7 things you don’t want to skimp on

You don’t always want to save as much as you possibly can on everything.  I can think of at least a few examples where spending the least amount possible is not always a great idea:

Education.

I am a huge proponent of public education for two reasons:  1, the involvement with your community, both for parent and child, is going to happen somewhere – there is no sense in insulating yourselves from it; 2, you’ve already paid for it (through taxes).  That having been said, education – particularly college – is not a good candidate for finding the cheapest option simply because it’s cheapest.  That might seem to contradict some of my earlier pieces.  But I don’t think it really does – I simply think that far too many people choose the most expensive college just because it’s the most expensive, and that’s wrong, too.  At every level you need to find options that are good for you and that really address your goals.

Health care.

This one is tough.  Of course you don’t want to overspend, but I can tell you that when you are seriously ill, most – not all, most – thoughts about money go right out the window.  Of course in the case of lingering illnesses, such as happened in my family this summer, you still have to worry about the person’s family’s future – will the cost of health care be too much to allow them to keep a house, for example?  And it’s a sad state in this country that we have to worry about the cost of wellcare.  But in general, when you are really sick or injured, you don’t stop the hospital from doing procedure X because it costs too much.  The hospital or insurance company may stop it, though.

Cars and related expenses.

When you read people suggesting ways to save money on cars, I always think “this is a metal box that you get in and drive around in at 60 miles per hour – do you really want the cheapest car you can get?”  I want the safest car, with reasonable mileage that keeps it from being an outright assault on the environment.  I’ll pay a bit extra for the good tires, even though I could get reconditioned ones cheaper.  Then again, I still drive a 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix.

Insurance.

If you live in a flood zone, you can save some money by skimping on the flood insurance.  When the flood comes, though, if your insurance isn’t enough to rebuild your place or buy a new one, why did you bother?  What was the point of saving that money if you can’t use the insurance when you need it?  Make sure you’re insured against financial catastrophe.  Life insurance is important.  Having a $100 deductible on your auto isn’t.

Babyproofing equipment.

I think the choice here is clear.  If you want to skimp on gates at the top of the stairs for your child, then I don’t think you have your priorities straight.

Food.

This one may be a little more contentious, but I think trying to save money on certain types of food is ridiculous.  If you eat meat, try this experiment.  Go buy some heavily processed, dyed, factory-farm raised chicken, and buy some organic free range chicken.  Prepare them both the same way, but don’t overdo the breading, herbs, spices, whatever – keep it simple.  Try both of them.  Tell me which one was a better use of money.  If you aren’t a meat eater, try buying organic, locally produced tomatoes and then buy a Mexican imported tomato from the supermarket.  In both cases, the more expensive option is likely to taste far better, therefore it satisfies you better meaning you’ll eat less, enjoy it more and be less tempted to let it sit in the fridge until it goes bad.  It’s probably healthier, too, but I won’t even use that argument.

This one is the tough one – making money.

If you are starting a business or investing, you don’t necessarily want the cheapest possible option.  Undeveloped property 80 feet from the road with no plumbing or electricity in Montana might be cheap, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good investment.  If you are starting up a restaurant, you don’t want to serve the cheapest possible food.

I guess the purpose of these examples is to show that sometimes the mania for frugality and savings isn’t always the best idea.  Saving money can’t always be solely about retiring or financial freedom.  Between now and then there is a life to be lived, and lived safely and comfortably.

happiness and links

I have a bit of cognitive dissonance when I hear that it’s still snowing in parts of these Americas.  We’re already knee-deep in summer here, walking in shorts and t-shirts outside all the time.  I know that climate isn’t the sole factor of happiness, but it does help greatly, in my opinion.  On a related note, I’ve just finished reading The Happiness Project and it’s given me some good ideas on how to force happiness, rather than hoping it will come around.  As someone who’s writing about the moody side of life – hence the name brip blap – I’d recommend this book as something that might be useful.

