Posted by Erik Even on Apr 30, 2009 in Advice
So you have some bills due, or an important payment you have to make, like rent. And your next paycheck or unemployment check is not going to arrive or clear in time. You only need a few hundred dollars, but without the money you face disaster — eviction, repossession of your car, or your kid is kicked out of school because you can’t pay tuition.
You’re going to consider going to one of those sketchy payday loan places.
Don’t do it.
Payday loans (also called paycheck advances or payday advances) are small, short-term loans intended to cover a borrower’s expenses until his or her next payday. They are also intended to charge you an absurdly high interest rate.
The problem is, if you want to borrow $300, you’re going to pay as much as $50 in interest and fees. (You cut them a $300 check dated for after your next paycheck, and they give you $250 in cash.) This might seem acceptable, when you’re desperate. Bus imagine how you would feel if an ATM machine charged you $50 to take out $300.
Assuming a two week loan period, finance charges on payday loans are typically in the range of 15% to 30% of the loan amount, which translates to rates ranging from 390% to 780% when expressed as an annual percentage rate.
And these payday loan places are carefully designed to appear downscale, when in fact most are owned by major banks. These banks don’t want you in their regular branches, because you’re poor or unemployed or experiencing a financial crisis. But they’ll happily charge you usurious finance charges when you’re at your most vulnerable.
So what can you do instead?
Borrow from friends and family. Many people don’t want to do this, as it can strain relationships. But it’s better than a payday loan. And if you pay it back on time, there shouldn’t be any problem. If you’re not sure you can pay the loan back, then don’t take a loan short term from anyone, whether a friend or a payday loan joint. If you’re honest about your ability to repay, maybe that friend or family member can still help you.
Ask for a payday advance — at work. Some employers will give you a small loan against your paycheck. Just ask your boss or HR person. In this economic climate, you won’t be the only one asking.
Manage your money better. Obviously, this won’t help you now. And some people seem to think the only reason anyone ever gets into financial trouble is because they didn’t manage their money properly. This is ridiculous — anyone in America, who isn’t independently wealthy, is just a sexual harassment suit or major injury away from financial trouble. There are things for which you can’t plan.
But doing a better job taking care of your money can’t hurt, and might help enough to keep you from needing a short term loan in the future.
Posted by Erik Even on Apr 27, 2009 in Employment
According to a study in the latest American Journal of Epidemiology (I read it each month, after I finish The Fortean Times and Entertainment Weekly), reducing on-the-job stress may help lower the risk of depression.
Canadian researchers found a correlation between levels of work stress and incidence of major depression. The study is based on data from a Canadian National Population Health Survey of 4,866 people.
In any given month, 4.4% of US workers suffer major depression. Such depression can severely affect productivity and employability.
It’s just common sense that work stress can cause illness, which in turn creates more stress.
Some advice for employees:
- Learn to firewall your work life from your home life. In other words, try not to take your work stress home with you.
- Set aside a few minutes during the work day to just relax and breathe — maybe at your desk, maybe in an empty conference room or out in your car. Don’t think you have the time? You’ll be far more productive — it’s worth the time.
- Talk to HR about your stress issues. They might be able to help you out, depending on why you are so stressed out.
- Exercise, maybe before work, maybe at lunch, or after work. Go jogging or join a gym. This will help immensely.
Some advice for employers:
Some managers think the best way to motivate people is to put the fear of God or the dole queue into them. The theory is that a good employee will benefit from stress, working harder and faster. Someone too “weak” to handle the stress must not be good at their job.
You are wrong.
Your employees are overworked and unhappy — and they get sick. A lot. They either miss work entirely, or work from home, or come to work and make everyone else sick. Whatever happens, you are losing productivity, not gaining it.
Also, ability to handle stress does not correlate to talent. By driving away employees who can’t take the abuse, you may be losing the people who are best at their jobs, and hanging on to those who aren’t.
Some workplace environments cannot help but cause stress. But if you’re not the boss of an emergency room or air traffic control tower, or the teacher of an eighth grade classroom, perhaps you can tone down the stress a bit. Healthy, happy, relaxed employees do better work, and more work, than a cube farm full of stress cases.
