MONEY Careers

How to Make Sure You Sail Through a Reference Check—Before You Even Apply for a Job

Lie Detector machine
Do coach your references on what you'd like them to say...but stick to the truth, of course. Pictorial Press Ltd.—Alamy

Congrats on making it past the interview round! But don't rest on your laurels—the reference check may be the deciding factor in who gets the position.

You’re in the throes of your job search, and things are looking up—with any luck, the recruiter will call soon to ask for your references.

References are important, and definitely not a throwaway step to be considered last-minute. In fact, you shouldn’t only be nurturing your network of references when you’re seeking a job. Remember, these are people who already know and like you. Keeping your references updated ensures that you hear about trends and opportunities in your field—even if you’re employed now you don’t want to miss a great lead.

Here are the right and wrong ways to manage that process:

DON’T just ask your former supervisors to be references.
DO ask vendors, consultants, clients, peers and direct reports.

Your supervisors will always be your most requested reference. However, over the course of your career, you work with a variety of people—not just for your immediate supervisor. Sometimes you work more closely with others than with the person you report to on the organizational chart. Therefore, you need to think more broadly about who can speak for your work than just a boss. Furthermore, your different collaborators can speak to different elements of your work—vendors see your negotiation skills, consultants gauge your teamwork skills, clients know your service quality, peers see you day-to-day, and direct reports know your management style.

DON’T wait until the recruiter asks to check in with your references.
DO line them up in advance.

People move around. You don’t want to find out right before you need the reference that you can’t find that supervisor who knows your work so well. You also want time to find alternative references if one of your choices seems lukewarm when you contact them, or is just so tough to reach that they may not get back to the recruiter in a timely fashion.

DON’T assume references know what to say.
DO coach them on what to highlight.

Your references haven’t worked with you in a while and have since managed others. They won’t remember exactly what you worked on. They also don’t know this job you’re going for so won’t know what to emphasize, especially if you did a lot of different things when you worked for them. Therefore, you need to help them help you—remind them of that big project or key client you want them to discuss, share the job description, and tell them you would appreciate it if they talked, say, about your analytical skills.

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Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart®career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column will appear weekly.

Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:

How to Network in Just 5 Minutes a Day

How Making a Friend in HR Can Help Your Career

10 Easy Ways to Make Yourself More Hireable

Your Career is Your Biggest Asset. 5 Ways to Protect It

5 Ways Microsoft Employees (and You) Can Prep for Layoffs

MONEY Second Career

How a 57-Year-Old On Her Second Career Launched a $10 Million Business

Im Ja Choi
Im Ja Choi (center, in white suit), founder of Penn Asian Senior Services, celebrates with clients at the opening of her agency's first adult day care facility, the Jubilee Center in Philadelphia. Courtesy Penn Asian Senior Services

Im Ja Choi saw a need for caregivers who speak foreign languages. So she started a non-profit that provides them.

After her mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2002, Im Ja Choi knew it was crucial to get her a home health aide once she was out of the hospital. But Choi was quickly frustrated by the difficulty of finding a caregiver in the Philadelphia area who spoke Korean, her mother’s native language. Choi quit her job as a bank vice president to take care of her mom until she found one—a process that took seven months.

That experience became the catalyst for Penn Asian Senior Services, a non-profit home health aide agency that Choi, now 65, launched in 2005 to serve the local immigrant community in Philadelphia. Today PASSi serves 455 clients and provides home care services in 11 languages. And with 400 workers workers on its payroll, it’s one of the largest Asian immigrant employers in the area. Annual revenue is about $10 million, and earlier this year the agency opened its first senior daycare center.

It’s an impressive outcome for someone who had never run a business. Choi, who emigrated to the U.S. from Korea after finishing college in 1971, had a 20-year career as a top real estate agent in Philadelphia. Then, after getting a master’s degree, she worked her way up to vice president at a local bank. But starting a business from scratch at age 57 was a wholly new challenge for Choi.

To cover initial operating costs, she took out took out a home equity line of credit for $55,000. “It took some convincing for my husband to agree,” says Choi. A long-time volunteer on Asian women’s issues, she used her local network to find public funding. She got a $50,000 grant from the county and won $900,000 in grants during the first three years of operation. “I had to learn how to write a grant application well, but it was my contacts in the community that really helped. I knew who the decision makers were,” says Choi.

