Tag Archives: job

Fears of Debt Drown Potential Prosperity

These days, it seems like everyone has tens of thousands of dollars in college debt. Not me. I was one of the lucky ones. Yup, mom and dad foot the bill for my entire college tuition. Given, at the time, I didn’t understand the true value of a college tuition because I didn’t have any sort of grasp on what money is worth.

Today, I’m proudly making it on my own. But my talents are not lining up with my current career, and my boss is starting to notice. I’m trying really hard because I want to do a good job, but I guess there are just some things that come natural to certain people that, well, don’t come naturally to me.

I’ve spent my whole post-adolescent life running away from the thought of a career in design or the arts because that was what my parents expected me to do. Now I’m landing a few weekend freelance design jobs here and there and realizing that this design thing is a rather profitable endeavor. Right now I can fake it – ie, futz with CSS and Photoshop and make a site look purty, but I know I’m not designing within the bounds of modern coding standards. Trying to understand Illustrator is almost as difficult as reading Greek. I can’t do either.

What I’d love more than anything is the opportunity to spend a year or two focused on learning the art and craft of web design. I’m not so sure that’s do-able. First off, the amount of masters and certificate programs available for education in web design and back-end coding make my head spin. They’re all pricy, though pricy has a different definition in each program. Regardless of the program I chose, if I chose one, they’ll all put me into debt. And I know education debt is supposedly good debt, but I am so terrified of having negative money that I can’t really consider doing what my heart knows I ought to do.

Meanwhile, I’m slowly but surely driving my co-workers nutso at my current job. Not sure how to solve that problem since unfortunately succeeding at this job requires certain abilities I do not have. So I’m rather confused regarding what to do at this point. Deadlines for graduate school are rolling in, and I can’t figure out if they’re worth it. I do know that when it comes to web design ultimately what matters is a portfolio and skill – and that can all be created and learned without an expensive education. What to do, what to do?

Successful Shoe Return; Job Stress; Understanding Economics

Please pat me on the back. I walked into Macy’s to return my non-functioning shoes that I purchased for $45 last month (the heel of the right shoe somehow deflated each time I put any weight on it) and by some miracle of miracle’s I managed to walk out of the store, return receipt in hand, without making another purchase.

(Although I admit, I did eye the earring display by the door and have dirty thoughts about buying half of the items shimmering in my view).

Now, before you get too pat-happy, prepare to punch me. Five minutes or so after my accomplishment, I walked into Borders and spent $36 on two books. I felt like the books were worthy purchases though. Sure, I could go to a library to get books for free, but on the rare occasion I manage to motivate myself to read anything, I’m the type that loves to take notes in the columns. The librarians don’t really think my notes add value to the books, so it’s best for me to purchase them up front.

My goal over the next few months is to actually start reading. I have terrible ADD and I rarely pick up a book and make it through from start to finish. I’ve given up on fiction almost entirely, but non-fiction is worth my time and painful attempts to focus.

Since I’m on this personal finance kick and slightly depressed/confused/bewildered about how Wall Street works, I decided to invest in some economics for dummies-type books.

So I bought:

1) Economics: Making Sense of the Modern Economy (by “The Economist”)
2) Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery, by David Warsh

I like buying “smart people” books. My shelves are filled with them. Do I read them? No. But I do need to figure out this economy thing. It’s one subject that I’m embarrassed I know next-to-nothing about. As a business reporter, I owe my readers (and myself) a bit of a fast education on the topic.

Speaking of my profession, I won’t go into detail (since I want to remain anonymous), but I’m a bit stressed out about my new job. The job is awesome for so many reasons – flexibility, salary, the people I get to work with and meet, and above all, the ability to learn something (or a bunch of things) new every day. How could I ask for more? I know I’m so lucky to have landed in such a great position given my age, my experience, and perhaps even my potential.

Well, that’s the problem. I really want to do a good job, but it’s not like I can just complete all my projects early, take on additional projects, and seem like a great worker. Ultimately my success is dependent more on quality than quantity of my output, though quantity is important as well.

The sad thing is that even when I try to be careful with my reporting, I have a tendency to make little mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes once in a while, but I seem to do it all the time. I’m looking into going to see a psychiatrist because I’m thinking perhaps if I get on some drugs for my ADD I’ll be less likely to miss my errors. But all that mental health care costs a fortune, even if my insurance covers some of it. Then again, if it’ll help me keep my job, it’s worth it, right?

