MONEY lifehacks

10 Life Hacks That Will Make You Richer

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Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—Mark Anderson/Corbis (woman); Getty Images (buckle)

These clever shortcuts will help you earn more on the job and cut down on needless costs.

Picking up new skills as an adult can be tricky, especially when your energy and free time is precious. But prowess in different areas is not all created equal. Investing in certain abilities can get you big rewards for relatively little effort.

MONEY interviewed dozens of experts in different fields to find out which skills, tricks, and workarounds are most financially worthwhile. Here are 10 moves you can make without much preparation.

1. Master the meeting

The average pay bump from a promotion is about 7%, though it can be even more once you’re a manager, according to Mercer. But how do you get one?

“The meeting room is where we exert leadership and develop credibility,” says corporate trainer Dana Brownlee of Professionalism Matters. Don’t dominate—nudge the group toward concrete goals. If someone can’t let go of a point, try saying, “Good idea! I’m writing it down.” You’ve now freed a room of grateful co-workers to move on.

2. Lend a hand at work

Research by Adam Grant at the Wharton School has shown that successful people do more favors at work, but don’t be afraid to ask for tiny favors too. We may actually feel more warmly toward people after lending them a hand—our brains figure we must have done so because we like that person. It’s been called the Benjamin Franklin effect: The Founding Father recalled winning over a legislative rival after borrowing a book from him.

“Our attitudes often follow our behavior instead of vice versa,” says David McRaney, who writes about such psychological quirks in his book You Are Now Less Dumb.

3. Learn a language

It’s easier than ever to dip a toe into languages with free tools like Duolingo, a site and app that make learning like a game. If you then want to ramp things up, real-world classes run about $300 for 20 hours of instruction.

Invest your time and money wisely: The payoff is in less commonly studied languages. A Wharton/LECG Europe study found that speaking German translated into a higher wage premium than for second languages overall. Ambitious? There’s a big market for Mandarin.

4. Get techy

Computer-science grads earn $700,000 over the average B.A. holder in a career, but those with English and psych degrees aren’t out of luck: There are ways to use technology smarter—and get recognized for it—at all levels.

For example, if there’s any need to quantify your business’s activity, being the office Excel guru makes you valuable. Two skills to focus on: building charts (great for presentations) and pivot tables (to summarize lots of data). The ExcelIsFun YouTube channel is loaded with lessons.

Want to compete with true techies? Codecademy.com can get you started for free learning code for building websites. Expertise in Ruby on Rails—certification testing is $150—snags an average salary of $110,000, says data crunched by qz.com.

If all this sounds like too much work, at least Google better. Seriously. Say, for example, you need stats about a product’s market share: Use “OR” (in caps) to Google for different words that might capture the same thing (like “percent” and “proportion”). And check the image search results: The data you need may be in a chart someone has posted. Go to Google’s help center for more power tips.

5. Write better

A clear, unfussy writing style will get your ideas heard at work. (HR pros ranked writing second, behind only computer aptitude, among skills applicants most often lacked.) Harvard professor Steven Pinker, author of the new book The Sense of Style, gave us these tips for better writing:

Avoid fancy words you don’t need or understand. “Fulsome” (as in “fulsome praise”) does not mean full; it means insincere. If you use hoity-toity words to sound posh, you will look pompous and may say the opposite of what you mean.

Cut unnecessary words. John Kerry once said, “The President is desirous of trying to see how we can make our efforts in order to find a way to facilitate.” What he meant was, “The President wants to help.” Much better.

Revise. And better still, show it to someone. What’s clear to you may not be clear to someone else.

6. Learn social savvy

If you run a business or work in marketing, social media like Twitter seem like a great way to get your message out. But remember that users have zero interest in following companies that clutter their feed with ads. Use social to establish your expertise or spark ideas; then when people are in the market for what you sell, they’ll remember you.

Hannah Morgan, co-author of Social Networking for Business Success, explains that a good tweet is self-contained and has a discrete piece of information worth sharing. What works well is language like, “Baking cookies? Add eggs one at a time so you can mix in evenly. For more tips check out our Baking 101 guide.” Then add a link.

