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Faith's Blog

June 11, 2018
Are You Ready for Summer?

Summer's here, and very soon the classrooms will be empty of students! When it comes to summer vacation, many would agree with Calvin, hero of the popular comic strip Calvin and Hobbes: "There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want."

Isn't doing nothing what summer is all about? It's enjoyable to relax in the sun with a glass of cold lemonade and think about nothing in particular.

But if you want something to do, summer is a great time to do career exploration on your own?

Allow me to share some of my summer days as a student. One year, I worked in a fast-food restaurant, serving customers and cleaning tables. Fast food service is a popular form of entry into the working world. It can also be an effective way to learn some great work habits -- you have to stay on your toes. In the years that followed, many potential employers mentioned that they liked that part of my resume.

The next summer, I couldn't work because of a sports injury. I'll admit that I spent my share of time in the sun doing nothing that year, but I also enrolled in a writing class, which still looks great on my resume!

By the next summer, I had some firm ideas about my career path. With a little research, I found an internship program that fit perfectly with my studies. I think I learned as much that summer as I did during the school year. There are many ways to make good use of your "nothing" time.

As for me, I'll be taking a short break from blogging while you enjoy the break. I'm hoping to visit the beach a few times, and perhaps play some volleyball. I also plan to visit the farmers' market often, and have plans to take a poetry class. Beyond that, I will exercise my right to do nothing. It should be an interesting and busy summer.

Whatever your plans are, I hope you have a great summer too. See you in the fall!

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May 21, 2018
Are Good Manners Becoming a Thing of the Past?

I'm not a manners expert myself, but I tend to agree that people are becoming a little ruder. Simple things like "please" and "thank you" seem to be less common. Of course, that's just my sense based on unscientific observation. What do you think?

I wonder what a protocol officer would say? They make manners their business. They advise government leaders on the customs and proper etiquette of different cultures.

Speaking of different cultures, there's one place where it sometimes seems acceptable to be rude: online. But it's just as important to stay professional and polite when you're dealing with online social networks. The Internet has a long memory and one moment of rudeness can come back to haunt you -- and even affect your job search!

Declining standards or not, proper manners are essential in the working world. Obviously, you'll want to remember your manners during a job interview. And that includes sending a thank-you note! Putting a little extra thought into your manners during the application process may make the difference between landing a job and hitting the pavement again.

Once you've entered the working world, there's no excuse for bad manners. Politeness is part of presenting a good attitude -- a vital part of achieving success on the job. I'm not talking about knowing which spoon to use with sorbet, but simply treating people with respect.

Remaining polite when others are blowing their cool might be hard, but it's the best strategy in the workplace. Even when you're dealing with difficult co-workers, staying calm and remembering your manners will get you further than reacting with rudeness.

Your negotiation skills, your ability to manage stress and your adaptability will all improve with basic good manners. As the labor market changes and new jobs appear and others fade away, they'll never go out of style!

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April 16, 2018
Money Matters -- Or Does It?

My e-mail shows that a lot of readers have keen interests in money topics -- like salaries! Many people wonder about careers with high salaries, how important having a high salary is, how to make more money and why some salaries are so low. They're all good questions, but questions without easy answers.

Just how important money is in career decisions will vary a lot by person. For some people, money is the most important thing. Others would prefer to do something they love, even if it means making less. It's a very personal thing.

Of course, the ideal situation is a job you love that also happens to pay very well. Personally, I don't think that's so hard to accomplish. Think of it this way: if you're really interested in a job, you have a better chance of rising to the top to make the top dollar.

On the other hand, if you choose a career solely because of its salary, you might not have enough interest to really succeed. And since salary is often based on performance, you might end up making less than if you choose a job with a lower average salary.

Let's consider some examples. The Money and Outlook section of each career information article contains the annual average salary across the country. Check out the salaries for Baker and Computer Programmer.

Those figures represent an average of what every person in that field made in a year. However, consider the net worth of computer programmer Bill Gates: $91 billion.

And what about Debbi Fields? She's the woman who started the Mrs. Fields cookie empire. She turned baking into a $500-million-a-year business. That's a lot more than the average salary for bakers!

Gates and Fields are extreme examples of how success can be driven by your ideas and ambition. Obviously, most of us will be closer to the national average -- otherwise, it wouldn't be the average! But their success does prove that having talent and passion for something can help boost your earnings.

Another thing to consider is the cost of starting in a career. According to the Department of Labor, surgeons have the highest annual salary. However, it takes a lot of investment to get there in both time -- at least 11 years -- and money. That's according to our article Is Medical School for You?