In any case, I’m confused about the whole career situation. More than anything I’m frustrated with myself for not kicking ass at my job. I don’t want to let my anxiety hold me back from success. Then there’s also the question of whether I’m smart enough to be in a position that obviously requires a high level of intellect and ability to collect, analyze and re-hash complicated information.

My boss recently criticized me for my lack of voice in my work. He said he hired me because I told him that I’m a blogger. But my writing for work has been so boring and dry. It’s lacking any sort of personality, I guess. I wonder what he’d think of this blog or any of the other blogs that I keep that are chalk full of personality. It’s a lot easier to have a voice when I’m writing about things I’m intimately familiar with, but the topics I write about are not things that are easy to understand or to explain. Maybe someday I’ll get to the point where I can write short, edgy posts with tons of voice that people would actually want to read. Until that day, I better get “good enough” so I can keep my job… and keep improving.

Women Don’t Negotiate = Women Make Less Money.

I got a new job. I can’t go into details on here regarding what that job entails, as I don’t want to blow my thinly-veiled cover (to those who know me, it’s impossible for me to blog without giving away who I am.) Needless to say, the position is 99 percent of the way to dream job, and I’m really proud of myself for somehow falling into the opportunity.

The focus of this entry is not my new job, persay, but my terror of negotiating and my delight in figuring out that I can get what I want in a negotiation without feeling guilty.

The day of my meeting to negotiate terms of my new job, I spent all my free time scouring the Internet for advice on how to approach any likely scenerio. I took my current job with absolutely no negotiation, and while I don’t regret it (the job was worth more to me than a few thousand more dollars at the time, when my lack of full-time experience made it painfully difficult to get a job at all), it does suck being stuck at my entry-level salary a year later. Between the company struggling financially and my inability to be brilliant in their eyes, I lost the opportunity to be promoted five months into the gig. And since then, I haven’t even dared to ask. I’ve been working my ass off and I’m pretty sure I’ve been earning my keep, to say the least. It has just become increasingly clear to me that in order to be valued as I ought to be, I need to move elsewhere.

So I applied for dozens of positions and even got offers for a few, but ultimately turned them down. They all paid more than my current gig, but I decided while I’d like a fatter paycheck, salary isn’t the only thing that would get me to make the leap to a new position. I’m picky. And I really wanted to find a job where I knew I would feel like I’d be able to give just as much as I take, if not more.

Found that job, or so it seems. I had no idea what the salary would be. It’s one of those Web 2.0 jobs where there’s no pre-defined standard for base salary at any level. It’s a guessing game for all involved, to be determined based on either my former salary or my current and potential value.

The one strict rule in negotating, it seems, is that you’re not supposed to note your current salary at any point. Nor should you bring up a number first. In my situation, I was practically forced to put a number out there. I blurted out a range, which was higher than what I’m making now but not entirely ridiculous. The low point in the range was what I figured I should be making at my current job if I was in a company that actually paid attention to the growth of its employees and wanted to reward them for their hard work. The high of the range, $5k more, was what I’d like to be making, even though I didn’t think that was really possible.

Side story…

The other day I met up with a young woman who used to intern with me at a community newspaper. She graduated a year after me (I was interning the year after I graduated, while she was graduating that year with a degree in journalism.) Turns out, she hated the internship (and seemingly journalism as a whole, but maybe it was just the internship.) So the other day we re-connected on Linked In and it turned out she was working in a PR office a few towns over. So we decided to meet up for lunch.

We talked a lot about issues of age, salary, and feeling like being taken advantage of at work (mostly due to our age.) Turns out that her salary, surprisingly enough, was $3k less than what I’m currently making. She was frustrated with her job, mostly because of the pay – I’d imagine mind numbing PR work without a rewarding salary would get old fast. We’ve both been in our positions a year now, even though I’m officially two years out of school and she’s just marking her one year anniversary of graduation.

She took such a low salary without negotiating at first because she needed the experience as well, but likely she could have gotten her base pay up to that $35k figure that seems to be standard for entry-level corporate or agency work (unless you’re a software engineer or something). Now she’s stuck. She could ask for a raise, but the raise would bring her up to what she should have started at a year ago.