She had enough savings to get by without salary for the first year and was able to repay her home loan within a few months of starting the business. She started drawing a small salary at the end of the first year, after budgeting for that income in her grant applications. “Every step of the way I was fighting for funding and looking for clients,” Choi says. When PASSi reached 175 clients, its revenue covered operating costs; in 2009 the agency began turning a profit.

Today Choi earns about $114,000 annually. It’s less than she pulled down as a banker but she feels much more satisfied by her work. “We provide a service that’s really needed,” she says. She saw proof of that with her mom. Despite a grim initial diagnosis, Choi’s mother lived another eight years, passing away in 2010 at age 93. Choi believes the culturally-based care she got was key to her long survival.

“I consider this job a privilege,” says Choi. “When you have a dream, you somehow make it come true. Now I feel like I am doing the things that I want to do.”

Im Ja Choi is a Purpose Prize Fellow. The Purpose Prize is a program operated by Encore.org, a non-profit organization that recognizes social entrepreneurs over 60 who are launching second acts for the greater good.

MONEY Careers

What You Can Learn From Derek Jeter’s Perfect Exit

140715_EM_JETER
ZUMA Press—Alamy

Whether you’re a 14-time All-Star or a regular employee, leaving a long-term employer on the best terms can pay off handsomely. 

When shortstop Derek Jeter leads off for the American League All-Star team tonight, you can bet the crowds will roar and the 20-year Yankee veteran will modestly acknowledge the fans, take his stance in the batter’s box, and get on with the job at hand. You can also bet that Jeter, who announced his retirement from active play at the start of the season, can parlay that adulation into a very lucrative post-baseball second act.

That’s what a job well done and a well-honed exit strategy from a long-term position can do for you too.

Whether you’re on the verge of retirement or are simply leaving a company you’ve been with for a while to take a new position, here are three lessons from the future Hall-of-Famer’s actions in his final season that you can take to the bank.

Get early buy-in from management. Jeter gave Yankee manager Joe Girardi, general manager Brian Cashman, and owners Hal and Hank Steinbrenner more than six months’ notice about his plan to end his playing career at the close of the current season. That’s allowed them plenty of time to plan for his replacement at shortstop.

Show your bosses the same courtesy. Notify your manager a good three to six months in advance if you’re retiring and a month to six weeks ahead of time vs. the standard two weeks if you’re leaving for a new job so they have enough lead time to fill your position. That’s especially important if you’re in a critical, revenue-generating role or are a highly skilled employee who may be difficult to replace. Help identify other staffers or professionals outside the company who might be good candidates, and offer to train them before you go, or at least to write a detailed memo that will help the person fill your shoes.

Your reward: If you’re retiring, you never know when you might want to earn a little extra cash by doing some consulting work or might want or need to return to part-time work. Your behavior helps ensure your former employer will want you back in some capacity. And if you’re simply moving on, you can count on a glowing reference if and when you need one in the future.

Mentor younger players. They don’t call Jeter the Captain for nothing. Since late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner appointed him team leader in 2003, Jeter has taken his job as a role model seriously, consistently mentoring younger players and youth off the field through his Turn 2 Foundation.

Share your knowledge as generously with younger colleagues at work, especially those who toil in a similar capacity albeit at a more junior level. Offer some inside tips that only someone who’s been around for a while would know, and make yourself available for questions and as a sounding board. Be especially generous in passing along your know-how to the person who’s taking your place. Those junior staffers will be the bosses one day, possibly sooner than you think. Good for them to remember you fondly if they’re in a position to hire you someday.

Show fans your appreciation. Jeter is notoriously not on board with hoopla over his career accomplishments, and his farewell tour has been subdued compared with that of fellow Yankee Core Four member Mariano Rivera last year. Yet Jeter has graciously accepted the gifts and gratitude shown him as he plays at various ballparks for the last time and tips his cap to the fans, just as they tip theirs to him.

Remember to show your gratitude to those who helped your career along as well. If you had a mentor at work, let him or her know how much you appreciated the help and mention a particular lesson or words of wisdom that were especially useful (the specificity makes your gratitude seem more genuine). Let colleagues who you particularly admire know and, again, try to identify a specific accomplishment or skill that you believe sets them apart. Bring in bagels or doughnuts for the staff one morning near the end of your run or buy a round of drinks. Think of it as a form of networking that may one day help you professionally.

