Wednesday, May 30, 2007

7 Interview Tips for College and High School Students

Last week I had the priviledge to interview about a dozen young adults who were throwing their hat in the ring to try and earn a college scholarship from a Philadelphia-area non-profit of which I'm a member. It's always a highlight of my year to take a day off of work, meet with bright, young, interesting kids (mostly) and give out other people's money. By listening to and observing each applicant, it amazes me to realize just how different these students really are. Here are some things I noticed and tips that may help other students who interview for a scholarship or job in the near future:

1. Dress professionally. This is an old cliche, but the first impression you give really does make a difference. Some really amazing kids came in dressed in shorts or wearing sneakers. Doing this really doesn't get you off on the right foot and makes it seem like you don't care. Each interview is different in terms of formality, but at the very least, it's important to look sharp.

2. Drop the slang. I met a sweet young girl who talked about her time growing up in a not-so-great neighborhood. I was impressed with how she climbed out of a difficult lifestyle, but listening to her say "axe" instead of "ask" and "mines" instead of "mine" really got annoying. I realize that slang becomes part of a person's vernacular no matter where s/he is from, but it makes me cringe to hear somebody interview for a chunk of money and talking like they don't even care how they sound. That ain't cool.

3. College = Education. Perhaps it's just a fact of life now, but I get the feeling that college (or high school) kids are entitled to think that college is supposed to be fun first, educational second. Granted the college/high school years can and should be the most fun times of a person's life, but ultimately you go to school for an education. If I ask you in an interview-- "How did your year at college go?"-- the answer shouldn't be-- "Oh it was a blast." Tell me what you learned, interesting projects you worked on, or advances you made in your education. If I'm giving you moolah for a college education, prove to me that you're getting educated!

4. Ask questions. In a job interview, it is wise to ask questions at the end of the interview. It shows you were listening and thinking ahead about the job, plus it gives the interviewer a chance to talk more naturally about the company he represents. Same goes in a scholarship interview. Ask about the scholarship. How is money raised? What type of people do you look for? Anything! If I say-- "Do you have any questions?"-- don't say-- "Ummm, no, that's about it."

5. Come prepared. Sadly, quite a few kids had no idea about the organization giving away money. That should be the first order of business once you are called in for an interview, if not earlier. Learn what the organization's mission is, learn what the culture is like, etc. With the ease of searching online now, there's no excuse to not at least give an "elevator speech" about what the organization is all about.

6. Be ready to talk past, present, and FUTURE. I admit that I am often guilty of this one. I can always talk about what I did in the past and what I'm doing now, but I don't always think ahead about what what I plan to do in the future. But in an interview, you need to show some initiative and at the very least pretend like you have a plan. Otherwise, why should I give you money if you're just going to flounder around with it?

7. Send a thank you note. Just common courtesy.

Interviews are a challenging part of life, but it's important to know what works best. And knowing is half the battle. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Danger of Working in a Small Town

There are upsides to working in a small town. For example, everybody knows each other.

There are downsides to working in a small town. For example, everybody knows each other.

Working in a city environment, I have seen, can at times be very cold and stressful, as you are just one of millions of people toiling away each day in a tight radius of monster buildings.

Working in a rural environment, I have seen, can at times be very insular and uninspiring, as everybody seems to know each other since most of the people who work in the area also live right around the corner and the gossip spreads like wildfire.

To give a comparison, my first job out of college was as a law firm clerk in Center City, Philadelphia. While there, my boss and mentor gave me lots of great advice. One piece of advice that stuck with me was the old saying, "Loose lips sink ships." In other words, you're a professional, working for a reputable law firm with clients' personal lives in the balance. Don't go blabbing about their cases out in public. Doing that could lose a client or a case and potentially destroy the law firm.

Well, now that I work out in farmland U.S.A. where everybody knows each other, I've learned the importance of this advice. Case in point: a woman I work with (let's call her Jane), who lives in the area, was talking to somebody she knows who works at a law firm where another co-worker of mine (let's call him John) is a client. This law firm employee told Jane something that John is requesting that really annoyed the heck out of the entire law firm. So then Jane comes and tells me what her friend said about what John is doing. So... there goes your confidentiality folks. And so much for having any privacy in a small town.

