TIME Saving & Spending

This 1 Mistake Could Cost You Hundreds of Dollars


Read the fine print—or pay

Everybody hates bank fees, but what’s even more worse is not knowing when or why you’re getting dinged with those charges.

In a new study, the website WalletHub.com finds the average checking account has 30 different fees that can ding you, and banks aren’t always transparent about the details. “Some banks disclose their fees only after a customer has opened an account,” the site warns. “Others disclose their fees in inconspicuous sections of their websites.”

In particular, those $35 overdraft fees that can be triggered by buying something as small as a cup of coffee can really pack a wallop, yet many of us don’t bother paying attention to the fine print that spells out the details of how financial institutions process transactions. We should, though — a new interactive tool from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows how seemingly insignificant differences in transaction-processing practices can make the difference between having enough money in your account to tide you over until your next payday or getting socked with more than $100 in fees.

Pew looks at three different variables: Letting people overdraw their balances when they make purchases or ATM withdrawals versus declining these attempts, processing transactions in the order they happen versus in order of highest-to-lowest dollar amount and offering a $5 “grace period” threshold before an overdraft fee kicks in versus no threshold.

In a trio of scenarios, Pew follows three hypothetical customers in a scenario many Americans are all too familiar with: navigating the demands of daily expenses with less than $200 until the next paycheck comes. In each case, everything is identical for the variable under scrutiny.

The differences are huge. For instance, a customer whose bank processes transactions in the order they happen winds up getting hit with a single $35 fee — while her alter ego who banks with an institution that practices high-to-low transaction ordering gets nailed for FOUR $35 fees when conducting the exact same transactions.

The other two examples show a similar disparity. For many of us, the difference between ending the month 10 bucks in the black versus more than $80 in the red is huge, especially if our spending habits are such that this happens frequently.

Consumer advocates criticize banks for their overdraft practices, pointing out that the customers who pay the bulk of these charges tend to be younger, minority customers who are poorer to begin with and often don’t have the financial education to know a raw deal when they see one. Fewer than 10 percent of bank customers are responsible for three-quarters of overdraft charges, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “[This] is especially pertinent as the CFPB continues to study overdraft and will release new rules based on these studies in 2015,” Pew says.

The CFPB says it’s still looking at how these fees impact bank customers. “We need to determine whether current overdraft practices are causing the kind of consumer harm that the federal consumer protection laws are designed to prevent,” CFPB director Richard Cordray said in a statement last month, saying the agency’s most recent research “compound[s] our concerns” about whether overdraft practices leave vulnerable customers at risk.

Until the CFPB acts, it’s buyer-beware out there, so don’t forget to read the fine print.

TIME Saving & Spending

One (More) Shocking Way Colleges Are Ripping Off Kids

Marking up movie theater popcorn is one thing, but jacking the price of a laptop by more than 100% is another, especially when the would-be buyers are college kids. As students get ready to head to campus, college stores are making laptop shopping a buyer-beware endeavor.

An investigation by DealNews.com found that college bookstores hike prices on the laptops and tablets they sell by an average of 35% over the regular sale prices of retailers like Amazon, Best Buy and Staples. DealNews looked at prices for the cheapest tablets and laptops, plus the most expensive laptops, available at the online stores of five public and one private college, then compared those to back-to-school deals offered by other retailers on identical or very similar machines.

Not every single one is a rip-off, but more than two-thirds are, and some of the markups are pretty egregious.

DealNews finds that the University of Virginia sells a first-generation iPad mini for a staggering 135% more than the $199 sale price the site found on more than one occaision over the summer. The $469 price the campus store is charging is so high that even if you wanted to buy the newer model iPad mini, you could get it straight from Apple for $70 less.

As a matter of fact, if you’re a college kid (or the parent of one), you should probably just steer clear of the campus store entirely if you’re looking for electronics.

“Another example that stood out… were these headphones,” says DealNews’ Louis Ramirez. Although they cost $130 on Amazon, the University of Berkeley Student Store slaps a $49 markup on top of that.