This kind of classy behavior may not earn you a standing ovation on your way out the door, let alone an emotionally resonant and star-studded tribute video sponsored by Nike. But it can’t hurt in the good karma department — and is very likely to pay off in hard currency after you hang up your spikes.

More in Careers:
These Two Key Moves Will Help You Land Your Dream Second Career
How to Find Happiness in Your Second Career—And Earn Money Too
Your Career Is Your Biggest Asset. Here Are Five Ways to Protect It

 

MONEY Related Stories

WATCH: Was Your College’s Career Office Any Help?

People on the streets of New York talk about how their college's career office helped them — or didn't.

MONEY Related Stories

Two New Proposals Would Make College Free Nationwide

140715_HO_FreeCollege_1.jpg
Michael Burrell / Alamy

With student loan debt crippling students, education advocates are suggesting ways to change how federal financial aid money is distributed.

Adele Williams often hears her friends from high school talking about their struggles to afford college.

But she can’t relate—she doesn’t pay any tuition at all. At the school she attends, Alice Lloyd College in Kentucky, students attend for free in exchange for working.

Her friends at other schools, she says, “are mostly jealous.”

At a time when the cost of attending many private colleges exceeds the national median household income, the idea of paying no tuition at all seems so unrealistic that one higher-education economist refers to it as “la-la land.” But there are a handful of schools—such as Alice Lloyd and others—that don’t charge students a penny. Meanwhile, Tennessee will make all of its community colleges free for state residents beginning next year, and Oregon is moving forward with a study considering the same thing.

Now two new proposals go even farther, both aiming to make no-cost college a nationwide standard. A report from the Lumina Foundation recommends that the first two years of public universities and colleges be free, and a new nonprofit called Redeeming America’s Promise has come out with a proposal to give every lower- and middle-class student a full ride.

“The rising millennial generation has been so deeply affected by student debt that they’re driving a conversation about this challenge,” says Morley Winograd, the president of Redeeming America’s Promise, who worked as an advisor to Vice President Al Gore during the Clinton Administration. She added that “well-meaning but what I would call Band-Aid solutions” aren’t enough to fix the problem.

Existing financial aid was created to help the lowest-income students at a time when middle-class and wealthier families had little trouble paying for college on their own, notes University of Wisconsin-Madison sociologist and higher-education policy expert Sara Goldrick-Rab, who co-authored the other proposal. “But the people who are struggling to pay for college today go way beyond poor people,” she says. “There’s a need for a universal program.”

The Full Ride Proposal

Redeeming America’s Promise proposes redirecting existing federal and state financial aid and tuition tax breaks to give full tuition scholarships in specified amounts. It says the amount of money the government already spends for those purposes is enough to provide $2,500 per academic year for community college and $8,500 for four-year universities to every student from a family earning $180,000 a year or less.

That would just about cover the entire average advertised full cost of public college and university tuitions for everyone, the organization says.

Under the plan, which is backed by several Republican and Democratic former governors, Cabinet members, and members of Congress, the students could take out loans to cover their living expenses and repay them based on their incomes after graduation.

The scholarships would be limited to two years for an associate’s degree and four years for a bachelor’s degree to encourage students to graduate on time—which only a fifth of those at four-year institutions currently do and 4% at two-year schools.

Colleges and universities generally wouldn’t be allowed to raise their prices higher than the scholarship amounts, forcing them to control their costs.

The 50% Plan

Goldrick-Rab and her colleague, Nancy Kendall urge in their report that the billions of dollars in federal financial aid money and some state money be redirected to make tuition, fees, books, and supplies free for the first two years of any two- or four-year public university or college and that students be given stipends and jobs to help them pay their living expenses.

Goldrick-Rab and Kendall call this the free two-year college option, or F2CO.

The Reality Check

The Redeeming America’s Promise scholarships would cover the full cost of tuition at public universities and colleges not private ones, the influential lobbies of which are likely to oppose the idea on the grounds that it would divert students from them.

But public institutions might oppose as well, on the basis that the plan would be a form of price control or that they wouldn’t be able to handle, at the amount they are allowed to charge, the flood of students projected to descend on them. Tennessee universities opposed making community colleges free in that state, for example, until lawmakers agreed to make some changes in funding for them.