So how important is salary? That's ultimately a question only you can answer. If you're not sure yourself, you might want to imagine your life in 20 years. Will you only be happy if you own a lot of big-ticket items and expensive cars? Or do your dreams focus on other things? Where do you plan to live? Some cities are more expensive than others. What about family?

It might also help to talk to people working in the field, since salaries will vary with things like region, specialization and experience. Talking to someone in your area will give you more ideas on what to expect once you enter the working world. If you have salary questions, talking to an expert can be invaluable.

April 2, 2018
It's Poetry Month

Do you have a favorite poem? If you do, try writing it out and putting it in your pocket on April 26. That's Poem in Your Pocket Day. It's all part of Poetry Month, which is April.

Not sure if you have a favorite poem? Do you think poetry belongs in dusty libraries, to be studied by serious scholars only? That's a perception that poets would like to change. Poetry is a dynamic, evolving art, and today's poets are writing about events and feelings happening in the modern world.

If you've never written a poem, now is a good time to try. You might be surprised to find it's a good way to get some feelings out. Historians believe ancient peoples told stories in rhyme because rhyming words were easier to remember -- ever notice it's easier to remember rap lyrics than a political science text?

Poetry has a lot to offer today's readers, but are they listening? Stats show that not many people are buying poetry books, and it's harder than ever to make a living as a poet. In the past, some poets were like today's rock stars, adored by fans who followed their every move.

Maybe you love poetry: your journal is full of poems, your rhyming dictionary is dog-eared, and you're starting to think in iambic pentameter. Can you turn your art into a career? A lot of students write to me with questions about the likelihood of making a career writing poems.

Many of today's poets find they have to supplement their writing with other higher-paying jobs. Some teach writing in high schools or colleges. Others use their flare for words in creative positions like copywriting.

Even if you're not sure you want anyone to read your poetry, writing a poem can be satisfying and even therapeutic. Why not celebrate Poetry Month this April by writing about what's going on in your life?

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March 19, 2018
Technology and Careers

It's easy to take technology for granted. Sometimes the only time we really think about "technology" is when it doesn't work, like when the Internet is down.

However, technology has completely changed the way we live our lives. It has never been easier to find your way around a city (using GPS) or connect with someone on the other side of the world!

Today, we can even stream movies 30,000 feet off the ground while hurtling through the air in a plane.

Just a few years ago, these feats would have seemed impossible. Now they're available to us with the touch of a finger! It's amazing, really, when you think about it.

Technology has also introduced many new careers into the marketplace -- careers that simply didn't exist a generation ago. Take all the Internet-related careers, for instance. The Internet only became available to the public in the 1990s. That means that multimedia designers, Internet researchers, Internet marketers, bloggers, online producers and careers in telemedicine didn't exist before that.

Advances in technology have introduced new scientific careers and made sweeping changes. For instance, the work of DNA analysts has completely changed crime scene investigation.

At the same time, new technologies have paved the way for alternative energy. This has led to "green" careers like alternative energy researchers, environmental engineers, fuel cell engineers, and environmental technicians.

But technology hasn't been kind to all industries. Print shops and traditional animators, for instance, have been hurt by changes in technology.

Researching your career interests, including the labor market information, is one way to stay ahead of the game. With all the advances in so many fields, it's an exciting time to be choosing a career!

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March 5, 2018
Salaries and Majors

This week, I was reading an article on a survey conducted by National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). The survey looked at the college majors (for bachelor's degrees) whose grads have the highest salaries in their first jobs.

There's no question: college is a big investment. If you decide to go to college, you probably want to make sure you eventually get some return on that investment. There are many ways to consider the value of a college degree: the joy of learning, the fun of the college experience, the discovery of new ideas. Those are all worthwhile things -- but you probably want to make some money at the end, too.

According to the survey, engineers are in luck. The top three highest starting salaries were all from engineering programs: petroleum engineering, computer engineering and chemical engineering.

Engineers might read that last paragraph and argue with my use of the word "luck." And they would be right -- it takes a lot of work to become a computer engineer! That's why we also have to consider other options besides salary when choosing a major.

If you choose a major solely because of its predicted salary, you might not have enough interest to really succeed. And since salary is often based on performance, you might end up making less than if you choose a job with a lower average salary.

Let's consider some examples. The Salary and Outlook section of each career information article contains the annual average salary across the country. Check out the salary for Baker.

But what about Debbi Fields? She's the woman who started the Mrs. Fields cookie empire. She turned baking into a $500-million-a-year business. That's a lot more than the average salary for bakers! She is an extreme example of how success can be driven by your ideas and ambition

So how important are salary statistics? That's ultimately a question only you can answer. If you're not sure yourself, you might want to imagine your life in 20 years. Will you only be happy if you own a lot of big-ticket items and expensive cars? Or do your dreams focus on other things? Where do you plan to live? Some cities are more expensive than others. What about family?