 

Links!

why everyone should want to be wealthy

I wanna hold your hand

There are a million books written on the subject of money-making – at least. Most people, if they are sensible, want to acquire wealth.  Wealth is freeing.  Wealth gives you options.  Even if you don’t want material goods for yourself or for your family, you could acquire wealth to benefit a charity or a cause.  If you don’t want to acquire wealth, you may be perfectly happy and content with your lot, but you’re probably not a typical person.  So be it.

I’ve often thought that one of the true benefits of being wealthy would not be just the ability to buy what I want, when I want it, but also to be charitable. I’ve struggled with charity throughout my life; I have given generously to some causes and withheld money for selfish reasons at other times.  One of the advantages to being wealthy – to me, at least – would be the ability to give without any concern for amounts or timing.

So I think about wealth as a means not to buy the latest ‘thing’, but as something to improve lives. Mine, sure.  My family’s, of course.  My extended family’s, yep.  Friends, my neighborhood, uh-huh.  Even charities that benefit people who will barely register the fact that I helped.  Why not?  I won’t pretend that my first goal isn’t to make life as good as possible for me and mine, but I have hopes that someday I’ll be able to make a real impact on others – not just $25 a year to a charity’s administrative overhead spending.

Many people disparage the pursuit of the wealth as self-centered. “Greedy.”  “Materialistic.”  That may be.  But if you become truly wealthy, don’t you have a far greater ability to help those in need?  Shouldn’t every person who seeks to help others make their life’s pursuit the attainment of wealth?

How much wealth is necessary, or appropriate, or required is of course open for debate. I’ve often thought that no amount could be “too much.”  I can think of an almost endless list of charities I could give to after I’ve provided for myself and my family.  I would never think of getting rich as having been selfish; if you turn that wealth back around to the world at large, you could be far more effective than the preachiest poor guy on the planet.

I would never claim that I want money first for the benefit of others. I selfishly want to provide for my family (and myself) first, and others second.  But I would like to be wealthy; I would like to have the ability to give freely to worth causes.   Wealth is not just the route to the latest video game; it can also be the route to helping people who truly need that help.
photo credit: batega

the free versus the paid web, and links

I usually feel that I need to apologize when I post a roundup without an extensive analysis of each one of the posts I put up, but this is one such week.  A hectic schedule surrounds my son’s birthday and, coincidentally, the birthday of a classmate, making this a hectic week.  Add some chores and errands and an actual day job and whew, time flies.

I will make one passing comment/question:  who besides me thinks that the New York Times’ plan to charge $15 a month for online access is doomed to semi-failure?  By semi-failure, I mean that I think they’ll make enough to survive a bit longer but they’ll certainly remove themselves from the wider set of online eyeballs.  I hate the idea.  If I have to start paying $15 per month per website the number of websites I visit is going to drop to 1 or 2 if not none. 

The free vs. paid debate will rage on for a while, I suspect, but as long as I have 10,000 potential news sources using advertising to keep themselves free, it’s hard to see how I’ll be persuaded to use that one that does charge.  Will they be reporting on the news that much better?  Hm.

On to the big list of links:

10 tips to avoid money worries

Man of concern


With joblessness still high, prices going up and a constant bombardment of bad news, everyone is worried about one thing:  money.
You don’t need money to be happy, but having money and watching it disappear doesn’t help your mood one bit.

I am a worrier. I have found that there are a few simple things that allow me to sleep a lot easier at night, though.  Most of them are simple, and none of them require a tremendous amount of work – just a change in attitude or habits.

1.  Set up an emergency fund.

Everyone should have an emergency fund.  Even if you don’t think you need one, make sure you have at least a month or two of cash on hand at the bank.  I recommend using HSBC or ING high-yield savings accounts for an emergency fund, because it takes a couple of days to withdraw money from each.  Having money that’s easy to get to – but not TOO easy – will relieve a lot of short term stress.  Don’t have an emergency fund?  Even if you can only add another $10 to your fund, do it.