A less effective tweet is something like, “We’re having a sale on tins of our delicious chocolate chip cookies. $19.99 all day Friday” because it reads like an advertisement and is therefore is unlikely to be shared.

7. Take back your workday

If you get paid a flat salary, turning a 10-hour day into nine more-productive hours is like giving yourself an 11% hourly raise.

Try three key moves from former Fidelity president Bob Pozen, author of Extreme Productivity: First, handle each email just once. Reply, file, or trash—don’t come back to it later.

Second, hide that extra chair; you’ll discourage chatty co-workers from lingering. Finally, you might want to consider timing your breaks, since research shows your brain loses focus on a task after about 90 minutes.

8. Sell yourself

“Ten years ago job seekers would write a full-page cover letter,” says executive résumé writer Wendy Enelow. A better approach now is an email designed to cut through the electronic clutter.

Use the subject line to note your key selling points. Instead of “Director of sales position,” write “Director of Sales—10 Years of Exceeding Sales Quotas—MBA.” In the body of the email, spotlight a major accomplishment. Follow up with three big career wins in bullet points.

9. Learn to DIY

Some jobs always require a professional but, with a little prep, tasks like painting a room or replacing your car’s air filters can be a piece of cake—and save you a solid amount of money. A painting pro, for example, could easily charge $1,600 for a big job, vs. up to $400 in materials on your own.

Rich O’Neil of Masterwork Painting & Restoration in Woburn, Mass., explains that to get professional results you must dust surfaces and tape up edges and moldings you don’t want painted. Painting should go in two types of strokes: First apply a thin layer for coverage. Then paint over it to even and smooth.

You can replace your car’s air filters yourself every 12,000 miles on newer cars. You’ll save about $50 in labor costs, says Mike Forsythe of Haynes, an auto-repair guidebook publisher, and pay 25% less for the filter by getting it at a parts store. To change an engine filter, check the housing in the engine compartment; in most cars there’s a cover you can unlatch with your fingers. You’ll typically find the cabin filter inside the car, behind the glove box.

10. Get organized

Everyone hates paying a late fee just because of a forgotten reminder to pay a bill on time. And few tasks are as irritating as foraging for receipts from months and months ago.

The key to never losing track of important papers is to keep just one bin and make sure to empty your pockets and purse into it every night. Then set a regular date on your calendar to empty the bin and organize the receipts. “If you wait too long, you may not even remember your purchase,” says professional organizer Andrew Mellen.

If you find it hard to even check your calendar on a routine basis, pair a daily check with your morning coffee—or any other routine you already have.

MONEY Career Strategies

Why Your Potential Could Be More Important Than Your Accomplishments

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Jeffrey Coolidge—Getty Images

The surprising downside to achievement

Conventional wisdom is pretty clear on how to get ahead in one’s professional life. Rack up accomplishments, collect accolades, make your résumé as impressive as possible, we’re told, and rewards will follow. That all sounds nice—but it might not be true. In fact, social science suggests, the key to success might actually be to achieve less while promising more.

That’s the conclusion of a study by professors at Harvard and Stanford, who found that people tend to favor potential over demonstrated results. The researchers discovered that references to potential, such as “this person could win an award for their work,” appear to stimulate greater interest than similar references to actual accomplishments (“this person has won an award for their work”). This tendency, the paper states, “creates a phenomenon whereby the potential to be good at something can be preferred over actually being good at that very same thing.”

The professors demonstrated as much in a series of experiments in which test subjects were asked to choose between the proven and the possible. In one case, participants were asked to rate two job candidates: one with two years of experience and demonstrated leadership achievement, and the other with no experience but high leadership potential.

Despite the more experienced candidate having objectively superior credentials, subjects preferred the candidate with potential. They also implicitly predicted this candidate would be a better leader in his fifth year on the job than the more experienced candidate would be in his seventh year.

In another experiment, participants read two letters of recommendation for an applicant to a business Ph.D. program. Both versions were nearly identical, but one stressed possible talent (“Mark K. is a student of great potential”), while the other highlighted accomplishment (“Mark K. is a student of great achievement”). Once again, the subjects preferred the applicant with potential.