And maybe your health benefits costs will go down.
Posted by Erik Even on Apr 24, 2009 in Careers
Think your job is bad?
British comic actor Tony Robinson has created a TV show and book documenting the worst jobs in history — in British history, at least.
If you’re cool like me, you’ll remember Robinson from the Black Adder TV series, in which he played Baldrick, who had what was definitely the worst job in history — to be repeatedly reborn as servant and dogsbody to the various abusive and scheming Lords Blackadder.
Also, the show co-starred Hugh Laurie of House fame, who played various characters so far removed from the character of Dr. Gregory House that you can hardly believe it’s the same actor.
Anyway, as a bit of Friday fun, here are a couple of the jobs Robinson discusses. I guarantee you your job is better.
Asphalt Pounder: In the Victorian era, someone discovered that asphalt makes for a great road covering, better than those silly cobblestones. Unfortunately, the steam roller does not yet exist. So here’s a job opportunity for impoverished immigrants — stamp around on the asphalt with your feet until it’s flattened.
Sounds easy. Except the asphalt is 320°F.
Plague Burier: Do you know how to dig a ditch? Then digging graves is a good job — steady work, easy to do. Um.. until the Bubonic Plague comes along, and you have tens of thousands of bodies to bury. There aren’t enough carts, so two of you have the carry the corpses between you on slings. And all burials are done at night, so the townsfolk won’t panic.
Oh, and there’s a 99.999% chance you’ll get the Plague. So your replacement will have the honor of tossing you in a pit and throwing lime on you.
Sin Eater: The best thing about religion is that it is relentlessly logical. For instance, if your loved one dies without Last Rites, say due to Plague, it’s only logical that a piece of bread can draw the sins out of their corpse, so your loved one can go to heaven. And from that it follows that someone must eat the bread, and so swallow the sins. I mean, that’s just obvious.
The Sin Eater is paid good cash money to go from house to house, eating free meals. The only drawback is that the meals must be eaten off the chest of a corpse. But it’s a small price to pay — you’re saving souls! Of course, you’re reviled by the villagers. Well, so are lawyers and bankers.
Lead Whiter: Making white paint in the 17th Century was so fun, they only allowed women to do it. Just climb to the top of a 40′ tall vat of horse manure and urine, and retrieve lead sheets that have been sitting in there for months. Scrape the flakes of oxidized lead powder off the sheets, and use them to make paint.
The job’s benefits? Low pay and lead poisoning, the latter of which promotes paralysis, madness and death.
Whipping Boy: I know what you’re thinking — this IS your job. But you probably didn’t know there was such a thing as a real life Whipping Boy. There was no way the servants, commoners and low-level aristocratic women who actually did the real work of raising the Royal Children would be permitted to hit or punish the Precious Snowflakes. So if one of the princes or princesses was naughty, they’d bring out the Whipping Boy. This child was permitted to live in the castle or palace, and enjoy all the amenities, like not dying of the Plague. But whenever a royal child was bad, it’s the Whipping Boy who got whipped. Surely, this taught the royal brats a lesson — that as aristocrats, they would never be punished for their misdeeds, that’s why we have the help!
And they wonder why the French revolted.
Posted by Erik Even on Apr 22, 2009 in Advice
, Job Search
Not many employers can or will make you take a polygraph test, aka a lie detector test.
In fact, under the US Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988, most employers may not legally ask you to take such a test, either as part of the hiring process, nor once you are employed.
The only employers who can require a polygraph are federal, state and local government agencies; and even then, most don’t bother.
The fact is, lie detectors don’t work. Scientists say that, despite claims to the contrary, there is no evidence that polygraph tests can detect lies any better than pure chance. In fact, most industrialized nations do not use polygraphs, labeling them pseudoscience.
Guess which one country still insists on using them?
Here’s some advice in case you apply for a government job, and have to take a polygraph test:
Don’t try to beat the machine. Yes, a thousand self-published pamphlets and web sites will give you all kinds of advice on how to fool a polygraph. And many of these tricks actually work. But polygraph testing personnel are trained to look for those cheats. And anyway, it’s never a good idea to lie at any time during the hiring process, fancy electronic machine or not.