We found other examples in just a cursory browsing of the sites supplied by DealNews, so it’s likely this just scratches the surface of a bigger issue in electronics markups.

One school site is selling a 32G Sandisk USB thumb drive for about $45. Wal-Mart sells the same model for less than $17. A wireless mouse sold by one school for just under $30 sells for half that amount at Office Depot. One Dell laptop “deal” on a school site was no cheaper than the price on Dell’s own website, and two schools’ “sale” prices on iPads are still $30 more than you’d pay at Wal-Mart.

College stores’ problems with electronics sales don’t end with the inflated prices, says Ramirez. While some schools sell up-to-date technology, the site’s investigation found that “others were selling older previous-generation tech at current-generation pricing,” he says. If you think you’re getting a deal, make sure to clarify the model — you could be paying top dollar for last year’s closeout.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that “student discount” translates to the best deal. Just like regular prices, you have to shop around because all student discounts aren’t created equal. “Campus stores aren’t the only retailers that offer student promos,” Ramirez says. As long as you have an active student account (one that ends in .edu), a number of other retailers offer discounts.


4 Extremely Easy Ways to Fake Confidence

Thomas Barwick—Getty Images

Expert advice to bluff your way to the top

Confidence is crucial for advancing in your career, but a lot of Americans today are suffering from a lack of confidence with their jobs and the state of the economy. This doesn’t mean that you’re relegated to the sidelines until circumstances improve, though. You’ll just have to fake it. Afraid you’ll be as obvious as Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally? Here’s some advice from experts on how to bluff your way to confidence.

Be shameless. “Confidence rarely equates to competence,” points out Tom Hayes, founder and owner of marketing company Riley Hayes. “sometimes the most competent people are the least confident and that the most confident people are the least competent.” Research shows that people unconsciously defer to people who project an air of confidence, regardless of whether or not they “should be” in charge. Yes, taking those first steps can be excruciating, but if you can just get the ball rolling, your colleagues will automatically perceive you as having confidence and leadership qualities.

Spend your down time studying what leaders do. Even if you’re not feeling it, having the right tools to project an air of confidence can go a long way, suggests Heidi Golledge, co-founder and CEO of CareerBliss.com. “We have noticed employees using their free time to join ToastMasters… programmers reading the latest management and technology books as well as taking a weekend to join a conference in their field lead by creative industry leaders,” she says.

Or don’t. Doing something you enjoy in your free time — an activity or hobby that has absolutely no bearing on your job — can still have a positive impact on your career confidence, Golledge says. So what if you’re a database manager or an administrator — if taking art classes or running obstacle races revs you up, go for it. Then, when you’re back in the office, recall the confidence boost that comes from doing something you like, even if you’re never going to become an expert.

Focus your efforts. If you’re an introverted type, faking confidence and being “on” all the time can be exhausting. In a Harvard Business Review blog post, consultant and speaker Dorie Clark suggests grouping your to-do list so you’re not facing social interactions where you have to project confidence every single day. “Batching my activities allows me to focus, and alternating between social and quiet time enables me to be at my best when I do interact with people,” she writes. If you can pick a day’s worth of tasks that won’t require you to put on a “game face,” you’ll be refreshed for the next time around.

TIME Careers & Workplace

One Secret for Negotiating Absolutely Anything

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Trying to get your boss to give you a raise? Want to score a higher price on a car you’re trying to sell, or a better deal on one you want to buy? The trick to getting what you want might just be looking angry.

In a new research paper, “The Commitment Function of Angry Facial Expressions,” Harvard University psychology post-doc Lawrence Ian Reed says that an expression of being fed up — “slanted brows, glaring eyes, and tight lips” — can be a surprisingly effective negotiating tactic.

