: Claim these often overlooked deductions and credits and you just might be able to pay less to the IRS.

IRA/Roth Conversion

When you contribute to an individual retirement account, you help fund a future goal while lowering your current tax bill. In other words, socking cash in an IRA is like saving with help from your Uncle Sam.

The rules are pretty simple: You have until tax filing (again, that’s April 18) to contribute up to $5,000 to a 2010 IRA ($6,000 if you are 50 or older). If you are self-employed, have a Keogh or SEP-IRA, and have filed for an extension to October 15, you can even wait until then to put 2010 money into those accounts.

Even if you’re covered by a retirement plan at work, you can deduct some or all of your IRA contribution if you are single and your income is less than $66,000 (less than $109,000 if married). If you are not covered by a workplace retirement plan but are married to someone who is, you can deduct some or all of your IRA contribution if your joint income is less than $176,000 or less.

• Roth IRA conversion rules: Just a reminder for those who converted from a traditional IRA into Roth IRA in 2010 — don’t forget that you now owe taxes! The amount of money that was converted is considered income that can be spread over a two-year period, beginning in 2011. This means you include one-half of the amount as income in 2011 and the other half as income in 2012. You can elect to include all of the income in 2011, which may be advantageous if your tax bracket is likely to be lower in that tax year than it will be in the future. See Form 8606.

New Rules on Itemized Deductions

• Itemized deductions and personal exemptions: The itemized deduction limitation is repealed for 2010 (and through 2012). This means that taxpayers can deduct the full amount of their itemized deductions in 2010. The personal exemption phase-out rules also do not apply through 2012.

Get the Credit(s) You Deserve

Tax credits are even better than deductions, because they lower your taxes dollar for dollar, instead of being calculated based on your tax bracket. A number of credits and deductions that were set to expire for 2010 were retroactively extended by the 2010 Tax Relief Act and are therefore available for taxpayers who qualify — so don’t miss them!

• Making Work Pay: The payroll “tax holiday” is still in effect for 2010. That means that workers get a tax credit of 6.2% on their earned income — but the credit maxes out at $400 for single filers and $800 for joint filers. The credit is subject to income limits and starts phasing out at $75,000 for singles and $150,000 for joint filers. You will need to file for this credit on Schedule M.

• The Child Tax Credit is up to $1,000 for each qualifying child who was under the age of 17 at the end of 2010. This credit can be claimed in addition to the credit for child and dependent care expenses. (Details are in IRS Publication 972.)

• The Earned Income Tax Credit is a refundable credit for married couples filing jointly with 2010 earned income under $48,362 and singles with income under $43,352. Your income and family size determine the amount of the credit. (Details are in IRS Publication 596.)

• The Child and Dependent Care Credit of up to $1,050 per child or $2,100 for two or more children is calculated based on your expenses paid for the care of your kids under age 13 to enable you to work or to look for work in 2010. The credit is 20 to 35 percent of your child-care expenses up to $6,000 — the size of your credit depends on your income. (Details are in IRS Publication 503.)

• The Retirement Savings Contributions Credit is designed to help low- and moderate-income workers save for retirement. Individuals with incomes of up to $27,750 and married couples with joint incomes of up to $55,500 may qualify for a credit of up to $1,000 per person. Check out Form 8880 for the rules.

• First-Time Homebuyer Credit: The first-time homebuyer credit expired during 2010. It is available to eligible taxpayers who closed on their home purchase on or before Sept. 30, 2010 (under a binding contract in place before May 1, 2010). The closing date deadline was moved during the year from June 30 to Sept. 30 by the Homebuyer Assistance and Improvement Act. The credit allows you to claim a credit of 10 percent of the purchase price, up to $8,000. There is a different credit of up to $6,500 for those who already owned a home but purchased a new primary residence. The details are mind-numbing. See this IRS explanation.

While we’re on the subject: If you claimed the First-time Homebuyer Credit in 2008, it’s time to pay up. The 2008 credit was worth up to $7,500 and was similar to an interest-free loan. Taxpayers generally must begin repaying it in equal payments for 15 years. If the taxpayer no longer lives in the house, then the credit must be repaid in full with the next tax return. Taxpayers who claimed the credit in 2009 and 2010 will not have to repay it unless the house is sold or no longer their principal residence within three years of purchase.

• Energy and Appliance Tax Credit: If you made any energy-efficiency improvements to your home in 2010, you may be eligible for a tax credit. You can deduct up to 30% of the cost — up to $1,500 — for many energy improvements to your existing home. Note that the credit does not apply to rental properties or new homes. Approved improvements include new windows, insulation, high efficiency furnaces, water heaters and air-conditioning. It also covers alternative energy such as solar equipment, small wind turbines and fuel cells.

College Costs

• The Hope Credit was been replaced with the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Each student can now get a $2,500 “higher education tax credit” for the first four years of college. The credit is based on 100 percent of the first $2,000 of tuition and related expenses, including books, paid during the tax year, plus and 25 percent of the next $2,000 of tuition and related expenses paid during the tax year (subject to income phase-outs starting at $80,000 for singles and $160,000 for joint filers).