Why are people so drawn to the possible, even over proven results? The researchers suggest it’s simply a matter of uncertainty being more interesting than a sure thing. “Our finding is that people find potential to be exciting uncertainty,” says Zakary Tormala, one of the study’s authors and a professor at the Stanford School of Business. That makes a candidate with potential more stimulating than a safer choice, and often leads to a more positive impression.

Workers can use this quirk of psychology to their advantage by emphasizing their future value, in addition to past achievements, when applying for a job or asking for a raise. “One of the places we’ve encouraged people to make this happen is in their reference letters,” says Michael Norton, another of the study’s co-authors and professor at Harvard Business School. References “generally talk about what someone has done,” Norton says. “That’s not a bad thing to do, but it’s very important to also talk about their potential.” It can be particularly important for high achieving employees who might be more inclined to stress their accomplishments over their continued capacity for growth.

However, the professor notes, the allure of potential isn’t unlimited. In the recommendation letter experiment, researchers found that participants stopped favoring potential over success when claims of potential lacked sufficient evidence to back them up. Instead, it’s best to highlight a combination of past accomplishments and future possibilities, so no one suspects you’re hype without substance. “A mix is critical,” Norton explains. “There has to be some demonstrated sense that you’ve achieved things.”

Use it right, and our collective preference for potential can do more than get you a better job. Norton says it could also get you a date. “The classic terrible first date is the man drones on about achievements,” the professor jokes. “But if you talk about what you want to do, even if you’re not going to get there, it can be more exciting.”

TIME Business

The Biggest Mistakes I See on Resumes, and How to Correct Them

Google Senior Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Bock attends The New York Times Next New World Conference on June 12, 2014 in San Francisco, California.
Neilson Barnard—Getty Images Google Senior Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Bock attends The New York Times Next New World Conference on June 12, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

Laszlo Bock is the Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google.

"Read your resume from bottom to top: reversing the normal order helps you focus on each line in isolation"

This Influencer post originally appeared on LinkedIn. Follow Laszlo Bock and insights from other top minds in business on LinkedIn.

I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes over my career, applying for just about every kind of job. I’ve personally reviewed more than 20,000 resumes. And at Google we sometimes get more than 50,000 resumes in a single week.

I have seen A LOT of resumes.

Some are brilliant, most are just ok, many are disasters. The toughest part is that for 15 years, I’ve continued to see the same mistakes made again and again by candidates, any one of which can eliminate them from consideration for a job. What’s most depressing is that I can tell from the resumes that many of these are good, even great, people. But in a fiercely competitive labor market, hiring managers don’t need to compromise on quality. All it takes is one small mistake and a manager will reject an otherwise interesting candidate.

I know this is well-worn ground on LinkedIn, but I’m starting here because — I promise you — more than half of you have at least one of these mistakes on your resume. And I’d much rather see folks win jobs than get passed over.

In the interest of helping more candidates make it past that first resume screen, here are the five biggest mistakes I see on resumes.

Mistake 1: Typos. This one seems obvious, but it happens again and again. A 2013 CareerBuilder survey found that 58% of resumes have typos.

In fact, people who tweak their resumes the most carefully can be especially vulnerable to this kind of error, because they often result from going back again and again to fine tune their resumes just one last time. And in doing so, a subject and verb suddenly don’t match up, or a period is left in the wrong place, or a set of dates gets knocked out of alignment. I see this in MBA resumes all the time. Typos are deadly because employers interpret them as a lack of detail-orientation, as a failure to care about quality. The fix?

Read your resume from bottom to top: reversing the normal order helps you focus on each line in isolation. Or have someone else proofread closely for you.

Mistake 2: Length. A good rule of thumb is one page of resume for every ten years of work experience. Hard to fit it all in, right? But a three or four or ten page resume simply won’t get read closely. As Blaise Pascal wrote, “I would have written you a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” A crisp, focused resume demonstrates an ability to synthesize, prioritize, and convey the most important information about you. Think about it this way: the *sole* purpose of a resume is to get you an interview. That’s it. It’s not to convince a hiring manager to say “yes” to you (that’s what the interview is for) or to tell your life’s story (that’s what a patient spouse is for). Your resume is a tool that gets you to that first interview. Once you’re in the room, the resume doesn’t matter much. So cut back your resume. It’s too long.