“We had four-year schools that were going, ‘Wow, it’s going to be hard for us to compete with free,’” said Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.

And the sweeping, dramatic changes suggested in either proposal would face an uphill battle in a divided government that has been challenged to make even marginal policy decisions.

“It’s very difficult to separate the politics from the economics,” said David Breneman, a professor in the economics of education at the University of Virginia.

Breneman pronounced both free-college proposals “not realistic,” especially at four-year institutions (“That’s just La-La Land”), though he said they might stir up a helpful conversation about untangling the way the government helps students pay for college.

“When you look at what a mess we’ve made of student aid and how complicated it’s gotten and the loan craziness, it’s not surprising that people look back at those days when we just had low tuition,” he said.

Even the free-college crusaders are not optimistic about these plans being adopted in the immediate future.

“No way is it happening today,” said Goldrick Rab. “To me the question is, will enough groundwork be laid today that it becomes something groups are working on for the next 10 to 12 years, and that eventually becomes a litmus test for people we elect.”

Winograd said more states could make public colleges and universities free sooner than that, mostly without federal involvement. Advocates in some already have proposed it, and many states are watching the free-college experiment in Tennessee, where the $34 million-a-year cost is to be underwritten by a $300 million endowment paid for from lottery proceeds. (In Oregon, the annual cost is estimated at $100 million to $200 million.)

“The political will to do it does exist, not necessarily in Washington, but throughout the country,” Winograd said.

__________

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Related stories:

Colleges try to speed up pace at which students earn degrees

Testing your way to a degree

Residents are crowded out of college by out-of-state and foreign students

Just as it wants students to speed up, government won’t pay for summer courses

MONEY Careers

How to Keep an Office Romance from Destroying Your Career

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Playing footsie in the staff meeting is a definite no-no. Getty Images

Q: I have a crush on a co-worker. Should I let him know? – Eva, Minneapolis

A: Give it careful thought first, since you could get into a situation that would jeopardize your professional reputation.

Inter-office romance is a tricky business. Some companies frown on it; others formally ban it. Even if your workplace has no problems with colleagues canoodling, you may wind up with a problem should things not work out between you and your flame.

Imagine having to get a pressing report out of an ex, who has a relationship’s worth of dirt on you to use as leverage. Uncomfortable? Yup.

Or, consider what it would be like to work on a team project with someone who has spurned you. Not fun.

On the other hand, if it’s true love you’re looking for, statistics are in your favor. Among U.S. workers who’ve dated someone from work—a hefty 40% of all employees—a third ended up marrying their office sweetheart, according to a CareerBuilder survey.

That makes sense, says Barbara Pachter, author of The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success. “You may have similar interests if you work at the same organization,” she notes. “And you have a good sense of what someone is like when you spend hours each day in the same place.”

Your first step: Figure out the rules regarding dating officemates. (The employee handbook may offer clues, and if not, ask your HR rep.) No explicit rules? Evaluate whether it the practice is acceptable in your company’s culture by asking others in the office—in an off-handish way, of course—whether they’ve heard of others on staff dating or marrying colleagues.

Before making any moves, keep rank in mind. It’s better to avoid dating someone in a higher or lower position as this can cause an imbalance of power within the office and without. And know that you will draw extra scrutiny if you work closely with the person, even if you are peers.

Next step: Find out if feelings are mutual. Assuming you know your intended is available—which other colleagues should be able to tell you—test the waters by asking him to lunch or inviting him to an outside work event. If he doesn’t seem interested, drop it.

If you do hit it off and start dating, be discreet. “Keep your displays of affection out of the office and away from business social events,” says Pachter.

Mind your social networks too. The lines between one’s professional and personal life can get blurry when it comes to social media, so be careful about posting pictures or racy exchanges with your office sweetie.

Also, don’t let love goggles block your view your colleagues. “If you spend all your lunches and breaks with your partner, you may get disconnected from your co-workers,” says Pachter. “Your work relationships are important to your career. You don’t want to burn your network.”

Most important, be prepared to back off quickly the second trouble brews. In the CareerBuilder survey, 7% of workers who dated a colleague reported having to leave their jobs because their office romance soured.

Have a workplace etiquette question? Send it to careers@moneymail.com.