“One of the most exciting things about this work is that it reflects a myriad of real-world scenarios,” Reed says. “These include any situation in which Person A threatens Person B with the goal of motivating Person B to act in a way that is in accordance with Person A’s goals.” This could be a real estate deal, buying or selling a car or other item, or making a bid for a job, raise or promotion.

“The problem with threats is that they are ineffective when they are empty,” he says.

It’s important to note that although Reed uses the term “threats,” he doesn’t mean the layman’s definition of somebody provoking an altercation — that’s not going to get you much besides an escort out of the building. Instead, think of threats in this case as demands, whether you’re trying to wrangle a better deal on a bedroom set or a higher annual raise.

So, how do you make somebody think you’re actually going to walk away from a deal or a job without actually doing it (or if you’re bluffing)?

This is where the angry face comes in. For the best negotiating clout, you’re not aiming for seeing-red rage — more like the irritation you get when another driver cuts you off on the road or your kid knocks something over after being warned umpteen times to play more carefully. Reed characterizes it as “a stern expression,” with the corners of your lips tightened, brow furrowed and a “steely gaze.”

This works because genuine facial expressions of emotions are hard to fake. Remember how Tyra Banks had to lecture all those contestants on America’s Next Top Model to “smize” — that is, to engage their eyes as well as their mouths when they smile?

Since it’s difficult to fake your emotional expression, people unconsciously assign that more importance than what you’re actually saying. “We pay attention to what people ‘say’ with their faces more than what they say with words,” Reed says.

“The effectiveness of the threat depends on how credible it is,” he says. An angry expression makes a threat more credible because people intuitively think it’s genuine. Whoever you’re negotiating with is more likely to think you’ll follow through on taking your business elsewhere or walking away on a job offer if your words are delivered with the look you’d give a person with a cart full of groceries in the express checkout lane.

TIME Spending & Saving

Finally, Some Good News About Your Credit Score

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FICO announced on last week a new version of its credit scoring model will debut this fall. This new version, FICO Score 9, throws a lifeline to borrowers indebted by medical bills or those saddled with old collections actions.

FICO characterizes the change as “a more nuanced way to assess consumer collection information.” It says people with unpaid medical debt but no other “major derogatory references” could see a median score increase of 25 points.

Medical debt is no joke — it’s responsible for almost two-thirds of bankruptcies, according to a study by the American Journal of Medicine — so a credit scoring model that doesn’t punish people for having the bad luck to be get sick or injured while uninsured (or beyond the limits of their health coverage) is a change for the positive.

“It’s almost like there’s a credit scoring arms race taking place, and consumers are benefiting,” says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at CreditSesame.com.

FICO’s main competition is VantageScore, a scoring model created by the three big credit bureaus. Last year, a version of VantageScore that minimized the impact of old collections on a person’s score was rolled out, a step FICO’s new scoring model also takes.

“I do like the consistency between VantageScore and FICO,” Ulzheimer says. “Both credit scoring giants seems to agree that collections that have a zero balance have lost importance to risk assessment and can now be ignored.”

This is important because a new study from the Urban Institute finds that more than a third of Americans have a debt collection action in their credit file. Although some of these debts are likely to be too old to collect or have been paid off, just having that black mark there can tarnish your credit.

FICO says its new scoring model will also do a better job determining the creditworthiness of people who have little credit history, promising a “more refined treatment” of people who have so-called “thin files.”

VantageScore took a stab at people who flew under the radar of older scoring models in its version released last year, too. “The VantageScore 3.0 model provides scores to 27-30 million adults who are invisible to traditional scoring models,” it said at the time.

One drawback to FICO’s announcement, Ulzheimer warns, is that it could take a while for these benefits to trickle down to borrowers. “The new model will take years before it is the standard FICO score used by lenders as it takes time for lenders to convert from older versions,” he says. The other rub: “Until Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac endorse the newer version, it will not be used for mortgage lending,” he says.