Don’t lie. When an employer or government agency hooks you up to a lie detector, they’re not trying to coerce out of you every bad thing you ever did. They’re not the cops. They want to know if you are trustworthy. So tell the truth on the test, even if you have to admit negative things about yourself.
For instance, many employers don’t really care if you smoked pot in college that one time. They just want to know that you will honestly answer the question.
If you have any real, serious secrets you want to keep, I’d suggest you simply don’t apply for jobs that require a polygraph test. And if the polygraph tester asks you something terribly inappropriate, do what you should do in any job interview if that happens — walk out.
Posted by Erik Even on Apr 20, 2009 in Advice
It’s funny how some people decry higher taxes, paycheck withholding, and government “entitlements,” until they’re out of work.
Then it’s “hey, where’s my check?”
Some things to keep in mind when living on the dole:
Apply for unemployment benefits the moment you get laid off or fired. You may consider waiting until your savings begin to run out. But if there’s going to be a problem with your benefits, such as your ex-employer refusing to pay, you need to know right away.
Provide the UI office with complete, accurate information. Don’t do anything that will slow down processing. This is no time to be careless. And, some government bureaucracies look for ways to deny you service — don’t give them the ammunition.
If there’s an in-person meeting or a phone interview, be on time and make it a priority. Rescheduling these things can be difficult or impossible, so don’t risk it.
Fulfill any job search requirements. Some states require you to apply to a certain number of jobs each week. Don’t cheat, just do it. If they call you, go to the interview. If they offer the job, take it. If you’re offered a job you really don’t want to take (let’s say, it’s a half-time internship, and you’re a former C-level exec), talk to the benefits office. Sometimes they’ll let it slide, and you won’t have to take an unsuitable job.
Again, don’t cheat. Follow all UI regulations. If the benefits office thinks you’re doing something skechy, they’ll launch an investigation — and refuse to pay benefits until it’s settled.
Check to see what other benefits, besides checks, are available. The state may offer job search resources. They may have programs to help you survive financially. And they may offer free training — not just typing classes at the local community college, but real, career-enhancing high-tech classes at major learning institutions.
If you’re turned down for benefits, appeal, appeal, appeal. Don’t freak out — find out what you have to do to fix this mess. Make a list. Then do it, methodically and calmly. Chances are, whatever problems exist, they can be solved. Always deal with everyone — the UI office, your ex-employer — politely and professionally, no matter how awful they are being or how angry you get. You will get nowhere by being furious, or snippy, or aggressive. It’s impossible for a bureaucracy to say no to someone who is diligently following procedure.
Posted by Erik Even on Apr 17, 2009 in Advice
Chances are, today is “Casual Friday” at your office. As of 2,000, 50% of American businesses have a Casual Friday.
Even businesses that don’t require suits, ties and skirts will relax their already lax rules on Friday.
Unfortunately, many employees make the mistake that “casual” means “wear whatever you want.” This is almost never true. Unless you work in the adult entertainment industry, your workplace will have rules and expectations regarding “casual” dress.
Pay attention to what your colleagues wear, both on Casual Friday and during the rest of the week. Take your cues from them. Don’t worry about what people in other departments and at different levels wear. Just because they let that guy in Shipping wear shorts, doesn’t mean you can wear them at the Friday business development meeting.
Casual doesn’t mean sloppy, dirty, old or torn. If you’re firm is going to let you wear jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers on Fridays, make sure they’re relatively new and in excellent condition.
It is never appropriate to dress provocatively at work, and Casual Friday is no exception. No skin-tight clothes, no bare midriffs, no inappropriately plunging necklines. Of course women are in greater danger here. If you’re wearing a sexy dress to work because you’re going out Friday night, just cover up with a jacket or vest.
Sexually provocative clothes aren’t the only problem. Don’t wear clothes with inappropriate slogans on them, such as t-shirts with religious or political themes, or profanity. And those jeans with the word “sassy” embroidered across the seat? No.
Work is not a gym. Unless you work at a gym. So no workout clothing, please.