Back to the main story…

Negotiation is an amazing tool when used properly. It’s amazing what you can get just by asking. Women are taught to make other’s happy, to be people pleasers (at least most of us are) so negotiation seems like a painful experience. Aren’t they offering me what’s in my best interest? Not likely. It turns out that men often think of their own interests first, whereas women are the opposite. So a man will low-ball a salary and expect the other person to negotiate. If the other person is a man, chances are he would negotiate for a higher salary or at least better benefits. If the other person is a women, it’s questionable if she’ll say “Ok” or go with the great tactic… “hmmmmm…”

But I’m living proof that it can’t hurt to ask. At the start of the negotation process, I was given a salary quote, which was the lowest number I had noted in my range at my first interview. While I could have taken that and been happy with it, I felt like that was a little low considering my additional commute time for this new job and all the added responsibility. I was thinking of asking for $2k more, but I realized if I did that, then he might pick a number in between the two, and I’d end up with only $1k more. So instead I mustered up all my courage and pushed the number up $5k. It was quite a nervewracking moment. I was waiting for him to say no. He almost said no. Then he said, “done.”

Moral of the story – female or male, but especially female, make sure to ask for what you want when you’re negotiating. It might make sense to accept what’s offered to you for your first job out of college, but even then most people respect a little negotiation initative. Afterall, business – whether it’s working for a giant corporate company as a sales rep, or as a development associate at a non-profit, is ALL about negotation. And if you can’t ask for what you want when it comes to your livelihood, what’s to say you would be able to do it on a daily basis to help your company get ahead?

Building Up a Freelance Career

There are tons of opportunities to make a few bucks here and there when it comes to writing. This blog, despite all of those AdSense ads, is not one of them. I seem to be making about three cents a week with AdSense, and that’s on a good week.

However, with all of the magazines in the world, online and in print, there’s plenty of room to pitch stories and freelance for some extra cash each month. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of working as a freelancer, but I’m not sure I’d be comfortable moving to a full-time freelance career. First of all, every month would bring in a different amount of money. Health insurance would be all up to me to figure out. I might ultimately make more money, but the uncertainty freaks me out too much to take that leap.

In the meantime, I’ve been lucky enough to be doing some minimal freelance writing work for my uncle, who runs his own online marketing company. He develops e-newsletters for a company that are sent out each month. Included in those newsletters are summaries of related news articles. Guess who writes those summaries? I make $50 per month doing that, but that $50 covers one voice lesson. It actually used to be $100 a month but one of the companies he developed the newsletter for decided they were done with their monthly marketing e-mail. The extra $100 a month was really nice. It seemed to provide the extra cushion I need between overspending and just having enough money to break even each month. The job is nice because writing up the blurbs comes naturally to me and I feel like I’m actually helping my uncle out while also making his life a little easier.

I’ve done occasional freelance work for newspapers, but it’s a ton of work for $50. My cell phone bill for making all the calls ends up costing more than what I make. So I’ve put a stop to newspaper freelancing for now.

Lately I’ve realized that the real money to be made in freelancing is writing for PR and marketing. I don’t think I’d want a full-time PR or marketing career, but I do enjoy spending my free time writing marketing copy. It’s nice to spend my days reporting and writing hard news, and then getting a bit fluffy come evening. Of course, I have to be very careful not to run into any conflict-of-interest issues, which is always a very real concern for me as a journalist. I’d only write marketing copy for a company outside of the sectors my magazine covers.

On top of writing, I’m also trying to build up my freelance web design work. It’s amazing how much money one can make designing a simple site for a person or a business. My uncle hooked me up with my first gigs, where he pitched me as a cheap alternative to other web designers. I guess most web designers charge about $1500-$2000 for a simple site. I’ve charged about $600-$700 per site. I feel really weird charging people that much money, even though I realize my prices are more than competitive. I’ve also worked for small companies or people who have a large chunk of disposible income, so my uncle tells me not to feel guilty about setting my prices in that range. He said he’d charge $2500 or more to do the exact same thing.

Knowing that, sometimes I wonder if I should really focus on gaining skills in web design. After all, it would be neat to either work full-time as a web designer or, ideally, to supplement my income as a reporter by designing about two sites per month. The extra $1200 per month, or even $600 per month, would really help balance out my budget.

As far as career goes, I’m not sure what I’m going to be doing in a month. My company, as I’ve noted previously, looks as if it’s about to go down the tubes. But I’m not too concerned. Some exciting opportunities have popped up. It’s kind of nice how things seem to always work out. A networking contact of the past has contacted me about an opening at her company. It’s not everyday someone contacts me about a job opening.

I definitely have tons more to say about job searching as both an entry-level candidate and now as a candidate with rather specialized experience. But that’ll be another entry.

Do any of you freelance full-time or for supplemental income outside of your job? Any advice for a gal who’s interested in building out her freelance work?

Ivy Envy

Two years ago, when I was just a wee soon-to-be college grad, I hadn’t a clue what “job stability” meant. I was all wide-eyed and bushy tailed, expecting my B.F.A. to ensure everything in life would work itself out, given a short bit of things smoothing themselves out.