2.  Consolidate your financial information in one place.

With free services like Mint.com and others all over the internet these days you can easily set up an account that gives you a quick “snapshot” of your financial health without logging in to 15 different sites.  My bank uses Yodlee, which pulls in everything from my home’s value in Zillow to my retirement accounts to my credit cards.  I don’t worry too much about net worth, but it’s still nice to be able to see it when I want to see it.

3.  Pay down your debt.

I’ve seen a lot of complicated ways to go about this, but Robert Kiyosaki (of all people) has the best tip I’ve seen (and yes, it’s better than Dave Ramsey’s).  If you have consumer debt, pick out an amount you can afford each month and apply it to your highest-rate debt (not your largest debt – the one with the highest interest rate) using some sort of autopay if you have it.  Repeat every month until it’s gone, but this way you can forget about it and focus on your career or your business.

4.  Put as many bills on autopay as possible.

Almost every bank has an online presence now.  Mine lets you “pull” your credit card information straight into your bank account, so you can see all the bills lined up in one place.  Paying them can be as easy as setting the autopay up to be a certain amount each month – and then forgetting about it!  If you’re still writing checks and mailing them in, you’re creating a lot of worry that you don’t need!

5.  Consolidate your accounts.

I wrote a guest post about this a long time ago, but it’s still true.  I used to have a dozen credit cards, checking accounts at multiple banks and IRAs and other investment accounts scattered everywhere.  Don’t use an account more than once a month?  Consolidate!  Most banks and brokerages will be happy to help you consolidate your accounts, so pick the ones that offer the most benefits to you and get started consolidating.

6.  Clean up your insurance.

I had rental car insurance built into my auto insurance for a couple of years after I bought a second car.  The chance I would need insurance for a rental was minimal.  Money down the drain!  Review your insurance policies and make sure you aren’t paying for things you don’t need.

7.  Stop checking your retirement plan information.

If you have a reasonable plan set up, and you’re confident about the long-term prospects of your plan then there’s no reason – none at all – to check the value of your retirement plan more than 3-4 times per year.  The money in an IRA or 401(k) is meant to be used when you’ll be in your 60s or later.

8.  Set up targeted accounts.

Even though I advocated consolidating accounts above, having separate-purpose or targeted “sub-accounts” within a single account can be helpful.  Many of the high-yield savings accounts are good for this purpose.  For example, we have a separate “vacation account” that we put a small amount into each month, simply so we can forget about that money.

9.  Overwithhold on taxes.

This strategy’s been debated for years – is it better to give the government a loan or not have the shock of an additional payment at the end of the year?  Good tax planning can probably get you closer to zero, but overwithholding a bit can help you avoid nasty surprises.

10.  Consider alternatives, but after considering – forget.

Study alternatives, investigate, consider, but then decide and once you’ve decided, forget about the alternatives you didn’t choose.  Once you’ve chosen one path, sitting around worrying about what might have been is pointless and unproductive.  Don’t fight yesterday’s battles – move forward to the next challenge!

photo credit: Lisa Brewster

seafood, new experiences and a link roundup

We had a local seafood festival this weekend. One of the highlights was a bluegrass group.  My daughter and I went, and we were delighted by the bluegrass group, despite the fact that I could care less about bluegrass and she – being two – had probably never heard bluegrass before.  We danced to family-friendly songs like “Got No Drinkin’ Money” or whatever and had a good time.  It’s a reminder that you have to expose yourself to new experiences no matter what.  I hate to do it sometimes.  It’s hard to try new things.  But I’m reminded on days like today, when my daughter ate fish, danced to bluegrass, and had fun doing something different, that doing something different is – at the end of all things – all we have to look forward to.

Bank of America Stock Dividend to Increase:  Nice!

Do You Have A Proper Will? Lessons From Stieg Larsson’s Estate Battle:  Stieg’s estate battle is horrific – stay away from this situation.

5 Free iTunes from American Express:  Get those Apple Tunes!

10 Ways to Waste Money on Gas:  I hate $4 gas, but it looks like it’s coming – do what you can.

Painting a Room – DIY or Hire a Professional? | :  Do it yourself.  Having done both I’d recommend doing it yourself.  Much more work but you’ll save a LOT of money.