No sandals or other unusual shoes. It’s Casual Friday, not a Grateful Dead concert. And I know your Birkenstocks are probably the most expensive shoes in the building — save them for the weekend. Also, I once knew a woman who caused an uproar at work by wearing clear plastic high-heeled shoes that lit up when she walked. Save them for the stripper pole.
Finally, unless you have some kind of important business meeting with a client, or a funeral, or a secret job interview with a rival firm, don’t wear conservative business attire on Casual Friday. You’ll make everyone who is more casually dressed feel uncomfortable. Be a team player — go get a casual collared shirt and some Dockers. You’ll be glad you did.
Posted by Erik Even on Apr 15, 2009 in Advice
, Job Search
From my favorite US Bureau, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics — some basic advice for the many, many, many people looking for work.
They’re your tax dollars — take advantage!
Job Interview Tips
An interview gives you the opportunity to showcase your qualifications to an employer, so it pays to be well prepared. The following information provides some helpful hints.
- Learn about the organization.
- Have a specific job or jobs in mind.
- Review your qualifications for the job.
- Be ready to briefly describe your experience, showing how it relates it the job.
- Be ready to answer broad questions, such as “Why should I hire you?” “Why do you want this job?” “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
- Practice an interview with a friend or relative.
- Be well groomed.
- Dress appropriately.
- Do not chew gum or smoke.
- Be early.
- Learn the name of your interviewer and greet him or her with a firm handshake.
- Use good manners with everyone you meet.
- Relax and answer each question concisely.
- Use proper English—avoid slang.
- Be cooperative and enthusiastic.
- Use body language to show interest—use eye contact and don’t slouch.
- Ask questions about the position and the organization, but avoid questions whose answers can easily be found on the company Web site.
- Also avoid asking questions about salary and benefits unless a job offer is made.
- Thank the interviewer when you leave and shake hands.
- Send a short thank you note.
Information to bring to an interview:
- Social Security card.
- Government-issued identification (driver’s license).
- Resume or application. Although not all employers require a resume, you should be able to furnish the interviewer information about your education, training, and previous employment.
- References. Employers typically require three references. Get permission before using anyone as a reference. Make sure that they will give you a good reference. Try to avoid using relatives as references.
- Transcripts. Employers may require an official copy of transcripts to verify grades, coursework, dates of attendance, and highest grade completed or degree awarded.
Posted by Erik Even on Apr 13, 2009 in Advice
, Job Search
Many employers will ask you for a list of references, either when you apply, or upon arranging an interview. For some reason, they always want three references — that’s the magic number.
When a potential employer contacts one of your former companies’ HR department, that HR manager can only confirm your employment and give a few other specific facts. They can not issue opinions — it’s illegal.
So your prospective employer wants to talk to someone who can give opinions and answer specific questions about you, someone who worked directly with you on a day-to-day basis — a coworker, a client, a colleague, or best of all, a former supervisor.
These people can give your prospective employer this information because you have given them permission to do so, by picking them as references.
Now, your potential employer knows these people, whom you chose as references, are very unlikely to say anything negative about you, at least on purpose. Of course, they could badmouth you, if they wanted. But the employer just wants to know that you have been able to make a good impression on at least some of your former colleagues.
Do not give personal references unless asked. The hirer doesn’t want to talk to your best friend, or your LARPing buddy, or your significant other, or heaven forfend, your mom. They want professional references. In the one-in-ten-googol chance they do ask for personal references (really, only banks do that, when making loans), then you can provide them. But still, don’t use your mom.
Only list people with whom you have worked. Your college professor, local Rotary Club president or rabbi may love you to bits, but you didn’t work with them. Only use references like these at the very beginning of your career — and replace them with real colleagues as soon as possible.
Ask someone if they’re willing to be a reference. Always get permission — don’t surprise any of your former colleagues by giving out their contact info to strangers. Get explicit permission. You don’t have to do this every time you give out their name — just asking once is fine. Also, asking permission is a great way to make sure the reference doesn’t intend to say anything about the sexual harassment lawsuit or the arson charges.
