Get That Online Degree

If you’re thinking about going back to college to complete your degree, you’re not alone. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 2.9 million degree-seeking students age 35 and older in 2001. But they’re not all donning their jeans and backpacks to do so. Many are turning to colleges and universities that offer online degrees and finding them more convenient and flexible to match demanding work and personal schedules. With instructor lectures available 24/7, threaded discussion groups that can be joined morning, noon and night, and accessibility from nearly every corner of the world, online degree programs make a lot of sense for a lot of people. Here are some things you should consider if you’re thinking about hitting the books again.
Everyone’s doing it.
There’s an estimated 4 million students doing coursework “at a distance” at U.S. colleges and universities, according to the Distance Education and Training Council. And, nearly every higher learning institution offers some type of distance learning. From Boston University to Penn State’s “World Campus,” these traditional schools recognize that to compete for today’s student they have to be anything but traditional. Though many colleges and universities offering courses online are familiar names, there are a number of newcomers that are winning the attention and tuition dollars of prospective students. Take the University of Phoenix, which was established in 1989 to serve the educational needs of working adults. Of the 130,000 students earning their college degrees at the University of Phoenix, more than 90,000 are doing so through the University’s Online Campus.
Accreditation is critical.
Many online degree programs are accredited by the same organizations that evaluate and provide accreditation to other state and private colleges and universities. For instance, the University of Phoenix is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission and the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, one of six regional accrediting bodies. If you’re looking to obtain a degree from an accredited, readily recognizable institution, you’re in luck. Even “brand-name” universities like DePaul, Tulane and Villanova offer online degree programs. You can find a list of accredited online colleges at http://www.classesusa.com. Or, check the website for the college of your choice to see what type of online programs they offer. Chances are you’ll find any number that offer online courses and even full undergrad and graduate degree programs.
Employers value it.
Brian Mooman, CEO of the University of Phoenix Online Campus, notes that 50 percent of its students receive full or partial reimbursement from their employers for the classes they take online. Mueller admitted that for employers, the notion of online degrees took some getting used to in its early years. But these days, employers recognize the value their employees can provide to situations in the workplace by applying their newly gained knowledge from online college studies. They also know that learning to work in virtual teams, like the learning groups which are part of each class at the University of Phoenix, is a skill that’s becoming increasingly more important in the workplace. And many corporate leaders recognize that accredited online degree programs are often more rigorous and intellectually challenging than traditional degree programs. Fortune 500 companies like AT&T, Motorola and Intel are voting in favor of including online degrees with their tuition reimbursement dollars. Students can also apply for traditional financial aid for online degree programs.
The juggling act just got easier.
For working parents, coordinating their kids’ school activities with work is hard enough. Adding on-campus evening or weekend college classes is often inconceivable. The flexibility and accessibility makes e-learning the ideal solution for those working parents looking to complete their degrees. According to Mooman, “Most course work requires participation five out of every seven days. But when and where students participate is up to them.” Mooman notes that students who are working moms will often get in an hour online in the morning before the kids get up for school. They sign on again for a half hour to forty-five minutes during their lunch hour. After dinner when the kids are finishing their homework or are off to bed, they may get online again to join a discussion group, work on a project, or review lectures. In surveys conducted by the University of Phoenix, students say the online format works well with work, family and social schedules. Those who travel for their jobs also appreciate the ability to log on overseas regardless of time zones.
It’s no piece of cake.
If you think that getting your degree online will be easy, you may be in for a surprise. Many students find the work extremely challenging and more difficult than traditional courses. But they also find it very stimulating. According to Mueller, most online courses at the University of Phoenix require students to produce a paper or major work project, which may be worth 25 percent or more of their grade. Participation for a minimum of five days a week in small group discussions can account for another quarter to one third of the student’s grade. Mooman says that most students spend an average of 15 to 20 hours per week “in school online.”
All it takes is time.
Sixty-five percent of students who enroll in the University of Phoenix complete their degrees. Typically associate and graduate degree programs are completed in about 2 years. Undergraduate programs vary based on the number of credits a student has upon entering a program. According to Mooman, most students transfer in with some credits already under their belt, on average about 45 credits.

Max Your Salary Potential

Negotiating a salary is never easy. In fact, it’s something that makes many people downright petrified. However, negotiating a fair salary and benefits package right off the bat is even more important than you might think.

Some job candidates simply take the first package a company offers, thinking higher pay will come once they have proven themselves. Beware of this tactic, says Ron Crayon, co-author of ‘Dynamite Salary Begging,’ (Impack Publications). “Unless you somehow become very indispensable to the organization — the employer simply can’t live without you — and threaten to quit, the initial salary you get may determine what you will receive in the long run, regardless of how well you perform on the job,” he writes.