This is Why You Can’t Make Money in the Stock Market:   The system’s against you, that’s why…

Why We Crave More Stuff:   Humans have a weakness.  I have it, we all do.  The challenge is to overcome it.

Life is Not Measured by How Much You Own:  In America, it is.

» How To Make More Money :  Do the unexpected.  Start a blog, start a business.  Unless you’re an incredibly focused and angry person, you’re never going to ascend to the top of the corporate ladder; you’ll have to develop side incomes.

Freedom is just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose:  Freedom means being ABLE to lose.

Is America Destined for Major Tax Hikes?:  Nope.  Neither political party has the backbone to admit a major tax hike would solve most of our (short-term) problems.

Why I Moderate:  Me too.  I don’t need non-constructive comments.

don’t be milton

milton

Does this describe your dream job? Boring work, a long commute to an uninteresting box building located in a bland office park, pay that’s not competitive, poor benefits, long hours and uncomfortable, privacy-obliterating cubicles.  Sounds awful, doesn’t it?  Piling on further, though, let’s throw in a few broken promises for promotions and raises.  Top it all off with a boss who dislikes you.  He doesn’t invite you in his office, he doesn’t ask you to meetings and routinely complains about your work to you and your co-workers.  I can’t imagine a scenario that would be much more dehumanizing, but what’s truly depressing about it is how so many people endure this office-of-horrors for weeks, months or years without trying to change it.

I’m not talking about leaving corporate life for a blissful career as a social media guru or cheerful organic tomato farmer. I’m not talking about stalking through the cube farm with an AK as a solution, either.  I see people lower their heads and return glumly to work after being dismissed, humiliated and almost broken every day.  I tend to get a lot of miserable employees complaining to me about their situations (since I’m not an employee – I’m a consultant – I’m “safe” to talk to).  When the picture gets as grim as described above, the conversation almost always plays out like one of those dream sequences in which you watch the monster running towards you, but your feet remain planted in concrete – something terrible is coming, but it’s inescapable:

Droopy: “I hate my job, I hate everything about it.”
Me: “Too bad.  You can’t transfer or anything like that?”
Droopy:  “No, I’d need help from my boss.”
Me: “Well, life is short and it’s not worth putting up with a situation like this forever.  Maybe you should think about quitting.”
Droopy: “No!  The economy is terrible!  Plus I have a mortgage/2.3 kids/credit card debt/a new car payment/etc.”
Me: “Yeah, but since you’ve been looking for a new job for a while, you’re bound to have some leads…”
Droopy: “I’ve been MEANING to start looking, but I’m just so busy – plus it’s hard to interview, my resume is outdated, I have this big project here…”
Me: “You hate your job, your boss hates you, you have no future and in all likelihood you’ll be the first head on a platter when the layoffs come… and you aren’t actively looking for a new job?”
Droopy: “But nobody’s hiring!”
Me: “Nobody’s breaking into your home at night while you’re watching American Idol and offering you a job, if that’s what you mean.”

Why is it that people wait for a good time to look for new work? Why, if you were in a terrible job like the one I’ve described above, would you worry about how “difficult” it might be to sneak away for an interview?  Why would you give a second’s thought to trying to stick it out?

I suppose an optimistic person might hope for their boss to quit and Sandra Bullock to swoop in and become the chirpy, best-buddy boss in a romantic comedy.
Yep.  That happens almost everyday, according to the movies.  When I see employees stuck in a dead end job, I feel badly.  I try to help by offering advice or encouragement.  When I see the same employee sit on their hands month after month without looking for a new job – but talking on the phone about last night’s episode of CSI – I want to knock the stupid out of them.