I really had no idea what I was in for. I’m lucky, I have a savings, I know my parents are there for me if I’m desperate (although with the amount of savings I have and my history with the ‘rents, I’d rather run myself into serious debt than beg them for help.)

So after a year of interning for a slave’s wage, I found myself a full time job in the editorial department of fairly small magazine startup. I’ve been there for about a year. It’s been a great ride, that’s for sure, and I’m learning tons. What I’m not getting, however, is a promotion in title or salary, despite that I’m a fairly dedicated worker and I’ve put a lot of hard work into the job.

Besides all that, it looks as though the company is slowly but surely falling to pieces. It could always surprise me and make a fortune, but there’s been an increased dosage of pessimism that leaves me thinking I’m likely going to be out of job in a month or two, or maybe three at most.

Meanwhile, my apartment complex raised my rent to $1050 from $905 (utilities included) for my comfy studio apartment. Gosh, I can’t believe I’m paying $1050 for a studio, but that’s the cost of living in the Bay Area. I know, I know, I should live with other people because at $35k a year, I can’t really afford to live alone.

But the thing is, I’ve been depressed my whole life until I finally got my own place, and suddenly my brain and emotions have stabilized. Living on my own, I figure, includes the cost of therapy I no longer need (or at least no longer desperately need).

Still, expenses are tight, as I’m spending about $200 more than what I earn per month. It’s do-able with my savings, but obviously I can’t live that way forever. I kind of figure that eventually I’ll be making more money (hopefully sooner than later) and if I can manage to make at least $45k a year I’ll be set.

I mean, I’m a spender. I buy things. But I also rarely buy big ticket items. I’m the type that goes into the drug store for shampoo and leaves having spent $78. I did that today. I love little things. Sometimes I need them, sometimes I don’t. I’d never spend more than $70 on a shirt, and I usually try to find clothes at sale retailers like Marshalls or Nordstrom Rack. I’m rather stingy, for the most part. Or so I think. It’s just all the little costs add up. And then I’m left looking at bright red numbers with a minus sign in front of them on my budget reports in Quicken.

Sometimes I feel like I’m hopeless. When I lose this job, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’ve considered graduate school but the thought of taking the savings I have and spending it all on more schooling, plus going into debt over it, makes me want to puke. I mean, I’d be going to grad school for journalism, and the reality is that the salary I’d make at a job post graduate studies is equal or lower to what I’m making now. That’s just how the field works.

Meanwhile, my job prospects at the moment are pretty dim. They’re definitely not as bad as they were last year, when I was a college grad with a degree in the arts and basically no experience minus a few internships. I’m way ahead of that in terms of experience now, but still, I feel like the only jobs outside of journalism I can get are in PR. And not that there is anything wrong with PR, it’s a perfectly practical and admirable profession, it’s just not something I can see myself getting passionate about.

There are SO many things I want to do with my life, and I’m trying hard to do each and every one of them, but some things I just, well, I need more training to do, and I’m not sure how feasible that is. For instance, I’d love to learn how to code web applications, to work for a local startup as a project manager, to somehow magically obtain some serious computer science skills and build out a career from there. Of course it’s a bit late for that. I know HTML and some CSS and that’s about it.

Well, long story short, when I’m out of a job in a few months, I really don’t know what’s next. I’m looking for another position now, mostly because I don’t want to be left out cold. But I also want to take the next step in my career, as it doesn’t seem possible at my current company. I just have no idea where I ought to step, and meanwhile I’m just frustrated with myself for failing to be good enough for my company. It’s tough, I’m not an Ivy League grad, and for good reason. I’m smart, but I’m not book smart. I’m not as smart as 99 percent of the people who work at my company. And I try, believe me I try, but it’s hard to know that my brain perhaps doesn’t have the ability to keep up with my co-workers.

But that’s just what it’s like in Silicon Valley. Everyone here is smart. Everyone here seems to have graduated from Berkeley or Stanford. Well, I didn’t. I’ve got Ivy Envy, and for good reason. Tons of the interesting entry- or junior-level job ads on craigslist note that they’d prefer (or require) the applicant to have a degree from a “top university.” Thus, I’m out of the running.

Sometimes I wonder what the difference is between someone like me and a graduate of one of those top schools. Obviously they’re able to focus better and be more efficient with their time. Are they really all smarter than me? What is intelligence anyway? And can I be successful despite having a terrible case of ADD and perhaps not having an IQ that would allow me to so much as get an interview for a job at, say, Google?