Mistake 3: Formatting. Unless you’re applying for a job such as a designer or artist, your focus should be on making your resume clean and legible. At least ten point font. At least half-inch margins. White paper, black ink. Consistent spacing between lines, columns aligned, your name and contact information on every page. If you can, look at it in both Google Docs and Word, and then attach it to an email and open it as a preview. Formatting can get garbled when moving across platforms. Saving it as a PDF is a good way to go.

Mistake 4: Confidential information. I once received a resume from an applicant working at a top-three consulting firm. This firm had a strict confidentiality policy: client names were never to be shared. On the resume, the candidate wrote: “Consulted to a major software company in Redmond, Washington.” Rejected! There’s an inherent conflict between your employer’s needs (keep business secrets confidential) and your needs (show how awesome I am so I can get a better job). So candidates often find ways to honor the letter of their confidentiality agreements but not the spirit. It’s a mistake. While this candidate didn’t mention Microsoft specifically, any reviewer knew that’s what he meant. In a very rough audit, we found that at least 5-10% of resumes reveal confidential information. Which tells me, as an employer, that I should never hire those candidates … unless I want my own trade secrets emailed to my competitors.

The New York Times test is helpful here: if you wouldn’t want to see it on the home page of the NYT with your name attached (or if your boss wouldn’t!), don’t put it on your resume.

Mistake 5: Lies. This breaks my heart. Putting a lie on your resume is never, ever, ever, worth it. Everyone, up to and including CEOs, gets fired for this. (Google “CEO fired for lying on resume” and see.) People lie about their degrees (three credits shy of a college degree is not a degree), GPAs (I’ve seen hundreds of people “accidentally” round their GPAs up, but never have I seen one accidentally rounded down — never), and where they went to school (sorry, but employers don’t view a degree granted online for “life experience” as the same as UCLA or Seton Hall). People lie about how long they were at companies, how big their teams were, and their sales results, always goofing in their favor.

There are three big problems with lying: (1) You can easily get busted. The Internet, reference checks, and people who worked at your company in the past can all reveal your fraud. (2) Lies follow you forever. Fib on your resume and 15 years later get a big promotion and are discovered? Fired. And try explaining that in your next interview. (3) Our Moms taught us better. Seriously.

So this is how to mess up your resume. Don’t do it! Hiring managers are looking for the best people they can find, but the majority of us all but guarantee that we’ll get rejected.

The good news is that — precisely because most resumes have these kinds of mistakes — avoiding them makes you stand out.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

This Is Exactly How to Make Sure Your Resume Gets Seen

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nazdravie—Getty Images

The gatekeepers between you and the job you want are often digital first, human second. Here’s how to approach both

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

By Anne Fisher

Dear Annie: What exactly is an applicant tracking system? I’ve applied for several job openings where my qualifications match the job descriptions for each position precisely, yet I’ve gotten called in for an interview only once (so far). A colleague at my current job told me he read somewhere that computerized applicant tracking systems reject most resumes before a human being even gets involved in the process. Is that true? If it is, how do you get past that and reach an actual person? — Left Hanging in Houston

Dear L.H.H.: An applicant tracking system (ATS), as the name implies, is how many big companies keep track of the hundreds or thousands of resumes that are constantly coming in. Designed to follow each candidate through each stage of the hiring process, from application to start date, the systems usually begin with computer software that “reads” each resume and weeds out the ones that don’t match up with specific job openings.

Unfortunately, that’s usually a lot less efficient than it sounds. That 75% rejection rate your friend cited probably came from a study by a job search services firm called Preptel (which was founded by its CEO Jon Ciampi, an alumnus of ATS maker SumTotal Systems).

The huge number of rejections is due to some, shall we say, quirks in the software that screens resumes before they arrive on a hiring manager’s desk. You could be the perfect prospect for a given job, using all the right keywords, and still be kicked aside by the system because it couldn’t quite make out parts of your resume — like work experience, for instance.

For the rest of the story, please visit Fortune.com.

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