TIME Careers & Workplace

7 Work-Life Balance Lies That Are Ruining Your Life

Guy in an office
Eric Audras—Brand X/Getty Images

Tech company CEO Max Schireson wasn’t happy with the way his job was running his life, so he quit, explaining in a blog post that immediately went viral how “I decided the only way to balance was by stepping back from my job.”

While quitting your job might be extreme, there’s an almost limitless amount of advice on how to achieve work-life balance. Books, magazines, websites and podcasts overflow with it. But here’s the dirty little secret: A lot of it is crap. Try to follow it and, at best, you’re setting yourself up for even more stress and feeling bad about yourself when you can’t achieve the impossible; at worst, you could “balance” yourself right out of a job.

So, rather than ask experts to dispense yet another list of tips to attain work-life balance, we asked them which ones you should really just ignore if you want to preserve your sanity (and your career).

“Do what you love.” It sounds like such thoughtful, touchy-feely advice: It isn’t. “Current career advice incorrectly puts a lot of emphasis on matching work to some sort of preexisting trait… something you’re ‘meant to do,'” says Cal Newport, an assistant professor in the department of computer science at Georgetown University and author of a book about why doing what you love is bad advice. “What leads someone to really enjoy their working life really doesn’t have anything to do with matching that job to a preexisting interest.”

But what if your friends tell you all the time you should really sell your pottery or your cupcakes? Great. Try making money off your hobby first, Newport says. “Money is an incredibly accurate indicator of how valuable what you’re doing really is.’

“Negotiate a flexible schedule.” This advice comes in many forms — so-called experts admonish overworked Americans to negotiate flexible hours, telecommuting privileges, job-sharing arrangements — and it tends to ignore some important cultural and financial details.

“A lot of people in working-class jobs have very structured situations and they can’t just come and go as they please,” says Jerry Jacobs, executive officer of the Work and Family Researchers Network and a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. “A lot of people including people who have part-time jobs get scheduled just a few days in advance… just the scheduling aspect of things makes life very complicated and challenging.”

Even if you get the opportunity, a flexible schedule often means sacrificing money, or opportunity, or both. “In the traditional American workplace, there is a flexibility stigma,” says Ellen Ernst Kossek, a professor at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management and an expert on work-family issues. Almost half of American workers say they’d take a pay cut for the opportunity to work from home — so if you want to bargain for more time working from your sofa or porch, be prepared to watch your paycheck shrink. And even if your finances aren’t an issue, getting permission to scale back on the job might not be popular at work. According to the Families and Work Institute, fewer employers that let workers switch from full- to part-time status (and back) today than in 2008.

“Set boundaries.” This isn’t bad advice, per se. It’s just way too vague to be useful, and it glosses over one thorny reality: At work, many of us aren’t in a position to set the boundaries, and we can put our jobs at risk if we do. “Many of us struggle to do this… but your boss, your organization, your job has to agree to those boundaries,” Jacobs says. “You can’t set them yourself.” This doesn’t mean you should stay in a bad job; if your boss walks all over you, start looking for another job. But the problem then isn’t that you’re unable to set boundaries; it’s that you’re being taken advantage of.

“Take a digital detox.” “I think that’s worthless advice,” Newport says. “Detoxing” blames our devices and the social networks they connect us to for our distraction, but the problem is that we’ve conditioned ourselves to respond to those distractions as soon as they pop up, Newport says. “Occasionally taking some time away from that distraction isn’t going to help you solve that problem any more than dieting one day a week will help you lose weight,” he says. Instead of a short-term “detox,” Newport suggests evaluating if you really need to be on all those social networks in the first place.

“Hire a life coach.” No, really — don’t. “Be your own life coach,” Kossek says. Rather than paying someone to ask you what you want to achieve, ask yourself that question. “You have to know what you want and not everybody knows what they want,” she points out. Most companies today have cultures that demands everybody do things the same way — their way — and many workers just take the path of least resistance and follow along.