If you aren’t keeping a What-I-Done-Did file, start now
.  Update your resume.  Sign up for LinkedIn.  Get on Twitter (and yes, I’m getting as tired as everyone else of Twitter but hey, if you can’t beat ’em…).  And most importantly, start looking!  One of the worst feelings you can have related to your career is a sense of powerlessness – a lack of choice.  If nothing else, a job search gives you back a tiny bit of control and forcefeeds a drop of hope into your system.

We all know Milton from Office Space. We all laughed at him, but sit back and look in the mirror.  If you skip washing your hair for a few days, dress like a doofus and mumble a bit, could you fit the part?  If so, go grab that red stapler and flee for the hills as soon as you can.

is it better to be busy or have nothing to do?

Being busy or taking it easy at work. It’s a tough choice sometimes. I know that many people think it would be easier to sit in one place all day and do nothing. But it’s not. Another question is whether it would be better to be busy in short spurts, or better to be busy almost all the time. I’ve had my experience doing both as a consultant, and the answer is clear to me.

There’s nothing worse than having nothing to do. Nothing. I didn’t think that when I was younger, but doing anything was always better than having a full day with nothing to do.  Doing nothing all day isn’t fun, even if you are still getting paid for it. I have learned, through sad experience, doing nothing – no matter what the pay – is not worth it. Much of a professional life is made up of boredom and ennui. In fact, the main goal, at least in my opinion, of a professional life is to avoid such boredom and ennui.

If you are busy at your job count yourself lucky. If you are busy at your job, and enjoy your job, then count yourself doubly lucky. It’s everything to both enjoy your job and be busy doing it. Most Americans are one, or the other…or neither. The worst, of course, is to be neither busy nor to enjoy your job. This is, sadly, the fate of most corporate workers.

I’m lucky. I’ve done enough consulting work that I am able to select the types of projects that I want to do. Not everyone is like this. Many people have to accept jobs that either do not engage them, or do not keep them busy enough. I was like this earlier in my career, of course. But now I value this ability to stay busy more than almost any other aspect of a job. If the client can keep me busy for the better part of the day, I can absorb myself in my work and do a good job. But if a client tells me, well, we’ll have something to do for you next week, but for now just wait – well, it’s hard to stay motivated, and in fact I’ll likely end up reading the newspaper.  And since hippies don’t like the news, I don’t want to end up doing that, either.

I know it’s popular in blogger circles to talk about finding your passion. I know it’s a good idea, and I have like to think I can do the same. But the simple truth is that sometimes busyness can substitute for passion. Sometimes simply staying busy for the best part of the work day can be an adequate substitute for enjoying what you do. Of course if you’re making widgets, and you have to spend eight hours a day twisting a widget head on to a widget body, it’s not fun. But if you have a job that is marginally satisfying, and you can work hard at it all day long, that job is probably more satisfying than the more interesting job which does not keep you busy.

It’s counterintuitive … I know. You’d like to think that you need passion to continue working with fervor. But you don’t. Often, it’s enough to simply be working hard at something you tolerate. I can’t say that I love my client work. But when they keep me busy, it’s enough. The work’s moderately interesting, and frankly I don’t have enough time to sit around and think about what I’d rather be doing. Maybe I’d rather be building sand castles, or working on the next Great American novel, but the simple fact is I’m doing a good job and staying focused on the task and… getting paid.

So tried thinking about that the next time that you are looking for a new job. Focus on jobs that allow you to stay busy. Obviously, you should focus on jobs that utilize your skills and your abilities to the best possible advantage. But past that, you also need to find a job that allows you to stay busy. Trust me, in the long run you will be much happier.

365 days and a roundup

I’ve survived another year, apparently – had a birthday on Friday that came and went with little fanfare, but still represented another year in the life of moi.  It’s amazing looking at my kids – who look upon birthdays as a high holy day when they, for one brief moment, will be the uncontested center of attention – versus me, who could at this age give less of a hoot.  I honestly don’t care.  What a difference time makes.  And age makes.

It’s probably better to take the childish approach and look at each year as an awesome opportunity for new adventures.

On to the links, which I neglected last week:

One24 Scam:  All of these scams are ridiculous… yet people still keep flocking to them.