Get the contact info right. It looks very bad when a prospective employer can’t get a hold of your references. Very bad. If you don’t even have this person’s current phone number, than how well could you possibly know each other?
Don’t list your parole officer as a reference. Or your drug dealer. Or your 12-step sponsor. Unless she’s also your mom.
Posted by Erik Even on Apr 9, 2009 in Careers
The first commercially successful typewriter was invented in 1867 by Christopher Sholes, a Milwaukee newspaper editor and printer.
Sholes had a problem — if someone typed too quickly on his typewriter, which originally had its letter keys arranged alphabetically, the typebars would jam into each other and stick. So Sholes spent six years experimenting with keyboard layouts, until he devised one that slowed an experienced typist enough to prevent jams.
In other words, he intentionally invented the worst keyboard layout possible. It’s called the QWERTY layout, based on the first six letters of the top row.
Now look at the first six letters on the top row of your computer keyboard. Yes, almost every keyboard in the world (and the world’s few remaining typewriters) uses the QWERTY layout. So does your BlackBerry.
So if you’re going to learn to type, should you learn the world’s worst possible typing system? Just because it’s popular?
There are alternatives. The most well-known is called Dvorak, but not because it’s first six letter keys say DVORAK. (In fact, they say PYFGCR.)
The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard was patented in 1936 by August Dvorak, an educational psychologist and professor of education at the University of Washington in Seattle. He wanted to replace QWERTY with the fastest possible layout. And in the age of computer keyboards, jamming is not so much of an issue.
Various sources claim that Dvorak typing is between 74% and 93% faster than QWERTY.
So which should you chose? If you type Dvorak, you’ll be much faster and more efficient, but your employer will have to set up your computer for the Dvorak system (a simple task on Mac and Windows machines) and buy you a Dvorak keyboard. (Unless you never look at the keys anyway — then it doesn’t matter what keyboard you use. Also, some people yank the keys off their QWERTY keyboard and rearrange them for Dvorak.)
On the other hand, just about everyone on the planet uses QWERTY, and just about every employer on the planet expects you to use it.
I guess the best choice is to learn both, if you have the time and inclination. Which you probably don’t.
But seriously — if you can’t type, learn how. QWERTY or Dvorak. You’ll be glad you did.
Posted by Erik Even on Apr 8, 2009 in Careers
Someone once asked me a question that really bothered me. Basically, I was asked if whatever I had done that particular day was worth the cost of an entire day of my life. Would I trade a day of my life on Earth for whatever experiences I had or accomplishments I made that day?
Because of course, that is what we do every day. Whatever you did yesterday, you spent a day of your life doing it. Since we’re all going to die one day, each 24 hours we’re alive has a lot of value. But are we spending it well?
If you have a job that isn’t fulfilling and meaningful, then probably not. We can’t all be so lucky as to work as astronauts, emergency room surgeons, rock stars or the Prince of Wales. But anyone can have a job that is worth spending your precious life on, if you really want it.
I was reminded of all this today. On this week’s episode of House MD, one of the title character’s staff doctors, Dr. Lawrence Cutler, killed himself. If you haven’t watched the episode yet, that was a spoiler — so don’t read it.
Anyway, the characters spent the episode trying to make sense of his death, which no one had foreseen. Those of us watching the show tried to figure it out too.
But today we learn that actor Kal Penn, who portrayed Dr. Cutler for two seasons, voluntarily left one of the highest rated programs on television. Why would an actor, who has starred in a handful of popular movies and whose career is just now breaking through to stardom, quit the show that was making his career as an actor?
Because the 31-year-old Indian-American from New Jersey has accepted a position as the associate director of the White House’s Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs. No, really. Not on some TV show — it’s the real White House.
A man who already has what many would consider a dream career is giving it up, at least temporarily, to pursue something he finds more meaningful and important. Good for him.
If this man can leave a great career for a greater one, why can’t you give up the job you hate for something that might make you happy?
Of course, Kal Penn has money. He can afford to make major changes to his life. You may feel you don’t have the financial freedom to switch careers.
But you’ll never know what opportunities may be available to you until you start looking. A great new career track isn’t going to come looking for you — you have to go out and find it.