“Take some time for yourself every day.” This is way more insidious than it sounds, and it slips under the radar because there’s a grain of truth to it. Yes, most of us who are stretched thin by our obligations to families, bosses, clients and colleagues probably should carve out time to read, garden, exercise, whatever. But the way this advice is framed, it puts the responsibility on you. Go ahead, find an extra half-hour somewhere — and if you can’t, this advice implies that you’re just overstressed because you didn’t put enough of a priority on that morning meditation or afternoon cup of tea.

“There’s way too much emphasis on how we need to fix these issues on their own and not enough emphasis on how we need to set up a better balance in terms of company policies… and the rules of the economic game,” Jacobs says. Until people start pushing companies to adopt more worker-friendly policies, many companies will be happy to keep passing the buck and make it the employee’s problem

“Be courageous.” This basically translates to being willing to walk away from your job if you don’t get what you want. “I think courage is talked about incorrectly in this context,” Newport says. “There’s a lot of discussion out there about having the courage to quit what you’re doing and instead pursue what you love… That’s very misguided,” he says. Courage doesn’t pay the bills, and a potential employer cares how well you can do the job, not whether or not you were “courageous” enough to quit the last one.

TIME Spending & Saving

Why You Have to Start Paying Down Your Credit Cards Right Now

Steven Puetzer—Getty Images

Federal Reserve meetings aren’t high on most people’s list of interesting things, but if you have a credit card and carry a balance, you should probably start paying attention to what America’s top money policymakers are talking about, because it’s going to affect your monthly bill.

During last week’s Federal Open Markets Committee meeting, analysts were listening closely to tease out a sense of when the central bank will raise interest rates — always an endeavor that’s one part math, one part reading tea leaves.

A rate hike might not come right away: CNN points out that Fed chair Janet Yellen wants to see higher wages along with lower unemployment. Although unemployment is ticking down, wages are stuck in a rut.

“There are no such signs evident yet, but we expect that to be the big story in the second half of this year,” Capital Economics chief U.S. economist Paul Ashworth tells CNN.

But a hike might come sooner than expected, CNBC argues, if either the labor market gets better faster or if Fed members get spooked about inflation. “I think pressure is really growing to do something in January,” Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at the Lindsey Group, tells CNBC. .

Bottom line: It’ll probably happen sometime next year. This means you have, at maximum, maybe a year and a half before your credit card bills jump.

The reason why is because most of us these days have variable credit card interest rates, with our APRs tied to the prime rate. The prime rate is the Federal Funds rate plus 3%, and today, prime is a mere 3.25%. Then the card issuers tack on a percentage they determine, and we swipe away.

Banks dropped fixed interest rates en masse in advance of the CARD Act kicking in a few years ago because the law prohibits them from hiking fixed rates on existing balances except with a few exceptions. Banks wanted to be able to raise what they charge us when interest rates rise, so they switched over to variable rates.

After the Fed makes its move, rate increases will happen quickly. “Within a few months after the prime rate eventually starts going up, card holders will also likely see their APRs going up,” says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at CreditSesame.com.

Ulzheimer says it’s most likely issuers will adopt a straight pass-through of any hike in the prime rate; in other words, if the rate goes up by 0.5%, your APR will, too. And credit card companies aren’t required by law to give you a 45-day heads-up that a jump in your interest rate is coming.

Obviously, the bigger your balance, the more this will affect your monthly payment, so it’s a good idea to start chipping away at that debt now.

TIME Careers & Workplace

How to Ace a Video Job Interview

Looking for a job? Practice smiling, because it’s likely you’ll be on camera. A survey by staffing company OfficeTeam found that more than six out of 10 employers use video interviews “somewhat” or “very” often, and only a quarter of companies said they didn’t use video interviews at all.

So if you haven’t yet encountered a virtual interview during a job hunt, it’s likelier than not that you will sometime in the future. Here’s what human resources experts say you have to do when you’re trying to sell yourself on-screen.