TradeKing Review: $4.95 Trades and Bonuses:  One of these days I’m going to try TradeKing…. my broker charges significantly higher fees, but I’ve stuck with them because (a) I’m lazy and (b) I don’t trade that much.  But still, it’s a tought.

12 Best Money-Saving Apps for Droid and iPhone:  I have a Blackberry… so I hope these will eventually make their way to the most popular smart phone in America….

And Yet Another Example: Exactly.

Income Splitting and Permanent Life Insurance:  Somewhat Canadian-specific, but an interesting approach to income.

Why an Online Masters Degree?:  I think online education is awesome.  Much like much of my work, there’s no reason 90% of your education can’t be delivered online.  I work at a client right now who shares space in the high-rise with the University of Phoenix, and it seems to me that this is the future of education – online daily lessons, with occasional visits to “the campus” for tests and events.

What Should Your Financial Pie Chart Look Like?:  Heavy on the cash, low on the debt.

Google Content Farm Update: The Aftermath:  I haven’t been affected by this, much – my lack of success with search engine optimization is paying off!

We Did It! How We Become Millionaire:  Awesome.  Always good news to hear a success story like this.  Way to go, Sun.

Start Multiple Streams of Income or Side Hustle Today:  And why not?  If you have one source of income, you are 100% at risk for income.  That seems crazy to me.

My Smart Phone is Not So Smart:  I bent to the same logic – you can be proud of an old phone for just so long, before you realize you’re leaving a huge number of improvements on the table.  But I’m always amazed how the debate is Apple vs. Android when Blackberry is still the most widely used smartphone.  I love my Blackberry.  It’s the lack of apps that will kill it, but the device itself is far, far easier to use than any Apple/Android I’ve seen.

What To Do If You Can’t Find Your Dream Jobs:  This is what it’s come to:  you WILL have to MAKE your job.  Not just get hired into it – you will have to MAKE your dream job.

Trent does a good review of  Early Retirement Extreme and also has a good – mild – rant about “I Don’t Want to Be Your Client. I Don’t Want to Be Your Lender. I Want to Be Your Friend” – I agree.  I don’t want my banker/real estate agent/grocer/etc. to be my “friend.”  I want to have a nice, pleasant, collegiate relationship with them … but friendship?  Not really.

does voice recognition software work?

Dragon Naturally Speaking

This is a test. I’m seeing if it’s going to be possible to write posts using voice dictation software… without extensive revisions. I think it’s probably possible; the technology is much better since I last tried use it several years ago.  So does voice recognition software work?

I was given the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Home, Version 11 as a birthday gift recently. I had tried using voice-recognition software a few years ago, but the results were – well, to put it sympathetically, unsatisfactory. But the positive reviews I read of the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Home, Version 11 software made me think I would like to try it again and my parents graciously got it for me as a birthday gift.

Dragon Naturally SpeakingAfter using it for only 30 min., I’ve been able to dictate and prepare this post without touching the keyboard (although I made a few minor edits – mostly for style – afterwards). It’s an interesting experience. I’m quite used to typing but then again, I get sick of doing it because I work on a computer all day long at clients. In so using voice-recognition software seemed like a natural way to do some of my writing work without actually having to do any writing… Using the keyboard.

As you can see, the dictation is somewhat hit and miss. It’s obviously not producing perfect English, but it is producing something that you can read well enough to understand. I imagine that as I use it more it will probably become more and more accurate, and as I also learn how to control my own dictation (which, in all fairness, still retains a slight Southern accent and may therefore not be ideal for voice recognition software) space I hope will further improve.