MONEY Careers

What Microsofties Can Do to Prep for the Coming 18,000 Layoffs

Satya Nadella, chief executive officer at Microsoft Corp
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella hinted at the cuts last week in his 3,000-word email to employees. David Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Redmond, Wa. tech giant announced that it will be cutting more than one out of every 10 employees. Here, Career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine tells workers how to get prepared for the pink slips.

In an email sent to staffers last week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talked about restructuring the company to “streamline” and “simplify.” Those reading between the lines were taking this to mean that layoffs were coming.

Looks like the doomsday predictors were right: The company announced today that it would be cutting 18,000 jobs in the next year as part of a restructuring. In other words, more than one in every 10 employees will get the boot. Those in departments that had overlapping functions at Nokia—which was recently acquired by Microsoft—are said to be most vulnerable, but those in marketing, engineering and software testing may also see pink slips.

No doubt employees there are nervous. But their best move—and yours, if you find yourself in a similar position—is to channel that anxious energy into getting prepared in case you are asked to vacate your office quickly.

What the Microsofties should be doing:

1) Getting familiar with their company’s exit policy. Most companies post their severance policy in the company handbook or on the intranet. The Microsofties should review this so they have an idea of what they are entitled to should the worst come to pass. Looks like execs at least get a pretty nice package, though they’re constrained from working for a competitor for the next 12 months.

2) Protecting their personal data. Of course, client information, project documents, and any other intellectual property belongs to the employer. But many employees blur the lines by using their professional email and/or work phone number for personal bank and credit card accounts, social media profiles, or other non-professional parts of their lives. Microsofties should change over any accounts to their personal email address and phone number so that they don’t disrupt access if that contact information is no longer valid.

3) Collecting contact information from colleagues and supporters. Employees will want to maintain their networks if they leave. So they should make sure they have emails and phone numbers for the people they want to keep in touch with—colleagues, vendors, consultants, direct reports, senior management. They should move this info to their personal Outlook (if continued use of that Microsoft program won’t be too painful for you!) or personal cell phone. You will have to return company equipment if you’re laid off, so don’t leave your contacts behind too.

4) Updating their resumes and online profiles. While their latest projects and accomplishments are still fresh in their minds—and they can refer to supporting documents as needed—the Microsofties should be updating their resumes in (ugh) Word and on LinkedIn. This way, if they’re laid off, they are ready to start their job search immediately. Lucky for them, 70% of managers at tech firms anticipate doing more hiring in the next six months, according to Dice.

5) Continuing to drink the Microsoft Kool-Aid. Remember, just because you hear rumors of layoffs does not mean they will happen soon or affect you. Therefore, the Microsofties should continue to work hard even while they prepare for a worst-case scenario. That means maintaining a positive attitude despite any negative talk in the company spa (yep, that’s a real thing). Maintaining high performance standards even if colleagues decide to give up. Remaining professional so that they position themselves for continued career advancement at the company or elsewhere.

Continued strong performance under tough conditions may be the tipping point that convinces the decision-makers to keep you on. Even if it doesn’t, you ensure a strong reference because you continued to do your job.

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Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart®career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column will appear weekly.

Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:

How to Network in Just 5 Minutes a Day

How Making a Friend in HR Can Help Your Career

10 Easy Ways to Make Yourself More Hireable

Your Career is Your Biggest Asset. 5 Ways to Protect It

MONEY Careers

How to Network Your Way to a New Job in Just 5 Minutes a Day

Businesswomen saying hi in an office
You'll be smiling too, if all this networking pays off. Paul Bradbury—Getty Images/Caiaimage

Career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine offers some easy ways to stay connected with your contacts. No name tags or awkward conversations required.

Does the word “networking” send shivers down your spine? Maybe it would help if I told you that networking doesn’t have to be a big production or a big time drain.

Of course, you want to attend conferences, join professional groups, and have lunches with contacts. Those activities are absolutely worth the investment, but you can do them sparingly.

In between, resolve to network for just five minutes a day. The 10 simple activities below require little preparation, will cost you no money, and can be done during your coffee break. With these ideas, you’ll have no excuse not to network each and every day. And you thought you were no good at networking!

1. Send a birthday greeting. LinkedIn and Facebook both highlight birthdays. Or, you can add your professional contacts’ birthdays as annual events to your Outlook calendar. When you see that it’s someone’s big day, email that person directly with a brief personalized note.