Before you choose a major, it might also help to talk to people working in the field, since salaries will vary with things like region, specialization and experience. Talking to someone in your area will give you more ideas on what to expect once you enter the working world. If you have salary questions, talking to an expert can be invaluable.

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February 12, 2018
Double Decisions

Imagine you and a friend are arguing about what kind of pizza to order. You want the meat-lover's special, and your friend wants to go vegetarian. You can't agree, so you decide to flip a coin.

Is that a fair way to settle a dispute? After all, you both have a 50-50 chance of winning. You could also draw straws or play the classic game Rock, Paper, Scissors. Better still, you could ask the pizza place to put veggies on one half and meat on the other.

Choosing between two things can be tough -- and it seems many of you are trying to choose between two careers. Some readers ask about taking the double-sided pizza approach: they wonder if they can work at two jobs at the same time.

It's hard to give one answer here. A lot will depend on the careers. To start with, you want to look at the time demands for both, the typical working hours and the required training -- you can find these in the What They Do section of each career article. You'll also want to consider your own time-management skills and willingness to work hard.

Here's a good example. Lawyers and surgeons often work long hours. Each career requires extensive training and many years of study after high school. From those simple facts, we can assume that it would be extremely difficult to work as both a lawyer and a physician. I'm not saying it would necessarily be impossible, but you'd have to do a lot of research on how to make it work.

On the other side of the coin, working at two careers is a popular choice for those pursuing creative careers that are hard to break into. For example, many aspiring singers work on their singing by performing in the evenings. But when you're just starting out, singing doesn't always pay enough to take care of your bills. That's why some singers work at other jobs during the day. If you watch American Idol, you'll notice that many of the contestants have other careers.

Sometimes it's possible to find related jobs to support your artistic dreams. I have a friend who wants to be a famous novelist, but is having trouble finishing his novel. He writes every night and teaches writing during the day. That way, he's still working in the writing world, but he's able to pay his bills.

If you're thinking of having two careers, you'll need to do a little research, perhaps starting with the career orifiles in Career Planning. You should also arrange an informational interview with people in the field to find out how realistic the dual-career plan is.

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January 8, 2018
New Year, New You

"A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other."
-- Anonymous

That sounds familiar -- to me, at least. In the past, I've filled an entire piece of paper with ambitious plans, only to toss it in the recycling bin a predictable two weeks later. Apparently, that's typical: I have read that the average resolution lasts just two weeks.

Experts say that making small goals and breaking them into achievable steps can increase your odds of success. Instead of resolving to "get straight As," you might have more luck by vowing to "study for an extra 30 minutes every night." Doesn't "sign up for recreational soccer" sound more doable than "get in the best shape of my life?" It helps to make your plans concrete so they don't seem quite so overwhelming.

Self-improvement coaches help people define their goals -- and follow through with them. This is a new career, but one that's really taking off. It seems a lot of us need help when we want to make changes!

A survey found that the most popular resolution is to spend more time with family and friends. This is one of those resolutions that will vary from person to person. Like other resolutions, it might help to make it a bit more specific: "Play games with my family every Sunday night" or "Eat lunch with my friends at school."

Running a close second in the resolutions race is fitting in fitness. Anyone who's gone to a gym in January knows this is a popular time for people to return to working out. Unfortunately, many people start out by doing too much right after the indulgent holiday season. Personal trainers can help put together a workable fitness plan.

Another popular resolution is to get more organized. Professional organizers help people get their stuff in order. Obviously, you have to be pretty organized yourself to help others with their organization. Anyone who's seen my desk knows that this may not be the job for me, but perhaps next year I should resolve to hire one.

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November 27, 2017
Predicting the Odds

Many students write to me asking about their odds of success in a particular career. While I would love to give them a firm answer ("Your odds of becoming a podiatrist are 3 to 4"), two things stop me from doing this.

To start with, I can't predict the future. If I could, I would buy more lottery tickets and put more money into the stock market.

More importantly, so many factors contribute to your success in any given career that it's impossible to come up with a formula to predict success. History is full of these surprises -- people who beat the odds and rose to success, often to the shock of their teachers. One of Walt Disney's first bosses told him that he "lacked imagination." That boss probably wouldn't have predicted that Walt would go on to create an entire kingdom from his imagination!

So how do you know if you'll succeed at a certain career? Taking some time to plot your career path is the most important thing. Knowing the educational requirements, important skills and other things you'll need will help you boost the odds.

Informational interviews are a great way to get insiders' tips for succeeding. They'll have the sort of knowledge that you may not learn in a classroom, the tried-and-true techniques to find success. It's like knowing the blackjack dealer. You'll have a big advantage over the competition.

