Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Inconvenient Truths of Finance

During her lecture at the University of Chicago yesterday afternoon, which she presented as "The Inconvenient Truths of Finance" New York Times Best-Selling author Beth Kobliner introduced what she calls the "Suri Cruise Moment" - in which she stated that more young people in their twenties and thirties can identify Suri Cruise (TomKat's daughter) than know what the interest rate on their credit card is. Frightening. Ms. Kobliner provided several other sobering statistics to the crowd of roughly 30 undergraduate and graduate students, including:

*More adults under the age of 35 now spend 20% of their income paying off credit card debt than ever before.
*If you take inflation into account, people in their twenties and thirties are actually making less income today than our parents did at our age.
*The unemployment rate for individuals aged 20 - 24 is at 14% - higher than it's ever been since anyone's been tracking this stuff.

So what's one to do, faced with these daunting statistics? Kobliner also has some tips and tricks all of us, including what can sound like commonsense, but actually makes good financial sense. Read on if you're worried about your financial situation (and that's pretty much everyone these days):

*Preserve your credit score: According to Kobliner, missing one bill payment, on your credit cards, your car payments, your bills, can negatively affect your credit score almost immediately - so sign up for automatic payments for your regular bills and be sure to always pay them on time.
*Don't carry a balance on your credit card: Here's the example that Kobliner shared. Say you have a $1000 balance on your credit card, and each month you pay only the minimum payment. If you do that, it will take you 13 YEARS and cost you an additional $850 to pay off that original $1000.
*Save: Set up an automatic withdrawal system that takes money out of your checking account and puts it into saving. Even if it's $5, $25, $75 - save something everything single month.
*Don't spend what you can't afford: Sounds simple - but living on credit is what got us into this mess in the first place (ok, it's more complicated than that, but you get what I'm saying).

Looking for more tips on personal finance? Check out for more info from Beth and links to other financial planning websites.

Are you worried less about your personal finance, and more about actually having a paycheck after you graduate? Come into CAPS for an appointment (call 773-702-7040 to schedule) or attend one of our upcoming programs about finding jobs and internships in a recession. Check out the CAPS calendar for dates, times and locations.

Questions, comments, feedback or ideas? Post them here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

As Interest in Business Careers Wanes, What's Next?

CAPS struggles sometimes with a common misperception on campus that our services are only available or useful to students interested in banking, finance or consulting. Time and time again we read editorials in the Maroon, or hear feedback from students, that rail against us for not serving the hundreds of other students interested in careers outside of the traditional business realm. What about journalism, science, non-profits, etc.? Nevermind the fact that with over 30 staff members at CAPS, our expertise ranges from the law, to communications, to the government, to market research, to, yes, even business. Students seem to ignore, or else just forget about, the non-business programming that we offer, which ranges from immersion camps in the sciences, arts and non-profit industries to workshops with alumni from a wide range of backgrounds, Chicago Careers in...Programs in not only business, but also journalism, law and health professions. Students who were interested in non-business careers sometimes don't come to CAPS at all - and as a result, they miss out on large portions of programming that may have been of use and interest.

Well, if a recent article in the New York Times is correct, maybe that's about to change. Because according to this article, finance jobs, once the most coveted by many graduating college students, are about to be replaced in popularity by jobs in the government, the sciences and public service. The article states, "And early indications suggest new career directions that are tethered less to the dream of an immediate six-figure paycheck on Wall Street than to the demands of a new public agenda to solve the nation’s problems...What will the new map of talent flow look like? It’s early, but based on graduate school applications this spring, enrollment in undergraduate courses, preliminary job-placement results at schools, and the anecdotal accounts of students and professors, a new pattern of occupational choice seems to be emerging. Public service, government, the sciences and even teaching look to be winners..."

So what does this mean for University of Chicago students? There are a variety of scenarios that may play out for you over the next several months - here are just a few, and ways in which CAPS can help:

1) You're about to graduate, or enter the summer, or you've been laid off, without job or internship plans, and like the students interviewed in the NYT article, you're interested in a government or public service career. Action: a) Attend the CAPS/UCSC Public Service and Non-Profit Career Fair, taking place this Friday, April 17 from 12 - 4pm in Ida Noyes. Meet with over 30 non-profit and government organizations that are hiring interns and full-time opportunities. b) Make an appointment with a CAPS counselor. We have several staff on hand with backgrounds in non-profit and government work, including Max Brooks and Shayna Plaut. Come in with your resume and work with them to put together a job search plan.