Set the stage. “Choosing the wrong location for a phone or video interview can be detrimental. Take these meetings in a quiet place, making sure there aren’t barking dogs or other distractions that could make it difficult to hear,” advises Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam. “Beware of poor lighting or windows in the background that can cast dark shadows.” Check the background to make sure it’s clutter-free — you don’t want to give your prospective new boss an eyeful of your dirty gym clothes slung over the back of a chair.

Run a tech test beforehand. OfficeTeam also suggests enlisting a friend for a “dress rehearsal” before the actual interview. This will give you a chance to get acquainted with the video technology and troubleshoot any issues that pop up. Ask someone else for feedback to make sure you’re sitting at a good distance from the camera to be seen clearly, and that you’re not too close or too far away from the microphone.

Wear pants — please. Josh Tolan, CEO of video interview company Spark Hire, says you should pick an outfit — shoes, accessories and all — as if you were heading to an in-person interview. “Although, they’ll most likely be seated the whole time, wearing a complete interview outfit can help them to focus and maintain the state-of-mind needed for having a successful interview,” he says. Experts say to avoid wearing white, which can wash you out, and busy patterns, which can be distracting.

Do your homework. You might not be in the same room, but a video interview is a real interview, experts say. Make yourself familiar with both the job and the company, says Scott Dobroski, a career trend analyst at online salary and jobs company Glassdoor. “Find out what the job duties are by re-reading the job description, researching what others have to say about what it’s like to work this job title,” he says. “See how the company has been talked about in the news lately, and how it talks about itself on its own website.”

Make a visual connection. “Be aware of your tone over the phone and make eye contact,” says Amanda Augustine, job search expert at TheLadders. Curb any nervous tics or a tendency to fidget, she says. Don’t bounce your leg under the table, even if you think the interviewer can’t see it. And although it might seem most natural to look at the screen, experts say it’s important to make eye contact with your webcam. “You still need to connect with your interviewer, even if they’re not sitting in the room with you,” Augustine says.

Watch your mouth. “Avoid colloquialisms, speak slowly and clearly, and avoid your ‘likes,’ ‘ums,’ and ‘ahs,’” says Zach Lahey, a research analyst at research company Aberdeen Group‘s Human Capital Management practice. “Smile, be friendly, and show that you’re interested,” he says. Keep in mind that in a video, “Every movement and action is magnified.”

Sit up straight. “Job seekers should also be aware of their posture and body language,” Tolan says. “Slouching or leaning back in their seat may give off the vibe that the job seeker isn’t taking the interview seriously or is bored and disinterested,” he warns. Good posture will also help energize you. Conversely, don’t fold your arms over your body. “Crossing their arms should also be avoided because they will appear unapproachable and defensive,” Tolan says.

TIME Banking

How Big Banks Are Finally Getting It Right

It was known as the $39 cup of coffee: Swipe your debit card to pay for your latte and drop your bank account balance into the red, triggering an overdraft fee in the process. Now, that exercise in frustration might finally be getting a rest: New data shows that more Americans will be able to dodge that $35 bullet, especially if they have an account at a big bank.

Overdraft fees were the bane of customers’ existence, but are a revenue lifeline for banks and credit unions, especially after regulatory credit card crackdowns limited how much they could earn from those. They earned around $32 billion last year off our careless swiping — and that was three years after federal reforms that prohibited financial institutions from automatically subjecting people to the fees kicked in — so these fees seemed destined to stick around, no matter how much we hated them.

New research from financial research company Moebs $ervices finds that something interesting is happening, though: Overdraft fees are there, but increasingly, banks and credit unions are waiving them if the customer just drops into the red by a small amount — say a cup or two of coffee.

We seem to be at a tipping point: Just over half of financial institutions with more than $50 billion in assets waive overdraft fees for small-dollar transactions, with an average cutoff amount of a little over five bucks.

Across all financial institutions, Moebs finds that just over one in four have a small-dollar overdraft waiver in place, with an average cutoff amount of $7.40, although cutoffs range from a single dollar all the way up to $50.