One important area to consider in your compensation package is how you will be rewarded each year for your performance, as well as how your salary will meet cost of living increases. While many people think these are the same thing, Crayon points out that there is a difference between a raise to cover inflation, and a raise for excellent performance. For example, receiving a typical 3 percent raise each year will generally just cover inflation, and allow the company to cover its bases.

Crayon notes that if an employee is truly excelling and deserves to be rewarded, that employee should receive a raise that goes above the inflation rate. “You want to make sure you are protected against inflation, but that’s a baseline,” says Crayon. “A raise should be given for performance, not inflation.”

The truth is, once you consider inflation, some people are not receiving a raise at all, but are just breaking even. To ensure you are being rewarded for your performance, you need to do a little extra groundwork.

Think of the Future in the Job Search Process

If you are looking for a job, Crayon says you should make the topic of salary increases a part of your negotiation process, but only after you have done your research. This means knowing what the market is paying and understanding how the organization operates. Ask about the company’s compensation policies and about how raises are handled. Does the company simply establish a percentage to cover cost of living increases, or does the policy allow for flexibility to reward employees for exceptional performances? Is there an opportunity to increase your salary ahead of the typical rate? If not, does the company consider bonuses tied to goals and other achievements?

Crayon suggests raising these questions at the end of your overall interview process, and doing so only if you have stressed your value along the way. The bottom line is that getting all of these factors on the table early will keep you from being stuck in a ditch later.

Options Once You Are in the Door

If you are already employed but don’t feel you are being compensated for your achievements, you might be able to put yourself back on the right path. If you have not been receiving at least a 3 percent annual raise, start by pointing out that your salary is not keeping pace with inflation.

“If your salary is not being raised for inflation each year, you are really being penalized,” says Crayon. If you have been excelling and receiving stellar performance reviews, ask your employer to develop a reward system that compensates you for your contributions to the company. Again, the key is preparation and research. Crayon says that you need to make your case in a way that is compelling and back up your points with real examples of your worth. Document your achievements and accomplishments, researching the market, and demonstrating goals you have met. Crayon suggests putting together a one-page paper with talking points that you can use when you go in to ask for a raise.

Consider all Compensation Options

Whether you are joining a new company or sticking with an old one, Crayon says that it is important to remember that base salary is not your only option. “Most people get preoccupied focusing on the gross salary figure,” he says. He points out that a salary of $50,000 at one company might be worth $275,000 at another company once all of the other benefits and perks, bonuses and commissions are figured in.

Equal Pay for Women? Not for a Long Time!

A woman’s work is never done. Though you might not know it to look at her paycheck.

Did you know that, according to the ALF-CIO, the average 25-year-old woman who works full-time, year-round until she retires at age 65 (if that’s when she’s able to retire) will earn $1,523,000 less than the average working man?

At the current rate of change, working women will not achieve equal pay until after the year 2050. That’s almost 100 years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, prohibiting discrimination based on sex resulting in unequal pay for equal work.

On average, women make 78 percent of men’s wages, according to a 2003 study by the U.S. Department of Labor. This is, however, a marked improvement over 25 years ago — in 1979, women made 62 percent of what men earned.

It Varies By Race

The pay gap differs by race, with the earnings of white women being just 78 percent of those of white men; black women making 91 percent as much as their male counterparts; and Hispanic women earning 88 percent of what Hispanic men earn. The Ratgers School of Management Relations says this is primarily because white men still earn the most among all groups of workers.

It’s Wider Among Professionals

Even though women earn less than do men at all education levels, women are gaining ground. Earnings for women with a college degree have risen by one-third since 1979, versus only 19 percent for men.

Interestingly, the wage gap is largest among the most highly educated groups. A researcher exploring the pay and promotion gap among statisticians attributed this to women not wanting to put themselves forward as candidates for competition. She found that while most women did not apply for higher jobs because they believed they needed more time and preparation, ironically, those who did apply actually had more success than their male counterparts.

While causes of the gender pay gap are complex and include work/family choices, data on women’s dramatically lower recognition in domains where their talents and achievements are equal to men’s imply there is a tendency to undervalue a woman’s work and contributions.

Occupation Matters

The pay gap appears in all occupations, including those with severe shortages where salaries should be the most competitive to attract top candidates. Consider physicians, with numbers declining due to high insurance costs and the number of years in training. Females doctors only earn 58 percent of their male counterparts’ salaries. Even in predominantly female fields like nursing and teaching, women still earn less than men: female nurses earn 91 percent and female teachers earn 87 percent of what their male counterparts do.