2) You're about to graduate, enter the summer, or you've been laid off, and you don't know what industry or field you want to go into. Action: Make a career exploration appointment with a CAPS counselor. Regardless of what stage of your career you're in (no internships, three internships, no experience, 5 years of experience) a career counselor can help you think about what you actually LIKE to do - and career paths that will help you do that.

3) You're about to graduate, enter the summer, or you've been laid off, and you ARE interested in a career in business or consulting (what does the NYT know anyway?): Action: Make an appointment with a CAPS career counselor. We have several staff on hand with backgrounds in investment banking and consulting, including Michael Paone and Lauren Baker. And just because the media is claiming that finance careers are "disgraced" doesn't mean you shouldn't go after the job you are interested in - as long as you are being realistic about your goals.

To make an appointment with a CAPS counselor, call (773) 702 - 7040.

Is the finance industry really disgraced? Were you considering a career in business or consulting, but are now looking elsewhere? Post your comments here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Honesty is the Best Policy for the Job Search

We've all been there - you tell a little white lie to make yourself sound better, or to avoid starting an argument. Or maybe you diffuse a tense situation by altering the truth just a little bit. While standard social graces may dictate when to bend the truth just a little, ("You look great in that dress you just spent $500 on. No, really, you do.") there is a time and place for half-truths like that - and the job search is NOT the time or the place. In fact, when searching for a job or internship, honesty is the only policy to follow. A recent article from Career Builder goes into greater detail about reasons why candidates sometimes lie on their resumes or cover letters - and the alternative, which is to tell the truth:

"Dates of employment
Why job seekers lie: People think it's necessary to cover up or omit potentially negative employment situations like gaps between jobs or short-term employment, Mininni says.
How to spin it: Address discrepancies about dates of employment in your cover letter. Be honest about what you did during the breaks between employments and identify any relevant transferable skills you learned during that time.

"If you've only spent one month at a job, it should still be included in your employment history," Mininni says. More employers are conducting background checks and/or confirming dates of employment, so take a paragraph in your cover letter to say that you're looking for a job where you can really thrive and grow professionally -- you just haven't found it yet.

Why job seekers lie: There are many lies job seekers tell about education: alleging that they attended college when they didn't; declaring a degree at a school they never went to; or claiming to have a degree at all when they really never finished college.
How to spin it: "Companies are looking for the value you bring to the organization and often have 'or equivalent' statements in their job requirements," Mininni says. "If you have the equivalent amount of experience in lieu of a degree, you will want to highlight that experience."

If you went to college but didn't finish, don't focus on the lack of a degree. Instead, outline other education you acquired through professional certifications or company-sponsored education, she suggests.

Experience, accomplishments and job titles
Why job seekers lie: People often inflate previous experience, undertakings and job titles when they apply for jobs where they aren't qualified, Mininni says. "It's interesting how many people don't know their actual titles," she says. "If you don't know, don't guess. Ask your manager."
How to spin it: "If you don't have the required experience, focus on your natural talents. Are you known as the idea generator, the communicator or the process improver? This will be important to highlight and provide examples of how you have demonstrated those natural talents and how it aided the company," Mininni says.

Why job seekers lie: Candidates inflate their salaries in an effort increase their starting offers, Mininni says. Unfortunately, upon checking, the employer discovers the exaggeration.
How to spin it: Keep in mind the responsibilities of the position, the scope and the job market. If you've stayed at your company for 25 years and haven't received market increases, you may be behind the market. Researching what the current market pays is critical in knowing your leverage points when it comes time to talk salary.

Criminal history
Why job seekers lie: Some people lie through omission because the extent of their criminal record is a misdemeanor assault charge from high school. Others lie about more serious offenses. Perhaps they had a drug problem and got their nursing license taken away, or they were jailed for embezzlement.
How to spin it: Own up to the situation or use that experience to reinvent yourself, Mininni says. Look for jobs that don't tie in to your criminal background -- for example, if you had drug issues, don't try to work in medicine, and if you embezzled, don't work with money. Learn to use your skills in different ways and sell that to the employer."

In addition to these tips, there are other areas that you should always be upfront about when applying for jobs or internships - that includes your GPA, the courses you are taking, and the extracurriculars you're invovled in. For more information about "creative" GPA rounding and other no-nos that might come up for students or recent alumni, check out this CAPS blog post from earlier this academic year.

If you have questions or concerns about how to present yourself to a potential employer, come in to CAPS to talk about it (call 773/702-7040 to make an appointment). We can help you come up with a strategy to emphasize your accomplishments and strengths, without telling any white lies.

Questions, comments or ideas? Post them here.