So look forward to new posts written – well, spoken – with my new voice recognition software. If you see the occasional glitch in my work, well, it’s just voice-recognition software, not me. I never, ever make mistakes! But then again it took me much less time to compose this post than it typically takes me to type one. It may just be that I’m a verbal person and therefore it’s easier to think while speaking than it is to think while typing. It’s an interesting question, and one that I probably should think about a little bit more. But at least for now this is a fun way to compose a post. So at least so far you can see from the results of my efforts, the voice-recognition software works adequately and certainly can substitute for typing. If you’ve ever wanted to play with the voice-recognition software package, I can – so far – highly recommend Dragon NaturallySpeaking Home, Version 11 1 for ease-of-use, ease of set up, and simple wow factor.

making overseas experience count

Erevan city street

(A reposting of what is – in my opinion, at least – an interesting post from 2007, including the original comments)

A reader asked me an interesting question a while back:  “I lived for 2 years in northern Peru as a missionary. Although this wasn’t with a corporation, I still gained tremendous experience and now speak Spanish fluently. How can I make this overseas experience look valuable to future employers?” As I mentioned once in 8 steps to a six-figure career, I think an ‘weird’ assignment like an overseas posting for your company is a great career move. However, just because you spent time overseas in a non-business role doesn’t mean you have to gloss over it on your resume. These can still be powerful resume-boosters if you present them in the right way.

  1. First of all, don’t sell YOURSELF short. Many people in the business world will be convinced that analyzing a spreadsheet is “better business experience” than leading a team of people building a house. They are wrong. When you come across people like this, don’t let them discourage you. Managing a team is managing a team. Analyzing problems and developing solutions are the same skills whether you’re talking about building a house OR building a brand.
  2. Keep “on message”. If your missionary work involved building homes for poor people or organizing a new congregation or similar types of projects, make sure you sell the activity, not the description. What does that mean? Say “organized and led a team of 18 in repairing structural damage to an 1800 square foot building” instead of “helped rebuild a church.” Stay specific. Even people who are IN business make this mistake: telling someone you “participated in a project to reengineer a corporate reporting process” is not as impressive as saying “saved the company $2.3 million per year by making 13 reports paperless.” Participating in big projects may sound grand, but leading a small project with definite, measurable results is far more impressive.
  3. Write it down. Related to the point above, write down everything you did while you were overseas. Try to write a bullet point list, and keep descriptions down to one or two lines per activity. Imagine you are writing instructions to your successor: relay basic information and bare details. Don’t add any extra information. This list is important because it allows you to focus on what looks impressive on paper. Your first, best and often only chance to impress is in a resume; don’t assume that the stories you can tell in an interview will translate well to paper.
  4. Use the experience to show you are independent and a risk-taker. In the reader’s example, northern Peru missionary work is something most people would be afraid to do. Go ahead and play up the independent/risky aspect of it. They don’t need to hear about how the trip had been undertaken by 15 missionaries before you – they need to hear how you spent 3 days in a small village with no phones and nobody who spoke English. Emphasize how risk affected your work.
  5. Language skills, especially Spanish, are staggeringly important – in the right company. They can be pointless in the wrong company. Spanish is often incredibly useful, but I worked with one company that had a minimal presence in the Latin American market and didn’t really care about having Spanish language skills. Identify companies that need Spanish speakers. If the company doesn’t need Spanish speakers, one of your key selling points is worthless, and you should really consider whether it’s worth pursuing work with that company.
  6. Be careful claiming fluency. If you are fluent in a language, say you are fluent. Offer casually to conduct interviews in Spanish or English – hiring managers will be impressed. However, there is a BIG caveat. I can’t tell you how many times I have tripped up people with this question in an interview: if you claim you are fluent in a language, tell me how to say “balance sheet”. Make sure you brush up on common terms. If you’re going to interview with a publishing company, make sure you know how to say “publishing industry” or “royalties.” Don’t assume fluency means native speaker. When I was working in Russia I knew how to say “limited stock share equity” in Russian, but didn’t know the word for “pillow.” The context for fluency can be tricky!

It’s not impossible whatsoever to translate non-business experiences into selling points, but it does require thinking in a different way than you may be used to. Finding a job also requires identifying good opportunities and being realistic. If you think that missionary work is a good first step to being an Oracle database administrator, you’re probably wrong. If you think that management, risk-taking and teamwork are skills that are universally needed, you’re right!