2. Offer congratulations. Social media sites also highlight big moves and wins, including job changes or work anniversaries. You can also use a specialty tool like Newsle, which links to your contact list and lets you know when any of your contacts is cited in the news. When you see good news, send a direct message to congratulate, again personalizing the note.

3. Say thank you. Surely, someone did something nice for you in the past week. Maybe it was a colleague who dug up a report you needed. Maybe it was an old classmate who forwarded an alumni event you would have overlooked. Send a quick email to thank that person: Hi John, thanks again for helping me find that Client X info. I finished the report, and you made my life SO much easier. You’ll probably make that person’s day.

4. Post a career-related article on Facebook. If you’re only using social media to share selfies and personal news, you’re missing an opportunity to remind people what you do professionally—which helps put a bug in your friends’ ears in case they hear of cool opportunities relating to what you do. You don’t need to post your resume to make a professional statement (please don’t, in fact). But you can post an article related to your role or industry, and write a comment that showcases your knowledge. If people aren’t interested, they’ll skim. But if someone is looking for your expertise, they’ll now know to contact you.

5 . Update your social media status. Even if you don’t have an article to recommend, you can post about something you’re working on. It doesn’t have to be detailed, and it doesn’t have to be promotional. An example: Whew! Looking forward to normal working days now that I’ve finished our quarterly revenue analysis.

6. Acknowledge other social media activity. When someone else posts something about what they’re doing—professionally or personally—write back with encouragement, suggestions, or just to acknowledge that it’s nice to hear from them. For example: You popped up on my Facebook feed. It’s been too long since we connected. How are you?

7. Change up your email signature. Your email signature is a passive networking tool: It’s included in your correspondence automatically, and you can use it to include information relating to you and your activities. My email signature rotates every few weeks and includes upcoming events plus titles of my most recent articles (with links).

8. Take a walk around your floor. A strong network is a diverse network. It’s tempting to fall into a rut of hanging out with the same people, typically the people in close proximity to you. Take five minutes to walk to other areas in the office. Say hello and chat with people you don’t regularly see. Then, if you ever have to work on a cross-departmental initiative, you will already have established at least some relationship with your extended colleagues.

9. Ping a random contact Build the habit of picking a contact at random from your phone list or Outlook contacts, and email that person just to say hello. This gets you in the habit of doing some networking each and every day, and it also ensures that you reach out to a wide variety of people, not just the people you naturally think of.

10. Share a recommendation. In the last week, you probably experienced something new—read an article, ate at a just-opened restaurant or tried a new recipe at home. Think of one new thing and of one person you know who might enjoy whatever it is you did. Email that person with the article, restaurant name or recipe, including a short note saying that this new thing made you think of them. They’ll be flattered to pop up front of mind and will appreciate hearing about something new.

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Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column will appear weekly.

Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:

How Making a Friend in HR Can Help Your Career

10 Easy Ways to Make Yourself More Hireable

Your Career is Your Biggest Asset. 5 Ways to Protect It

 

MONEY Careers

4 Reasons the Kardashian Moms Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Working (and Neither Should You)

Kim Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian and Kourtney Kardashian
Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney Kardashian aren't your average working moms. Or are they? Omar Vega—Invision/AP

Even the Sisters K say leaving the kids behind to earn a living can be tough. Cheer up, Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney. Research finds there's an upside to balancing mommy duties with office demands.

Who knew I had something in common with the Kardashians? Surprise, surprise: The incredibly rich are not immune to working-mommy guilt.

While promoting their new kids’ clothing line on CNBC’s Closing Bell yesterday, Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney were asked to respond to the recent comments by PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi that women can’t have it all.

Whether or not you believe that what The Sisters K do actually counts as work—it certainly pays better than my job as an editor here at Money—their comments echo some of what I have heard from my fellow employed moms of the real world.

“There are so many times I just didn’t want to get up and work on something, I just wanted to be at home with my baby,” Kim said.

“I used to feel so guilty every time I left,” added Kourtney, who’s preggers with her third kid.

I guess this is proof that every working mom has had regret about leaving their child with a caregiver at some point or another. (Though if I had three, I would probably feel elated about going to work, not guilty.) But for those of us who are the family breadwinners and those of us who simply love our careers, we know we have to power through.