So, what are your odds of succeeding in any career? Unlike gambling, you can control those odds. Ultimately, only you can know your own odds of success!


November 13, 2017
How College is Different from High School

You've seen movies about college, you've heard stories from friends and relatives. But you're still nervous - can you handle college? How will it be different from high school? Relax. The good news is that many people love college because of the increased freedom and ability to focus on the courses that interest them. But there are some things to keep in mind. College life is not like high school life. How soon you adjust depends on how prepared you are.

Many students write me to ask how college is different from high school. It's hard to give one answer, since everyone a different experience in college. But there are some key things to keep in mind.

For many students, college is their first real taste of freedom. But the lack of outside guidance can lead to problems. Your teachers won't be monitoring you as much, which sounds like a good thing, doesn't it? But it also means fewer reminders about finishing your assignments. You have to keep track of your own work.

You'll need to learn to manage your time. You might only be in class for 15 hours a week - that also sounds great, right? But you need to account for homework and study time on top of that.

Another major difference between high school and college is how the courses are set up. In high school, classes are fairly small and generally meet every day. College courses might have 100 students and meet two or three times a week, or even once a week.

College courses can also have both a lecture and a lab component. High school teachers and college professors also have very different approaches to teaching. A university teacher might have hundreds of students, so they may not take the time to make sure you're not falling behind!

One thing to remember is that it will be tough at first. But when you finish high school, you will have learned the skills you need to succeed in college. By starting to focus on time management and responsibility now, you will ease the transition to college life and set yourself up for greater success in years to come.

November 1, 2017
Banish Boredom

I had an e-mail from a student the other day. He had just reviewed his Career Finder results. One of his suggested careers looked like it was worth researching further. It matched his interests and skills, the job outlook was stable, the education within his reach, and the pay was decent. The problem? He was worried that it would be boring.

We all have different ideas of what's boring. Take movies for example: one film critic's snoozefest might be another's Oscar contender. And there are some sports I find boring (I'm not going to say which ones!), but my friends find them fascinating.

In other words, I can't predict whether or not this student would be bored with a certain career. However, he could get a sneak peek by participating in a job shadow or informational interview to find out more.

When you're researching careers and wondering about boredom, you want to look at the work you'd be doing to see if you find it interesting. But you also might want to do a little soul-searching. Are you the kind of person who likes a lot of variety and change? Or, do you look for stability and find that too much change makes you nervous?

Some careers throw workers into new situations every day. Take paramedics, for example. When they wake up in the morning, they don't know what the day holds.  That can be the ideal way to defeat boredom for some people. Personally, I want to crawl back under the covers unless I have a concrete schedule for the day.

"The cure for boredom is curiosity.  There is no cure for curiosity."

The writer Dorothy Parker said that, and I think it's a good lesson on boredom. Learning new things keeps us from getting bored.

I've found this in my own life. A couple of years ago, for example, I was finding myself growing a bit bored with some of my hobbies.  I still liked what I did in my spare time, but every weekend was starting to seem the same. So I took up karate! It's completely different from anything I've done before, and kicked any boredom right out of my life.

Learning a new hobby can be a great way to get out of a rut, if you're feeling like you want to try something new. Step out of your comfort zone and try something completely different!

Parker's advice can also apply to careers. In any career, opportunities to learn new things can keep a job from becoming boring. If you're genuinely curious about a career and strive to learn more about it all the time, odds are you won't be bored.

 

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October 16, 2017
Avoiding Exam Anxiety

Do you get nervous before an exam? Based on the number of students who e-mail me with questions about exam anxiety, you're not alone if you do. I would guess that almost every student gets nervous at some time when they're facing an exam. In fact, studies show that between 25 and 40 percent of students experience some chronic test anxiety.

Being nervous isn't necessarily a bad thing. Those nerves can inspire you to study and even motivate you to focus during the test. However, anxiety might be lowering your scores if you consistently find your exam marks are lower than you expect. Talk to a teacher if you are wondering if this is a problem for you.

There are many proven techniques for conquering test anxiety. I always find that I feel more confident if I know I've studied effectively. (For some proven study tips, check out our article Successful Study Techniques.)

We've also gathered some tips to help you face exams: check out our list of top test-taking tips. You might also want to do a bit of soul-searching to figure out what is holding you back. I like to start with the basics: Are you getting enough sleep before an exam? Are you taking a test when you are hungry? Those things might seem minor, but they can make a big difference.

If you always feel as though you're capable of doing well on tests, but find you fall short of your goals, try taking a look at your studying and test-taking routines. Need more inspiration? Consider these words from Albert Einstein: "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer." In other words, don't let any bad test scores from the past discourage you!

 

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