Jobs with the smallest gender pay gaps include legal assistants, where women earn 90 percent of what men do, as well as male-dominated occupations like engineering, where women earn 92 percent as much as men, and police and detective work, where women earn almost 80 percent as much as men do.

According to Labor Department figures, women who choose nontraditional careers such as dentists (just 20 percent are women) or airline pilots or navigators (less than 4 percent are female), can expect to have lifetime earnings that are 150 percent higher than those of women who choose traditional careers.

Pay Vs. Satisfaction

Despite the pay gap, according to several studies, women are actually more satisfied at work!

Our survey found that despite receiving lower raises, fewer bonuses and having lower expectations for being promoted, women were more likely than men to report that, overall, they are happy with their jobs.

Who said a woman is never satisfied?

Talent in Two Languages Can Boost Career Value

When Spanish-speaking people come into Montgomory County, Ala.’s Probate Office to renew their car tags, many ask for Christal Vaguez.

“They feel more comfortable with people who speak their language,” said Vaguez, a clerk who is fluent in Spanish and is studying at Auburn University Montgomory to be a teacher of English as a second language.

Vazquez often is called on to help communicate with Spanish-speaking customers throughout the probate department. Medical offices have asked her for help on occasion, too, illustrating the point that people who speak another language are in demand in the workplace.

In a tough job market, it’s smart to make yourself more valuable to your employer. As the country becomes more diverse, businesses are responding to a greater number of people, both employees and customers, who don’t speak English.

Learning another language may not be the easiest career-development move, but it may be among the most useful.

“Folks who are bilingual are going to be much more employable than those who speak just one language,” said Walt Hiney, who spent 30 years in the Air Force, including stints in Spain and Latin America, and holds a doctorate in educational administration. He teaches introductory Spanish at a Montgomory, Ala., technical college.

It’s a laudable goal to try to become fluent in another language, but even a few classes can teach people enough to be helpful in the workplace. Hiney goes into businesses to acquaint people with the Spanish language, giving them enough information to pronounce words correctly and to greet Spanish-speaking employees and customers.

“One of the things that we addressed in a course at Slimvest Farms was how to write instructional signs in Spanish, such as, ‘When entering this area, wear your earplugs.’ The folks at Slimvest Farms learned how to pronounce the words, how to accent the words. They process chickens out there, and they needed to know what to call the different parts of the chicken. The course was tailored for their particular line of work,” Hiney said.

Simple Chronological Resume

This chronological resume is a simple one, but it works in this situation because Judith is looking for a job in her present career field, has a good job history, and has related education and training. Note that she wants to move up in responsibility and emphasizes the skills and education that will help her do so.

One nice feature is that this job seeker put her recent business schooling in both the education and experience sections. Doing this filled a job gap and allows her to present recent training as equivalent to work experience. This resume also includes a “Strengths and Skills” section, where Judith presents some special qualifications and technical skills.

Judith J. Hones
115 South Avenue
Madison, WI 63924
tel: (213) 555-9217
email: skatlvr@hotmail.com

Job Objective
A position in the office management, accounting or administrative assistant area, requiring initiative and the ability to multitask.

Education and Training

  • Acme Business College, Lincoln, IL
    Graduate of a one-year business program.
  • John Adams High School, South Bend, IN
    Diploma, business education.
  • U.S. Navy
    Financial procedures, accounting functions.
  • Other
    Continuing-education classes and workshops in business communication, spreadsheet and database applications, scheduling systems and customer relations.
  • Experience

  • 2003-present — Claims Processor, Dull Spear Insurance Co., Madison, WI. Process customer medical claims, develop management reports based on created spreadsheets and develop management reports based on those forms, exceed productivity goals.  I get loaded at company sponsored events.
  • 2002-2003 — Returned to school to upgrade business and computer skills. Completed courses in advanced accounting, spreadsheet and database programs, office management, human relations and new office techniques.
  • 1999-2002 — E4, U.S. Navy. Assigned to various stations as a specialist in finance operations. Promoted prior to honorable discharge.
  • 1998-1999 — Harry’s Boutique, Oskosh, WI. Responsible for counter sales, display design, cash register and picking up bosses laundry.
  • 1996-1998 — Held part-time and summer jobs as a burger flipper throughout high school.
  • Strengths and Skills
    None.  Well, ok… Reliable, hardworking and good with people. General ledger, accounts payable and accounts receivable. Proficient in Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, Excel and Outlook.