So for those of you who work (or live) in a small town, enjoy the fact that you're not just another ant marching down the sidewalk, but don't forget that if you so much as look at somebody the wrong way, everybody within a 20 mile radius will know about it the next day. Simple fact of life.

Now don't tell anybody that I told you this...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Satellite Radio vs. Commercial Radio: How Will the Radio Wars Pan Out?

The other day I had to borrow my dad's car to drive to work because my Focus had a flat. My usual commute of flipping between a dozen or so channels on commercial radio was transformed to flipping between hundreds of channels on his satellite radio.

While commercial radio may be gradually on its way out, here's why satellite radio may not be the saviour that many hope it will be:

Most people want to listen to what they want, when they want it. And satellite, despite the plethora of channels, still can't quite accomplish that, while commercial radio plays too many mainstream songs and too many brutal commercials.

Once somebody develops a personalized radio medium, satellite and commercial radios will be blown out of the air.

So what do I mean by personalized radio?

Well, think about what an ipod has done for music-- you pick the songs, you play them as you want, you have control of your music on a gadget the size of a credit card.

Now think about Comcast Rhapsody-- it's an internet-based program offered by Comcast (and certainly there are others just like it), that plays music based on your favorite bands. You put in a list of bands that you like and this player will play music from those bands as well as music that is similar to those bands.

Combine these two and you get the best of both worlds-- music that you know you like, and music that you may not have known you like because you never heard it before (but is similar to music you like), with the flexibility to hit one button to find the next song... not a hundred buttons to get to the station that's playing a good song at the moment, or having to wait for a lame commercial to end to hear the next song. Plus you're never jumping in at the middle of the song, and hey, you can repeat the song 19 times if you so desire.

That's music for my ears.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ads by GEICO: Enough is Enough

GEICO has really pushed full-throttle with an advertising blitz to encourage people to spend 15 minutes in the hope of saving 15% on auto insurance. Coincidentally, I'm hit with a GEICO ad 15 times a day on average, and, also coincidentally, I tune out these ads 15 times a day.

The gecko, the cavemen, the celebrities... ok, we get it. You guys have a million characters and will continue to pound the average consumer into submission until they request a quote. You win. Try having an all-around good company in an all-around good industry that people want to talk about and you won't need to spend millions on advertising. The word will spread itself.

But now that I think about it, State Farm, AllState, AIG and others are also flooding the airways with their commercials. Shame that when people get flooded out of their houses, the money doesn't exactly come pouring in.

Ok, I understand that insurance companies have helped build America to become a great country by minimizing risks caused by fires, weather, burglars, stray golf balls, etc., but there's got to be a better way to make money than squeezing dollars away from claimants when they're in need. Fortunately, I've never had to make a major claim, save for one minor fender bender which was not my fault, but I cannot imagine what people have to go through in order to get their money back when insurance companies either don't pay quickly, drag out lawsuits, pay less than they should, or don't cover a loss at all. I'm all for capitalism and businesses earning money, but people who pay for peace of mind should get it when they need it. 15 bucks lost should be 15 bucks paid. Plain and simple. Put that in an ad and smoke it.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Rebate Credit Cards: The Latest Borderline Phone Company Scam

Back in January, I upped and left my old cell-phone carrier Sprint to join my fiance on her plan with Cingular/ATT. While I had no real qualms with Sprint, Cingular presented a better all around deal for us, and thus far I have been mostly happy with them, which is pretty much on par with cell phone companies in general... complete satisfaction with a cell phone company is not humanly possible, as you will see in my mini-rant...

So as part of my switching to Cingular and locking in on a 2-year contract, I was given a $100 rebate credit card after purchasing my phone. For starters, rebates are perhaps the most agonizing way to save money on a product purchase. Instead of getting 100 bucks back at the register right then and there, you have to cut out the UPC code on the box, mail it in, wait a few weeks, and now, deal with another credit card in your wallet. It's no longer a check that the company sends that you can drop in the bank or turn into cold hard cash. I could at least tolerate that scenario.