One way to beat back the guilt is to focus on the upside. And the good news is that there is a lot of research showing the benefits of being a mom who works (and this is not to vilify those who stay at home, who have the tougher job by my estimation). Remembering these four things helps me get through the tough mornings when my toddler breaks down in tears when I leave:

1. Working moms are healthier. A 2011 study from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro found that moms who work rate themselves in better health overall—more likely to say they feel “excellent”—than those who stay at home with their kids. This was confirmed by a 2012 paper from the University of Akron that looked at full-time working moms at age 40 who went back to work early on after having their children. These mamas reported higher levels of energy and mobility. I have to wonder, though, if either of these studies took into consideration what my husband and I have termed “daycare disease”—the family cold we pass between us from October to April.

2. Working moms are happier. Both the North Carolina and University of Akron studies showed that working moms exhibited fewer signs of depression than SAHMs. “Work is good for your health, both mentally and physically,” said Adrianne Frech, the lead researcher on the Akron study by way of explanation. “It gives women a sense of purpose, self-efficacy, control, and autonomy.” Additionally, a Gallup poll from 2012 found that moms who don’t work have higher levels of worry, depression, sadness, anger, and stress than those who do—which may speak to just how much harder that job really is.

But you don’t need a study to tell you that you’ll actually be happier if you’re doing something you like. I mean, just take it from an expert like Kim Kardashian: “You know, for me, and I think I can speak for my sisters, it makes us feel good when we are out working and we can provide something for our friends and products that, you know, we can’t find that we really want. And it just makes you feel productive.” Of course, a lot of this depends on being in the right job.

3. Your kids will not suffer for it. In a recent Pew study, 60% of Americans said children are better off when a parent stays home to focus on the family, but there’s a lot of data showing the opposite. Kids of working moms turn out okay—and possibly better depending on what research you’re looking at.

A 2010 review from the APA’s peer-reviewed Psychological Bulletin looked back at 50 years worth of studies on the children of working parents and found that those whose moms went back to work before the child turned three weren’t any more likely to exhibit behavioral or academic problems than those of moms who stayed at home. Among lower-income families, the kids actually did better on academic metrics. “Overall, I think this shows women who go back to work soon after they have their children should not be too concerned about the effects their employment has on their children’s long-term well-being,” said the study’s lead author, psychologist Rachel Lucas-Thompson.

Other recent research has shown similar results, including a 2014 study out of Boston College which found that kids of middle-class working moms are as well prepared for kindergarten as childen of moms who don’t work, and children of lower-income working moms are better prepared.

4. Your kids will still love you. For her 1999 book Ask the Children, Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, interviewed 1,000 kids ages 8 to 18 and found that a mom’s work status wasn’t a factor in how the children assessed their parents. In fact, the relationship between the parent and child was more important than whether or not mommy went to a job.

Me, I’m reminded of this every day at around 6 p.m. While it’s awful to leave my kid in the morning—well, some mornings anyway—there’s nothing like the giant hug and sloppy kiss that’s waiting for me when I get home.

MONEY College

$240,000 Isn’t Enough?! Why Liberal Arts Majors Are Paying Extra to Learn Job Skills

Employers want graduates who are better prepped for the work world, but colleges have been slow to respond.

Ben Wei was already paying hefty tuition to earn a sociology degree from Bowdoin College, which charged nearly $57,000 at the time. But he worried his classes weren’t teaching him skills he needed in the workplace. So he gave up the winter break of his senior year to take a three-week boot camp designed to teach him how to work a full-time job.

The $3,000 course, offered by a company called Fullbridge, covered problem-solving, collaboration and communication—the kinds of skills employers say they want but aren’t getting from college grads.

“You can sit in a room and learn economic theory from a professor or a textbook, but at the end of the day, it’s still just theory,” said Wei, who now works as a data analyst. “They don’t really teach you how to apply that theory.”

More and more programs like Fullbridge are being started up to help students master career skills before starting their first jobs, and most cost students thousands of dollars on top of the already high price of their higher educations.

That, for some critics, raises the question: Why aren’t students learning these skills in college?