Smaller banks and credit unions are least likely to extend these waivers for low-amount overdrafts: Only about 15% of institutions with $100 million or less in assets offer them, and just under 11% of credit unions.

CEO and economist of Moebs $ervices Mike Moebs says that although smaller institutions might not have these policies on paper, it’s likely that they might extend waivers when customers call and ask.

Aside from the threat of further regulation, Moebs says bank technology has improved so institutions can get more detailed with their parameters. He says consumers have been demanding more customer-friendly features (and regulators have been listening to their complaints).

The dearth of paper checks helps, too, he says. “[The] lack of float due to only about 10% of payment system is paper checks is another factor.” With money moving from one place to another pretty much in real time, it’s easier for banks to be a little more flexible.

There are some distinct regional differences in Moebs’ data. Kentucky and New Hampshire residents have better than a 50% shot of getting their small-dollar overdrafts waived, versus fewer than a 20% chance in Florida, Maryland, Nevada and Wisconsin. There’s a similar split among metro areas, ranging from zero in Denver to 44% in San Antonio. (The overall averages are higher because banks in rural areas are more likely to offer waivers than those in urban or suburban settings.)

Here, Moebs says local competition is a contributing factor. If one bank offers a waiver, especially one with a higher amount, its competitors will feel pressure to follow suit.

TIME Careers & Workplace

Doing This on Social Networks Could Cost You a Job

A portrait of the Facebook logo in Ventura
A portrait of the Facebook logo in Ventura, Calif., on Dec. 21, 2013 Eric Thayer—Reuters

With his Blurred Lines parody, Weird Al is onto something: America’s grammar stinks. And there’s strong evidence that it’s so bad, it’s costing us jobs. A new survey from CareerBuilder finds that about a third of HR managers say they’ve taken an applicant out of consideration because of “poor communication skills” on social media.

Yes, people know by now that posting pictures of them funneling beer or making racist jokes on Facebook will probably take them out of the running, but even the types of grammar errors Weird Al is skewering can be enough to cost somebody a job.

CareerBuilder says a third of the roughly 70% of HR managers who use social media to check out candidates have dropped them from consideration because of “poor communication skills.”

More than nine out of 10 HR professionals say they see poor communication displayed on candidates’ pages, says Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer at iCIMS, a talent acquisition company. “Job seekers should pay special attention to their social media profiles, ensuring all publicly accessible information is professional,” she says. “It’s difficult for a recruiter to ‘unsee’ these references.”

In other words, sometimes it’s not what you say online: It’s how you say it that can be a dealbreaker. We asked HR pros what would give them pause if they ran across it on an applicant’s social media page.

Bad or nonexistent punctuation: “If they can’t punctuate, if they can’t make a coherent sentence, then they are not, in my opinion, what we’re looking for,” says Thomas Anderson, a panelist with the Society for Human Resource Management and director of HR at the Houston Community College System. “If they don’t punctuate properly, you get a sense that the way they probably write all the time.”

Misspelled words: According to Vitale, 47% percent of recruiters say spelling errors are their biggest turn-off when reviewing a social media profile. Spell-check is there for a reason, people.

Incoherent rambling: “The employer is more apt to question your professionalism if you show a pattern of misspelled words… or your commentary seems rash, uninformed or non-cohesive,” says Jennifer Grasz, spokeswoman at CareerBuilder.

A stuck caps-lock key: “If they’ve got it all in capitals, that’s a big red flag… that indicates in social media or email that you’re shouting,” Anderson says. This is a widely known bit of online etiquette, so an applicant that isn’t savvy enough to pick up on this might have serious knowledge or social skills gaps elsewhere.

Using words the wrong way: Using words incorrectly can also trip you up in an employer’s eyes, Grasz says. If you’re not sure what a word means, look it up.

Texting shortcuts: It might be natural for people — especially young adults — to abbreviate words with letters or numbers when texting, but Grasz says it can be a turn-off for hiring managers if your conversations on social networks are riddled with this kind of shorthand.


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