The credit card, I think, is a borderline scam. My $100 card, after several retail purchases, has dwindled down to about $6 remaining on the balance. But it's not like I can pay for a $40 item, use this rebate card and max it out, then pay the remaining $34 or so with cash or another credit card tocomplete the transaction. Nope-- the rebate card gets denied and I have to pay in full some other way. So essentially if I want to use the complete $100 that was given to me, I have to make a purchase that costs exactly $6.24 (or whatever the exact amount is), or else I forfeit that money after a year from activating it.

So is this hassle the end of the world for me? Of course not. But it's just another little dig at the consumer, as far as I'm concerned. Cingular will probably end up saving a few cents or a few bucks on my rebate card because I most likely won't be able to max out the card to the exact penny. Figure in the thousands of other folks out there in the same situation, and Cingular just pocketed themselves thousands of dollars that should otherwise NOT BE THEIR MONEY!!! To me, that's rather scammish. Just give us lowly consumers the cold hard cash and let us live our lives (or better yet, ditch the rebate and make us happy with a discount right at the register--- the old fashioned way). Instead, unless I'm totally missing an alternative option of maximizing my rebate amount, I have to precisely plan my purchases in advance in order to get 100% of my rebate. Plus the fact that they're probably tracking my purchases and will be marketing to me according to my patterns.

Just what I want... more offers to buy stuff and get a rebate card in return.

All in all, not a great way to introduce yourself to a new customer, huh?

(Thanks to this blog for the image!)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Art of Finding Unusual Gifts

I recently discovered this site featuring unusual gifts on a random search that I was doing for garden stuff. It amazes me how the internet truly has everything, somewhere.

I mean, where else can you see an otherwise attractive woman blowing snot out of her nose with a genie lantern?

Or a "spooky" ghost towel...

It's a shame that, with the influx of large chain stores, we lose the edgy and innovative products that can be found at quirky mom-and-pop-shops that are falling by the wayside. But fortunately the internet has found a place for every last oddball item, like a warbowl?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A Lesson on College Costs in the Future

A certain co-worker of mine delivers rants, opines, and repetitive lectures every single day about the exorbitant cost of college. Despite the annoyance of having to listen to it day in and day out, I do feel for him, as he is in the process of putting two kids through higher ed and it ain't cheap. (I could give you an exact figure as to what each of his kids' college costs per year, but I'm sure can surmise a guess.) Indeed, financial planners around the country emphasize the importance of planning for your kids' future. College expenses are quite worrisome.

At any rate, twenty or so years from now I will likely be in a similar situation as this particular co-worker. I have no kids at press time, but for argument's sake, let's say I will have two kids going to college in the year 2027. On one hand, I'm scared to death as to what college will cost by then. On the other hand, I have to think that the entire paradigm of college will be completely different from what it is today. At least I hope.

As the years go on, college will become increasingly expensive. However, there will have to be a breaking point. A point where people say enough is enough, this doesn't make sense anymore. "Why am I paying $128,000 per YEAR to send my kid to college??? This is insane!" To add to that, life is changing SO fast that college classes will have to change their format to keep up with the pace. For instance, I graduated in 2001 and just six (wow, is it six already?) years later, I feel that 95% of what I learned is irrelevant in my life or outdated. This is nothing against my alma mater (I miss you Happy Valley!). But either technology has surpassed what I used in college (remember when modems and Napster were all the rage?) or the techniques of business and communications have changed so much that I've learned more by surfing the internet in the past few months than from the stale books I had to read for classes.

In the year 2027, today's internet will be long gone, or merely a fossil in the rapidly evolving line of technology. Information on ANYthing will be available instantaneously. Google will actually be imbedded in our minds. Well, you get the drift. So why would parents send their kids to an expensive institution just to learn things that they can get "online"... whatever online entails in 2027? People will be working FOR the internet, not the other way around. Education will be a whole new ballgame.

Putting that all aside, let's just say that I'm totally wrong at this point that learning will be completely different from today's college experience, and instead, kids actually ARE going to college in the same manner as they are today. I cannot imagine in my wildest dreams that the government, businesses, and American citizens will tolerate the price of college skyrocketing at such a tremendous rate as it is today. Either more scholarship and public money will be available for incoming students, or prices will level off. That's Economics 101.

Or maybe it's all just wishful thinking for me...