Colleges often don’t emphasize job training

“These institutions are notoriously hard to change,” said Steve Farkas, a senior researcher at the nonpartisan organization Public Agenda who authored a study of business leaders’ attitudes toward higher education. “They’re not responsive to real-world concerns, and they are very protective of the standard operating procedures.”

A few schools have started offering programs to fill the gap. Northeastern, Mount Holyoke and the University of Central Florida are among the schools that have so-called “experiential learning” options under which students get to work with employers in their chosen fields before graduation.

But these programs are still more the exception than the rule, said Farkas.

Matt Tower, a student at Amherst College who spent his winter break 93 miles away at a Fullbridge seminar, said the experience was unlike anything he could have gotten on campus—even though Amherst has an economics program and some business-oriented clubs.

“We’re very strictly a liberal arts college,” Tower said. “There are very few options at Amherst if you want to prepare for a career in business.”

Ursula Olender, director of the Amherst career center, said the school is in the process of setting up a program like Fullbridge’s on campus to help its students develop “the hard and soft skills that are not offered in great depth in a traditional liberal arts setting.” The price has not been determined, but “no qualified Amherst student who cannot pay will be denied the opportunity to participate,” she said.

Bowdoin spokesman Doug Cook said that college does offer students other chances “to deepen their understanding of issues surrounding business and personal finance.” The school’s president himself, Barry Mills, headlined a series of lectures called “A Crash Course on Practical Skills,” which also featured instructors from Fullbridge, and Bowdoin also offers a leadership development program and forums organized by its Finance Society and Women in Business club.

While schools such as these are working to shift some emphasis toward the practical, advocates for the liberal arts say focusing too narrowly on business skills produces students who can make presentations and read spreadsheets but can’t think broadly enough to know why the information they’re working with is important, or how to use it.

“What we don’t want are universities to think they should become centers for vocational activities,” said William “Brit” Kirwan, outgoing chancellor of the University System of Maryland. “If you just train people to take their first job, they won’t have the knowledge and skills and adaptability that they’ll need later on in their career.”

Employers are demanding more skilled grads

On the other side of the coin, employers seem to be unimpressed with the job colleges are doing to prepare their graduates. Nearly 90% of 500 executives surveyed said college graduates lack the most important skills they need to succeed, according to a Northeastern University report released in April.

“There is a communication breakdown between colleges and employers,” said Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester College, a small liberal arts school in St. Paul, Minnesota. “Colleges and universities haven’t done enough listening to what employers need, and employers need to talk more about their requirements.”

To meet the demands of a globalized economy, universities and colleges have to give students hands-on business experience so they can learn to apply their academic skills, said Jason Tyszko, senior director of education and workforce policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

“Soft skills are missing across the board, regardless of what industry you look at,” Tyszko said. “We need to make sure that the rigorous standards of the higher education system are better aligned with the needs of businesses.”

Outside companies step in to fill the gap

Colleges’ slow response to the demands of employers has provided an opening for companies like Fullbridge, which holds workshops in cities including New York and San Francisco at a cost of up to $8,500 per student. Some schools, including Bowdoin, invite Fullbridge onto their campuses and help foot the bill for them.

Fullbridge is hardly the only—or even most expensive—organization that seeks to fill the gap between what colleges are teaching and what employers say they need. The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth offers a similar month-long program in the summers for $10,000, and is expanding it to December. Harvard Business School just started a $1,500 online course to teach undergraduates elsewhere “the fundamentals of business thinking.”

Thirteen universities, including Brown, Georgetown, and the University of Southern California, have teamed up with a Seattle-based startup called Koru, which gives students the opportunity to work on real-world problems for businesses such as REI while working under executive coaches. The price: $2,750, though the participating schools often subsidize the cost.

Additionally, a company called General Assembly has a 10-week course in business fundamentals and tactics for $3,900 that covers everything from financial modeling to team management and is touted as a condensed version of business school.

Internships are another way to learn some of these skills—for free or better yet, while being paid. But often those experiences are more about getting coffee than career development, said Dyanne Rousseau, a recruiting coordinator at Mount Holyoke. Plus, in some fields, internships have become extended job interviews, at the end of which most students walk away with post-grad job offers. Students now have to be prepared in advance to compete for those opportunities, she says.

So for now at least, students like Ben Wei may find themselves having to pay extra to help fill the gap between the theoretical education their liberal arts college provides and the vocational training their future employers will demand.

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This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

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