• The December tax compromise included a new deduction for families with college costs. Every family can deduct up to $4,000 of college tuition and fees in 2010 and 2011. Note: The new form for taking this deduction will be available from the IRS in February.

• Also, for anyone with a 529 college savings plan: Computers and Internet access qualify as “qualified education expenses” for the 2010 tax year, so you can pay for them tax-free.

Add Up Those Itemized Deductions

Nearly two out of three taxpayers take the standard deduction rather than itemizing deductions. Some of those folks are leaving money on the table. If your deductible expenses exceed the 2010 standard deduction of $5,700 for singles and $11,400 for married couples filing jointly, be sure you itemize and grab these write-offs.

• Miscellaneous deductions: These are deductible if they total more than 2 percent of your adjusted gross income. They include tax-preparation fees, job-hunting expenses, business car expenses, and professional dues.

• Sales tax: You can deduct sales tax paid in 2010 if the amount was greater than the state and local income taxes you paid. In other words, you get to choose: Write off your sales taxes or write off your income taxes. If you didn’t keep your sales-tax receipts, use the IRS’ sales tax deduction estimator. Even if you claim the sales tax amount from the IRS tables, you can add in tax paid on vehicles or boats purchased during the year, except to the extent the sales tax rate on them is more than the general sales tax rate. If you live in a state with a high income tax, like California or New York, you will probably be better off claiming your state and local income taxes rather than sales taxes. If you live in a state with no income tax, like Florida, Texas, or Washington, be sure to take the sales tax deduction when you itemize.

• Medical expenses: This one is hard to claim, because the bar is so high to qualify. You can only deduct the portion of your 2010 medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income.

• Mileage: Deducting miles driven for work or other purposes can be a huge tax break and save you significant money. Too bad the IRS cut the standard mileage deduction rates for 2010. Here are the new rules: Business mileage = 50 cents per mile (a 9 percent cut!); medical and moving = 16.5 cents per mile; and charitable = 14 cents per mile.

One last thing: The first $2,400 of unemployment benefits you receive in 2010 is no longer tax-deductible.

“The “Don’ts” of an Interview”

February 18, 2011

Q:  Dear Connie:  I am worried about going on an interview.  I have practiced answers to difficult questions with my friend and feel confident I can represent myself well in the interview.  Is there anything else I need to do at the interview? 

A:  Dear Ready to Go:  I am glad that you are practicing how to answer questions regarding your skills and abilities for your upcoming interviews.  Here at the Nashville Career Advancement Center, we give our customers a list of questions they may be asked during an interview so they can do the exact preparation work that you have done.

The one thing that is overlooked many times is what should not be done before, during and after an interview.  You will be observed from the time you enter the building until you are offered or denied the position you are applying for with a company.

Two things to avoid before the interview are arriving late and being rude to the receptionist.  If you arrive late, you are really saying, “The possibility of working for your company really isn’t that important to me.”  When you arrive and are rude to the receptionist you are saying, “I am not easy to get along with and you are not important enough for me to try to get along with you.” 

During the interview you want to be original, ask questions, stand out and be professional.  If you answer every question with standard responses you are really saying, “I have nothing original to say about myself.”  If you do not asked questions about the company and the position you are applying for, you are conveying that you are not really interested in the company or the available job.  When asked the standard question “Tell me about yourself,” this is your time to shine and stand out.  Tell the employer what makes you special.  Using inappropriate language during the interview says,” Just imagine how unprofessional I will be as one of your employees.”

Your job is not finished when the interview is over.  If you do not thank the interviewer, you are saying, “I did not really value your time and I have no manners.”  Finish the interview process in style and write a personal Thank You note to every interviewer you met with during the interview process.

Interviewing is a process.  Be prepared for what you should and should not do and you will come out the shining star.

Connie’s Career Corner is your source for career information.  E-mail questions for future columns to ConniesCorner@Nashville.gov .

Home Depot To Add 60K Seasonal Jobs In U.S.

February 16, 2011

Newschannel5 – (AP) ATLANTA – Home Depot Inc. will hire more than 60,000 seasonal workers to help with its busy spring season. 

The world’s biggest home improvement retailer said it will fill the positions before its second annual Spring Black Friday promotion. 

“Spring is our Christmas and traffic is at its highest during this season,” Craig Menear, executive vice president for merchandising, said in a statement Tuesday. 

The workers, who will be hired and trained in February and March, will be in every market. Home Depot currently has more than 300,000 employees. 

The Atlanta company said it will also add some permanent part-time and full-time jobs this year, but did not specify how many.

Career Connections

February 15, 2011

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A few snapshots from recent NCAC Career Connections meetings…

Our agency offers a variety of networking meetings, forums and workshops in the area (Davidson, Rutherford, Wilson and Trousdale counties). To join us for networking and job searching advice at one of our next meetings, visit our calendars page to find an event near you!