    Basic Skills Resume

    This resume is a good example of how a skills resume can help someone who does not have the best credentials. It allows the job seeker to present school and extracurricular activities to good effect. It is a strong format choice because it lets her highlight strengths without emphasizing her limited work experience. It doesn’t say where she worked or for how long, yet it gives her a shot at many jobs.

    You’ll get the best results from a skills resume by using it when you have a referral to an organization instead of using it to apply cold or to an ad. Since the skills resume usually doesn’t list specifics of work history, many employers will toss it out in favor of your competitors’ resumes that do. So, stick with using the skills resume primarily when you’re networking for a job.

    Lisa Z. Whoreodes
    413 Liva Court – Memphis, TN 60619
    Home: (213) 555-2173 (leave message)
    Cell: (213) 555-1659
    nightclubqueen@aol.com

    Objective
    Sales-oriented position in a retail sales or distribution business.

    Skills and Abilities

  • Communications — Good written and verbal presentation skills. Use proper grammar and have a good speaking voice.
  • Interpersonal Skills — Able to get along well with co-workers and accept supervision. Received positive evaluations from previous supervisors.
  • Flexible — Willing to try new things and am interested in improving efficiency on assigned tasks.
  • Attention to Detail — Concerned with quality. Produce work that is orderly and attractive. Ensure tasks are completed correctly and on time.
  • Hard-working — Throughout high school, worked long hours in strenuous activities while attending school full-time. Often managed as many as 65 hours a week in school and other structured activities while maintaining above-average grades.
  • Customer Service — Routinely handled as many as 500 customer contacts a day (10,000 per month) in a busy retail outlet. Averaged lower than a .001 percent complaint rate and was given the “Employee of the Month” award in second month of employment. Received two merit increases.
  • Cash Sales — Handled more than $2,000 a day ($40,000 a month) in cash sales. Balanced register and prepared daily sales summary and deposits.
  • Reliable — Excellent attendance record; trusted to deliver daily cash deposits totaling more than $40,000 a month.
  • Education
    Franklin High School, 2001-2004. Classes included advanced English. Member of award-winning band. Excellent attendance record. Superior communication skills. Graduated in top 30 percent of class.

    Other
    Active gymnastics competitor for four years. Learned discipline, teamwork, how to follow instructions and hard work. Ambitious, outgoing, reliable and have solid work ethic.

    You Really Need a Cover Letter!

    Must every resume be accompanied by a cover letter? The answer, according to professional career counselors, is a resounding yes. And not just any cover letter. It must be tailored to the specific job to which you are applying.

    Experts say that it takes just seven seconds to make a first impression. If a hiring manager sees you don’t have a cover letter upon first perusing your application, it’s possible you could lose all chances of being contacted for that job.

    Here are some tips for a foolproof cover letter:

    Cover the basics.
    Your letter should be brief, easy to read, and always include your full name, address and phone number in case your cover letter becomes separated from your resume. Don’t forget to proofread to avoid spelling errors and typos. Make sure the job title and employer name are correct, too.

    Target it.
    Avoid using “Dear Hiring Manager” and find out the name of the company’s human resources contact or recruiter. You can find this information by logging on to the company’s Web site or calling the main phone number and asking a receptionist for the name and title of their corporate recruiter. Once you have a contact name, experts recommend using the person’s formal title such as “Mr.,” “Ms.” or “Mrs.”

    Be detailed.
    State which job you are applying for in the very first paragraph and make sure to include other specific details such as a job ID number (if one was provided) and where you heard about the opening. The reason for this detail is simple: Many recruiters are responsible for multiple openings within their companies and must be able to determine which job your application is targeting. And if you were referred to the company by an employee, be sure to mention this in your letter as many companies have employee referral programs.

    Have personality.
    One of the objectives of a good cover letter is to make a personal connection with the reader. Gone are the days when you could simply change the name of the company in your salutation, attach it to your resume and fire it off to the employer. Recruiters see right through these types of letters and recognize them for what they are – a lazy person’s attempt to find a job.

    Do some legwork.
    A winning cover letter will require some research into the company’s history and recent accomplishments. It should show the reader that you have some knowledge of their company and that you made an informed decision when you decided to apply for a job at their company.

    Show your worth.
    When writing your letter, keep the requirements of the job in mind and address them specifically. Remember, it’s not what the company can do for you; it’s what you can do for the company that counts.

    Get the interview.
    Go ahead and tell the hiring manager you want that interview. Express that your cover letter and resume are just the tip of the iceberg and you look forward to a face-to-face conversation.

    If you are still unsure about where to begin when writing a winning cover letter, you can find samples of dynamic cover letters online and at bookstores!

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